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2011 Seaway Recap


Where has the winter gone? Or better yet, where was it, to begin with?

The 2011 shipping season managed to sail away under mostly clear skies, above average temperatures and nearly no ice formations. As the clock struck 11:59 p.m. on December 29, all was quiet on the waterway even though from the conditions it looked as if the season would be able to continue straight through until March.

Last spring, Martha L. Black, a Canadian icebreaker, trekked up the St. Lawrence River and was greeted by open waters. The icebreaking task simply didn’t exist, which allowed for a smooth and easy opening on March 22. The first ship of the season, Algoeast, passed through the region on the morning of March 23.

Before any ships got underway, word quickly spread throughout the shipping world in late February that Algoma Corporation had obtained the vessels sailing under the Upper Lakes fleet name and those shared between the companies as part of Seaway Marine Transport. Upper Lakes President Jack Leitch wrote in an email to his employees, “the very difficult decision to sell to Algoma was based on a number of critical factors including the large capital requirements required to take the business forward for another quarter century.” After 80 years as a leader in the Canadian shipping industry, Upper Lakes would close its doors and the well-known ship stacks featuring the red and black markings with a diamond would soon become those of Algoma and feature the black bear.

While crew members were changing their overalls from diamonds to bears and channel markers sat on the dock awaiting placement in the cold St. Lawrence, ships began chugging along the Seaway for the 53rd season and it wouldn’t take long for the first hiccup. Just a week in to the season, BBC Steinhoelft, formerly known as Beluga Fushion, managed to lose control and park itself sideways in the South Shore Canal near Montreal on March 31. Thankfully for the season, this would be one of just a few groundings, most of which happened early on in the season and all were downriver.

The region saw a wide array of unique vessels this past season.

In late May, the more-than-100-year-old steam yacht Cangarda returned to the place it once called home. After millions of dollars in refit work, the yacht graced the St. Lawrence and made stops in Clayton, Brockville and various other Canadian cities. Also, cruise ship C. Columbus, the nearly 500-foot long beauty sailed through the islands while en route to Toronto and the upper lakes.

In Clayton this summer, the village was treated to not one, but three tall ship visits. America’s Privateer, tall ship Lynx, docked in Clayton in June as part of the first-ever Sailing Seaway Clayton festival at Frink Park. The ship had such a warm welcome from the community that the crew decided to return to Clayton in the fall when their tour of the upper lakes was complete. In all, more than 500 people would take part in sailing excursions on the ship and some 6,000 people would visit Frink Park to take in her beauty. The 122-foot War of 1812 replica has also committed to returning again in the early summer of 2013. Along with the two stops by Lynx, the village was visited in mid-September by Highlander Sea, a tall ship which spent most of its recent years on Lake Huron. The 154-foot ship was heading for the coast where it was scheduled to layup and its future remained unclear.

In addition to the tall ships, Clayton’s Regional Dock continues to also draw yachts. This summer saw Blue Moon and Unity make stops and the village is hoping to lure more yachts in the future.

Finally, the season that ended as scheduled.

From the start of the season, right down to the final ticks of the deadline clock, the Canadian Seaway faced a possible shutdown due to failure to negotiate a contract with union workers. Talks would be ongoing throughout the season as workers at the many Canadian operated locks worked without a contract. On October 3, both parties agreed to a tentative deal that would keep the locks operable and workers on the job, allowing for the season to end as scheduled.

Now as we sit an look out the window, we still see the waves rolling, almost as if its last spring. However, we are still a little more than a month from the start of another shipping season and it looks as if the icebreaker will again have little to no work to complete.

Michael Folsom is a regular contributor to TI Life.  He covers the “Seaway News” on his popular web site, http://www.theshipwatcher.com/, as well as a twitter site: http://twitter.com/theshipwatcher. His work has been featured in the Thousand Islands Sun, as well as on boatnerd.com and northcountrynow.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @theshipwatcher

Early in the summer of 2012, Michael will once again organize Sailing Seaway Clayton.  This event promises to be as popular as last year.  TI Life will continue to post news of Sailing Seaway Clayton on our Events page. Check it out often. To see all of Michael Folsom’s articles written for TI Life. Click Here.

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