Sunday, September 04, 2005

Ship watching at Eisenhower Lock

One of Massena's fine points is that it's located close to the Eisenhower Lock on the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Seaway is a system of canals, locks and dams that allows ships of up to almost 700' length to traverse the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes, from the Atlantic to Lake Superior. The Seaway was built in the 1950's, and replaced an older system of smaller locks and narrower, shallower canals that limited navigation to uneconomically small vessels.

When completed, the Seaway locks were large enough to accomodate most cargo ships, excepting the largest tankers and bulk carriers. Today, many container ships and bulkers are too large for it, but it still carries an impressive amount of ocean-borne cargo to and from ports ranging from Ogdensburg, New York west to Duluth, Minnesota. An even greater volume consists of cargo carried to and from U.S. and Canadian ports along the Lakes and the St. Lawrence to other such ports. Most of this cargo is carried on "lakers", specialized vessels built for Great Lakes navigation. The classic laker design had the wheelhouse atop a tall superstructure at the bow of the ship, and the engine room and funnel at the stern, leaving a long open deck with cargo hatches between. Recently, lakers have tended toward the arrangement standard for oceangoing freighters of having both the wheelhouse and engine aft. Still, they can usually be distinguished from "salties" by an overall blunter, more bargelike hull shape.

Whenever we visit Massena, I get on line and visit the Seaway's web site, which provides a handy map showing the location of ships on the Seaway. From this, I can tell when to drive up to the Eisenhower Lock visitor center, which has a platform overlooking the lock, and see a ship or two locking through. This past Friday, I saw that two ships, one a laker and the other a salty, were due to lock through in the late afternoon. The first through was the Frontenac, of Canada Steamship Lines (note that, despite the company name, this vessel, as almost all now active, is diesel powered), a laker built to the maximum dimesions allowing transit of the Seaway locks. Here is Frontenac entering the lock.


You can see the classic, wheelhouse-forward laker design. Below is Frontenac in the lock, looking aft from behind her wheelhouse. The enormous boom is for unloading cargo (typically grain or pelletized ore) at ports that lack unloading facilities.


Finally, we see Frontenac, having locked through, heading downstream toward her home port of Montreal.


By the time Frontenac was gone, and the lock refilled, the Russian freighter Aleksandr Suvorov was waiting its turn. Here's the Suvorov entering the lock.


Unfortunately, after this shot the batteries in my camera expired, preventing me from recording the Russian vessel's progress through the lock. A very tanned, weather-beaten looking man and a woman with coppery red hair were lounging atop the wheelhouse. From the stern, I read Suvorov's hailing port as Murmansk, on Russia's north coast. This explained the logo of a white polar bear emblazoned on the ship's black funnel.



Update: For more photos and text about Eisenhower Lock, see here and here. For more about classic lake boats, see here.