Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cruise on a Great Lakes freighter Episode 5

The ship, loaded with 15,000 tonnes of stone destined for the drywall plant in Caledonia, Ontario, arrived in Hamilton at around 7:00 am on Monday morning. Literally within minutes, the self unloading boom was moved into out over top the designated spot on the dock and unloading began.

This was the scene at around 8:00 am


And 2 hours and 5,000 tonnes later


All the while, the crew is inspecting bearings to ensure none of them overheat and seize up.



The ladder control for broke, so John and Carlos managed to find a previously used one in the parts bin and were busy making the appropriate solder connections.

johnandcarlosfixingladdercontrol2 johnandcarlosfixingladdercontrol

The base of the self unloading boom with the newly formed pile in the distance.


Within 5 hours, the ship had unloaded itself. While being unloaded, the holds were being spray cleaned with water to make them ready for the next load (grain), which was to be taken to Toledo, Ohio.

Here’s the company’s motto: “Don’t give up the ship.”


At this point, we unloaded as well. All in all, it was a most enjoyable trip. We came away very much impressed by the amount of hard work being done by the ship’s crew under sometimes very difficult circumstances. Nonetheless, the crew seems a very homogeneous unit, collaborating with one another very effectively.

Our thanks to Lower Lakes Towing and to all involved for allowing us to witness and experience firsthand this unique corner of the shipping world.

More pictures can be seen here:

Hamilton to Cardinal

Cayuhoga unloading in Hamilton

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cruise on a Great Lakes freighter Episode 4

This post could be subtitled “Visit to Engine Room”. Deep down in the cavernous aft section sits a hungry monster that growls and snarls 24 hours a day. It’s called an engine. A diesel engine. A Caterpillar 3608 4-stroke cycle in-line 8 cylinder 3,084 b.h.p. diesel engine to be even more precise.

When visiting the engine room, you are immediately overwhelmed by 3 environmental issues: heat, noise and cleanliness. Hearing protection is mandatory. If you want to strip to fight the heat, that’s fine, you can do so, but it is not required. And it’s clean. Spic and span everywhere. Kind of like the interior of my car (not!). After entering, you must first stop by the engineer’s station, which sits in the corner of the engine room. Here, several computer monitors show various control parameters.

The one on the left in this picture shows the state of ballast tanks. These tanks, depending of the load of the ship, either contain water or are empty. During loading, water is pumped out of the various tanks. If we are loading the front, then the front ballast tanks are first emptied. If we are loading the back then those tanks are emptied. Ditto for the middle section. Not doing this in the proper sequence could put undue stresses on the hull of the ship, possible leading to cracks. In this case, Travis was monitoring the unloading of the tanks.


This is Travis fine tuning the engine.


Another shot of Travis performing his magic.


Originally, the ship had a steam engine. This was replaced in the early part of this century with a diesel engine, which is a lot, lot smaller (but more powerful) than the original steam engine.


Engine from up top. Note the exhaust pipe.


Exhaust pipe. I wonder if this same pipe would fit a green 1995 Ford Aspire (with rear spoiler)?


From up top. You can clearly see the size of the engine room.


Drive shaft. Approximate diameter 16”. That’s 400 mm in the real world. It is hollow though, to allow for control systems to pass through to the screw to change their pitch.


Of course a well stocked work room is required as sometimes, as unbelievable as this may sound, things break.


In addition to the engine room, there is a boiler room, its sole purpose being the generate heat for the ship and its systems.


Then there is the generator room, which is even warmer and noisier than the engine room.        generatorroom

All in all, you cannot leave the engine room without being thoroughly impressed by the sheer power and finesse of all this equipment. Raw power converted to useful energy by skilled hands. If that’s not art, then I guess I am missing something.

To be continued… (1 more time)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Russian Hydro dam blows up

Back on August 17th, the Sayano-Shushenska Hydro Dam in Siberia suffered a major accident, which cost at least 74 people their lives. It was not well reported in the press, certainly I didn’t see any pictures.

Now the Boston Globe has put together a major photo essay with amazing shots of the damage suffered, both in terms of human and material losses. Something worthwhile seeing. Time well wasted.

Reportedly it will take close to 880 million euros to fix.

Russian train gets hit by tornado

I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Youtube, but I stumbled on this one quite by accident. It is hilarious. The original caption on Youtube reads: “Oh My got! The train has got to tornado epicentre.”

What puzzles me is, why do they have a video camera on a railroad car?

Cruise on a Great Lakes freighter Episode 3

With the loading of the stone complete, the ship took off up river back to Hamilton. As luck would have it, the first four or five hours took us through the 1000 Islands portion of the St. Lawrence Seaway in daylight on a warm Sunday, which translated in many interesting sights. Along this portion of the river, one can find many interesting houses, mansions, even castles, as well as interesting landscapes. All pleasure boat traffic adds another dimension.

After half an hour or so, the town of Brockville, Ontario popped up along the shore. It is not often in North America that you see a skyline so dominated by church steeples. Seems to me though, that all this effort building separate churches would have been better spent in building houses for the poor and old folks. Wouldn’t one church have been more than enough? Oh wait, I digress.


Then there is Boldt’s Castle, talk about excess. But at least it is unique. Built by a wealthy industrialist eager to show off his fortune, it dominates the river’s shore for a good little while. This is one of the “outhouses” belonging to the castle, added on later.


The other extreme of living on the river is this:


But at least there isn’t a lot of grass to cut.

Lots of boat traffic must have meant a real headache for the captain and his crew.


Seadoos are a dime a dozen when the weather is right.


Cormorants make the most of a dead tree. I bet they are saying, ‘Finally a friggin’ tree without leaves. Now I can see properly. Why don’t they build more of these?’


And the Cayuhoga plowed forward, piloted by Duane, the first mate, who knew every nook-and-cranny on this sometimes very narrow waterway.


The company’s motto is displayed on the flag:


Actually, it says don’t give up the ship. I think I shot about 10 shots trying to get it right. Failed. What else is new….

And the company’s flag:


After the bridge at Gananoque (leading to the US), the river becomes wider and a little less interesting.


Once we exited the river and were back out onto Lake Ontario, we were treated to a beautiful sunset.


To be continued…

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Cruise on a Great Lakes freighter Episode 2

The actual route we took was this: (our route in red)

Lake Ontario from one end to another (east to west) is around 310 km. At the east end, we entered the Saint Lawrence Seaway and from there it is another 125 km to Cardinal, which is situated on the Canadian side of the river, just past the town of Prescott.

While out on Lake Ontario we deemed ourselves to be in the Caribbean. The air was warm, the water blue with just a few wispy clouds on yonder horizon. The crew told us though that things aren't always this quiet, especially in late October, November when the winds blow. When out in the open, the ship is basically on auto pilot, although 2 of the crew keep a sharp eye out at all times in the wheelroom.

After 12 hours of sailing, we entered the Seaway, just when darkness fell. We then retired to our room and watched a movie on satellite TV, The Poseidon Adventure. By the way, on a trip just before ours, an electrical surge had taken out most of the electronic equipment on board, such as TV's, satellite receivers, stereos etc. Apparently, they all lit up like Christmas trees. The second mate Ralph kindly donated his receiver for the duration of our stay.

The ship arrived at the corn unloading dock in Cardinal at around 3:00 in the morning, but we had no personal knowledge of that, as we were sound asleep. We did wake up not too much after that though went to motors for the self unloading boom were started, generating a noise so loud we thought a tornado just struck the ship.

The ship did not always have the option to unload itself, this contraption was added in the early seventies. Before self unloading was added, the ship had to use the unloading cranes offered by the various ports. Being able to unload itself allows it to visit a far greater range of ports, ports with or without unloading facilities.

Anyway, when we opened our door to go for yet another excellent breakfast in the galley, we immediately saw a feature that would be with us for the next 36 hours: white corn dust. It took that long to unload the ship, since the accepting hopper on the corn silo could only accommodate a tiny portion of what the unloading boom was actually capable of delivering. Fortunately for us, during the entire time the wind was away from our cabin, so that the actual dust we had to contend with was fairly minimal.

But the crew! Unbelievable how they were affected by this snow! Yet they all did their jobs throughout the long day, into the night and then into the day again.

Since it was another beautiful sunshiny day, we decided to disembark and explore the town of Cardinal. Now, Cardinal is not much of a town, there's the "Boars' Nest" (the local bar) and a few stores and restaurants and that is about it. A one horse town in its classic definition. But folks sure are friendly in Cardinal. Everybody we talked to wanted to talk some more. We met an 82-year-old man originally from Hong Kong who had just driven a van from Vancouver on his own, in order to meet his son who lives in Kingston. Then we met a fellow from Gatineau, Quebec who was there in his totally custom Western Star mini truck, which was actually a Toyota 4x4 Highlander converted. It had a sleeper, which he used for camping, dual fuel tanks, air brakes, air horn, air ride, and dual set of wheels on the back. Superb paint job on top of that. We also talked to some locals, who told us all about the glorious and not so glorious history of the Casco, the corn processing plant.

All that talking sure makes a man thirsty, so we ended up quaffing a few cool ones at the local (Royal Canadian) Legion, which just so happened to have a beautiful patio overlooking the river.

Next, we made it back to the ship. As we made our way thru security (we had to sign in and out every time we left), the security guard, who, apparently, had already talked to the locals about us, stated that if he would have known about us before he came on shift, he would have come and picked us up to drive us to a beautiful beach just down river near his home. Then, he said, I would have gone back home, changed into my work clothes and come here to work. Talk about friendly...

After supper, with the unloading process going on, we drifted back to the Legion once more to support their financial situation. Slightly inebriated, we were able to negotiate the ladder up to the ship's deck, where the dust created interesting halos around all the lights, the effects of which somewhat amplified by alcohol.

Despite the enormous roar of the self unloading boom's motors, we slept like rocks. The next day, same old thing, more corn dust. Hard working crew. Seagulls. Legion.

Finally, around 7:00 Saturday nite, the unloading finished up. Quickly, the ship was prepared for sailing and at around 8:00 we were moving, heading for Prescott, just up river to take on a load of stone for Hamilton. Now, maneuvering a 600 ft ship in a fairly swift moving river is no child's play, so we watched intently from this wheelhouse as the captain and his crew guided the ship to its new mooring place at the Prescott docks. Almost as soon as the ship stopped, the holds were opened and 3 front end loaders started dumping rocks onto stackers, which in turn, dumped their prized possessions into the holds of the ship. This went on throughout the nite, so, looking for a diversion, we decided to call a taxi to take us into the wild town of Prescott. Well, that is a bit of a lie, 2 bars, the first looked like it was a converted old K-mart type store with the lunch counter still in place. Slap a few draft dispensers on that very same counter and you got yourself a bar. Add some very loud music from a not so talented band and the scene is complete. The second establishment, just across the road, was of the strip club variety, so just as high class as the first one. After trying to chat up the woman in the taxi stand place (no go), we headed back to the ship. Loading was rapidly progressing. Too tired to help, despite many requests, we went to bed. Just as we got up again, loading was about to complete.
To be continued...

Friday, September 04, 2009

Cruise on a Great Lakes freighter Episode 1

Whenever the word 'cruise' is mentioned, people immediately tend to associate this with something exotic, like a cruise in the Caribbean on some monster passenger cruise ship, where everything is shiny and new.

Not so with the cruise we took last month (August 12th through 17th). This was a really different and quite unique cruise.

Great Lake freighters ply the lakes, usually moving bulk cargo such as grain, corn, salt, iron ore, coal and the like. Due to ice cond
itions, the ships are usually 'laid up' between late December and early April, when once again most of the ice has melted. For 9 months of the year, they scoot from one port on the lakes to another, from the Canadian to the American side.

Normally, they don't take passengers. The only reason we got to go is that this trip was offered at a fund raising dinner as an auction item. Since it sounded like something out of the ordinary, we bid and happened to win.

So early last month we got the call. Our ship was to be the Cuyahoga, a ship built in 1943 in the United States
, its sole purpose being to aid the war effort in ferrying iron ore across the lakes. Its length is approximately 600 ft (200 m), with a beam of 60 ft (20m). Originally, it had a coal fired steam engine, later switched to fuel oil. Around 2000, the steam engine was replaced by an Caterpillar diesel engine, which, by the way, probably occupies about a tenth of the space the old steam engine did.

Around 1993, the ship was laid up (moored) for a couple of years, because the previous owners didn't think running her was economically feasible no longer

A brand new company from Port Dover, Ontario, Lower Lakes Towing, decided to give it a go, had it towed to Sarnia, Ontario for some repairs and a paint job and renamed it the Cuyahoga, the first ship in their fleet. They now have 12. Where others couldn't, they made it work. After spending almost a week on the ship, we now understand why.

With a little bit of apprehension we reported at the desi
gnated hour at Pier 25 in the Hamilton Harbour. After all, we didn't know what to expect. But it didn't take long for us to figure out that the crew was about as welcoming as could be. We were shown our room and shortly after met the captain. Now, when you think of captain, you think of a grumpy old guy with a curly moustache, cussing and swearing while smoking a pipe. Wrong... Captain Colin was a very young guy, immensely knowledgeable about his ship and well versed in the latest technologies. To boot he knew how to handle the ship's crew.

Later that day, Ralph the second mate gave us a safety briefing, told us where our muster station was in case of emergency and explained how to launch the lifeboats. Fortunately for us during our trip, all this information was useless.

He took us around the ship, to the galley, the crews and officers mess, a quick peek in the engine room and then down through the tunnels underneath the holds back to the bow of the ship up to the wheelhouse, where we got a sneak preview of all the navigation equipment on board. After that it was time for dinner, so Doug the cook served us the first of many enjoyable meals, which we ate with the rest of the crew, while being introduced to all 17 of them.

Meanwhile, the sh
ip was taking on a load of corn, 10,000 or so tons, to be shipped to the Casco plant in Cardinal, Ontario for processing there into corn syrup, starch and a host of other products too numerous to mention. Since there is only one sleeve loading the corn is tends to be a little slow, about 15 hours to load the ship. The entirely ship was loaded by 6:00 o'clock the next morning and it is a good thing that something woke us up (the lack of coffee in our veins) at that hour, otherwise we would have missed leaving port.

Soon we approached the bridges that allowed us out of the harbor. On a beautifully warm sunny morning, it was a sight to see, worth the price of admission alone. Fortunately, even the lift bridge was up, so we didn't have to ram it in order to get out.

Quite quickly we got out into Lake Ontario, leaving Hamilton behind us. The ship, when out in open waters like that makes around 11 knots, which equates to 20 km/h. What is interesting is
that the engine runs at more or less the same rpm all the time, it is the pitch of the blades that is changed, which in or decreases speed.

Not long after entering Lake Ontario, the outline of the City of Toronto became visible through the slight summer time haze, also known as smog. It was about 50 km away.

To be continued...