Growing up in the Great Lakes State of Michigan I had always dreamed of becoming a sailor on one of the Great Lakes ore boats. As a child I would watch the big ore boats cruise the river systems and navigate the locks of the Soo. I spent endless hours reading books on the exploits of the boats and the men that sailed them. I would collect every photo I could find and knew one day I would sail on these wondrous giants. Unfortunately, as I neared the age of making important career decisions my goals changed and for 15 years I choose a career field that would take me away from my childhood dreams. Throughout those 15 years unbeknownst to me the shipping industry changed dramatically. The downturn of the 80's saw dozens of my favorite boats heading off to far away scrap yards. The advent of the footers also replaced many of the boats I dreamed of one day working on. Around 1998 I was able to pick back up where I left off in regards to my childhood hobby. I returned to photographing the boats and collecting the history of the lakeboats once again. In 2000 I obtained my MMD, although I really never got it with the idea I would ever use. In a twist of fate early in 2001 I had lost my job and was now given the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream. With a partial blessing from my wife she agreed this would be the time to "give it a try". I applied to all the shipping companies and was almost immediately contacted by Grand River Navigation. They offered me a full-time job on their newly purchased CALUMET (ex-Myron C. Taylor) and just 2 days before I was to sail I came to the realization that I was not ready to take this on "full-time". I had 2 small children at home and I was not prepared to leave them long term. I immediately contacted G.R.N. and politely declined their offer for full-time work - they agreed to consider me for a relief position later in the season. My next opportunity came much later in the Summer and quite unexpectantly. Bethlehem Steel called me and needed me the next day to relieve an engine room crewman for about a week. On my way down to meet the boat BURNS HARBOR near Chicago I was informed by my wife we had just lost our daycare for the children. Because my wife has a very good job and I was only doing relief work I had to turn around and stay with the kids - another opportunity lost. Believing that was my last opportunity to fulfill my dream I began looking for permanent shoreside work. Within just a couple weeks of the Bethlehem job offer I was then contacted by Oglebay Norton. They had a relief position on the deck that needed to be filled immediately. My wife and I made sure this opportunity would not be lost and I was soon on my way to work on the M/V WOLVERINE.
Arrived at the J.W. Westcott mailboat in Detroit and am to be transported to the M/V Wolverine which is refueling across the River in Windsor. Enroute to the boat we pass the heavy lift ship SCAN PARTNER docked nearby, we also take a slight detour to re-supply and drop mail off to the upbound ALGOWEST.
I board the Wolverine at 4:30pm and immediately begin about a half hours worth of paperwork. Afterwards I am given a bunk with the other deckhand and told I would not be starting work until tomorrow. I grab a quick bite to eat and I spend the rest the day and evening enjoying the ride up the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and through the St. Clair River.
We are heading to Port Washington with a load of coal from Ashtabula. As we enter the St.Clair River we are met by the downbound FRONTENAC then a few minutes later the JOHN J. BOLAND passes by downbound. As we pass the Recor plant in St. Clair our fleetmate COLUMBIA STAR is unloading coal.
11:15pm with the exception of dozens of red, white and green fishing boat lights we enter a pitch black Lake Huron.
I wake up at 6:30am to watch the sunrise on the rear deck. It is a perfectly clear, warm morning. Eat breakfast at 8:00am and find out the only work we will do today is cleaning the wheelhouse windows. Myself, the Bosun and the other Deckhand spend an hour cleaning the wheelhouse and are given the rest the day off. Sundays are usually days off unless you are in port loading or unloading.
11:00am we pass by Stoneport. The PATHFINDER, HERBERT C. JACKSON and an unidentified AAA USS boat are either at the docks or awaiting a spot at the dock.
4:00pm arrived under the Mackinaw Bridge. The MISSISSAGI is just ahead of us and a USS footer is coming around Mackinaw Island pulling up our rear.
Throughout the rest of the day and evening I spend eating, relaxing on the deck and watching TV.
Received a 7:00am wake up call to begin work at about 8:00am. When we arrived just offshore of Port Washington we were told it was to windy to try and enter the small dock. We will await offshore until the wind dies down. For the 2nd day in a row I just hang out on deck, eat and watch a little TV.
6:00pm the wind dies down enough for us to enter port and unload. We spend the next 7 hours securing the boat to the dock, removing hatch covers and hosing the coal in to the chutes. After each cargo hold is empty we spray down the hold of any remaining coal and secure the hatch cover.
3:00am we leave the dock and head to our next destination which was originally Port Inland, however, sometime during the night our orders were changed and we were now heading to Calcite in Rogers City for a load of stone for Detroit. The Deckhands night was still not finished yet. Because we were taking on a different cargo than our last, we are required to enter the holds with high pressure hoses and remove every trace of coal. This means every nook and cranny within every hold most be rid of coal. For the next 3 hours we spend hosing and cleaning each and every hold. At 6:00am we finish and are allowed to get a few hours sleep before we are called back out to wash down the deck.
I am awaken at 9:00am (only 2 1/2 hours sleep) to begin hosing down the deck. After 2 hours of hosing we are told to stop due to our proximity to land. The law states a ship cannot spray down their decks within 12 miles of land. We are due in Rogers City around 11:30pm and are given the rest of the day off until we arrive at the port.
Upon arrival at the Port of Calcite the ARTHUR M. ANDERSON is backing out of the dock. We begin removing the hatch covers and once she clears we pull in and tie down the boat, the PHILIP R. CLARK is loading at the dock next to us. I am given the rest the night off and will relieve the other Deckhand in the morning. I spend about a half hour taking some pictures and its off to bed I go.
7:30am I was woke up to begin my shift on deck. After a quick breakfast I spent the early part of the day moving mooring lines so the boat could shift along the dock to load. As the holds were filled we closed and secured the hatch covers, we also sprayed some of the deck down (certain cargos can be sprayed overboard closer to land, such as the stone we were now carrying).
9:30am we departed the dock enroute for Detroit. As we were pulling out the ALGOWAY was pulling in. The Bosun and myself spent the next several hours spraying down the deck.
4:00pm At the bow of the boat there is a pretty decent gym, I spent about 45 minutes working out then was called to go back out on deck to do some more spraying. After 2 hours of that I was able to return and finish my workout.
8:45pm It has become quite windy and some waves are breaking over the bow. Being heavily loaded you still do not feel to much rolling inside the boat. I spend the rest the evening sitting out on the rear deck enjoying the warm windy evening and watching an occasional freighter pass by in the distance.
We arrive in Detroit (Rouge River) at about 7:30am. It is a rainy day and the River really stinks of sewage and other occasional awful smells. We take the small work boat ashore to tie down the boat, we also pick up another Deckhand. We were still one Deckhand short after I came aboard. The day is spent removing hatch covers, spraying cargo into the chutes, closing hatch covers and a lot of standing around.
2:30pm we pull in our lines and back out of the Rouge River enroute to Rogers City again for another load of stone - this time for Marine City on the St. Clair River. This may be where I get off the boat, considering it is only a short distance from my home and I was only to be on the boat until new help arrived. We are picking up another Deckhand in Rogers City, so I should be done at that time. As we head upbound on the Detroit River we pass the AGAWA CANYON unloading in Windsor, a salty docked on the Canadian side. As we enter Lake St. Clair we pass a downbound EDGAR SPEER and later the FEDERAL AGNO. Entering the St. Clair River we pass a downbound HALIFAX, CALUMET and later pass the WALTER J. McCARTHY unloading coal at the Recor plant in St. Clair. The salty YARMOUTH passes downbound at the same time we pass the McCARTHY. Farther up river the TURID KNUTSEN and DIAMOND STAR are docked at the Suncor dock in Sarnia. As we enter into Lake Huron we pass the layed-up CANADIAN TRANSFER at the North dock in Sarnia. I have found out that I will be getting off the boat in Rogers City rather than in Marine City. Although I would have preferred to stay on until Marine City I also understand that this is a work boat and they have a business to run.
We arrive in Rogers City about 11:00am. Although I am off the payroll at this time I stick around for about an hour or two and await my wife's arrival. I say goodbye to friends I made and snap a few parting pictures.
What a great experience this has been and would certainly do it again for short relief. Had I not been married with children I would have excepted their offer to stay aboard and finish the season aboard her. As it is, I do miss my family and I look forward to being able to tuck my kids into bed once again and know I am there to protect them.
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