Thursday, August 8, 2013

What Does 107 Years Old Look Like?

So the ship I was looking for was the St. Marys Challenger.  She's been a boat that I've wanted to see ever since I became a serious boatwatcher.  At 107 years old, she currently holds the title of oldest active lake freighter.  Although it's not certain that she will be holding that title for much longer as there is talk of her getting removed from service.

With so many younger boats getting removed from service and being scrapped, it's amazing that a ship this old still sails on the Great Lakes.  You may ask how this is possible.  Well, there are a number of reasons.  The main reason is that fresh water of the lakes is not as corrosive on ships as saltwater.  The other reason is because a smaller boat is actually advantageous in the cement business.  Many of the cement plants are on smaller rivers than many of the other things that accept cargo on the Great Lakes.

Still, 107 years old.  It's hard to imagine anything that's 107 years old, let alone something that is still sailing.  She was built 2 years before the last time the Cubs won the World Series.  Three years before she was born, the Wright Brothers made their first flight.  The Wright Brothers wouldn't even recognize the planes flying these days.  It was two years before the first Model T was introduced.  I think Henry Ford might have an easier time recognizing a modern car but still there have been a number of advances there too.  But I digress....
 So this brings us to our current story.  The St Marys Challenger is a ship that I've wanted to see for a while now.  The big problem is that she mostly sails around Lake Michigan and very sporadically at that.  I've been tempted to head over there to try and catch her but I didn't want to take a chance on that.  On Sunday I was reading on the Boatnerd Facebook Group that she was making a rare visit to Detroit.  I was thinking of heading up to Port Huron to catch her but the sky was cloudy and I didn't think I'd have enough light to catch her there.  It turns out, I could have done that.   So I figured how long it would take her to unload in Detroit and saw that I had a glimmer of hope to catch her on the upbound trip.

So I watch AIS at sporadic times of the day on Monday and saw that she wouldn't be leaving Detroit until later in the day.   I figured that I would be catching her on the St. Clair River but I saw that she wasn't leaving Detroit, so I decided to head down to Detroit.  As I was driving, I flipped on the marine radio app on my phone and heard that she was leaving the dock.   So I didn't think I'd catch her until I heard that she would be fueling at Mistersky Fuel Docks.

But still, I was a little dismayed when I arrived to this scene.  I thought I'd missed her because it would take forever for her to fuel.  But nope, it would only be an hour or so.
I moved to another spot in Del Ray to at least catch this piture.  I kind of liked it but I wanted more.  Well, it wouldn't take long to refuel her and I'd be able to catch her in decent light (provided the clouds broke some).
 I headed over to Belle Isle because that would present the best angles to catch her.  And catch her I did.
 The St Marys Challenger was born at the Great Lakes Engineering Works in Ecorse, MI in 1906.  She started her career as a standard Great Lakes bulk carrier.  Like many of the ships on the Great Lakes, the name she carries now is not the name she carried when she was born. 
 She was launched on February 2, 1906 as the William P. Snyder for the Shenango Steamship Company.  She was built with 3 holds which were capable of carrying 10,900 tons of cargo.  She was originally built with a steam engine with 1,665 s.h.p.
 She sailed with her original owners until 1926.  In that time, she hit a dock in 1916 causing some damage.  In 1917, she was damaged by heavy seas while she was sailing from Duluth to Ashtabula.  In 1924, her Scotch boilers were replaced with water tube boilers.
 In 1926, she was named the Elton Hoyt II after she was acquired by the Stewart Furnace Company.  In 1929, she was sold to the Youngstown Steamship Company.
 In 1930, the Interlake Steamship Company took a crack at owning her.  In 1950, she was repowered with a Skinner Marine Uniflow Engine (the Badger is the only other active ship that still uses this style engine).  Later that year, she was involved in a head on collision with another ship in the Straits of Mackinaw causing considerable damage to both ships.
 In 1952, she was renamed the Alex D. Chisholm.
 In 1966, she was bought by Medusa Portland Cement and converted to her current role as a cement carrier.  She was renamed Medusa Challenger at this time.  She was operated by the Cement Transit Company of Detroit.
 In 1976, she was forced aground.  In 1977, she rescued two people from a capsized boat.  In 1997, she was hit by a water spout.  I'll have to say she looks pretty good considering all the incidents in her career.
 In 1998, Medusa Portland Cement was acquired by Southdown Cement.  At this time she was renamed Southdown Challenger.
 After another acquistion by another company in 2005, she was given her current name.
 Given her age, I'd have to say she is in pretty good shape.  She seems much quieter than many newer ships.  I really like her paint scheme.
 A shot of her stack.
 And pilothouse.
 There were a few people aft of her.
 And she starts to sail off.
 And then I took what I thought would be my last picture of her.
 Until I got the idea to head over to the fishing pier for a few more pictures.
 I kind of like the skies in these shots.  Kind of sets the boat off well too.
 But much like her career, she soldiers on.

 She slowly heads upbound back to Charlevoix.
 I get a couple more opportunties.
 She slowly passes the Coast Guard station.
And then she's gone.

It seems like every year people say that it's going to be her last year.  This year is no different but there are rumors that they may convert her to a diesel.  I guess of the options facing her that would be the best as it wouldn't alter her appearance too much.  The other rumor is that they are going to convert her to a tug/barge.  That would suck.  There is also the possibility she may become a storage ship like the Townsend.  That wouldn't be too bad as you could still see her but still, it is kind of cool to have a ship over 100 years old sailing on the lakes.

1 comment:

Isaac Pennock said...

Nice! Really glad so many people were able to catch her, given the fact that she moved mostly in darkness on the trip down and back up.