October 2, 2016
It was pissing rain when I left for the Welland Canal around noon. The forecast for the day called for more of the same but it mattered not, the gloomy weather suited the occasion. I was headed out to follow Algosoo on her death march through the canal to the ship breaker in Port Colborne, Ont.
The last lake boat to be built with the classic cabin-forward configuration, the 730-foot vessel has carried the same name and sailed under the Algoma Central flag since being christened Algosoo at her birthplace, the Collingwood Shipyards in Collingwood, Ont., on November 26, 1974.
After being laid up at the close of the 2015 season, Algosoo languished at a Toronto dock awaiting a call to fit out for 2016. That call would never come. She was instead condemned to scrap, but spared the indignity of a scrap tow to the breaker’s slip at International Marine Salvage in Port Colborne. A crew was called for September 30th. Algosoo was awakened from her slumber and readied for one final voyage. They set sail early Sunday morning, October 2nd.
I caught up with her in the rain at Lock 2 and joined the procession of faithful who’d come out to say goodbye to Algosoo. The sight of the handsome but battered vessel sailing nobly to the grave under her own power was dignifying yet heart wrenching. The low growl of V-10 Crossley Pielstick 10PC2V diesels — products of Crossley Premier Engines of Manchester, England — marked mile after mile after mile.
Dead man walking.
The rain eased for a bit and the sun broke through the clouds for a couple glorious miles. “They were good boats,” said the woman who stood canalside with a couple of us as we watched Algosoo duck under Bridge 5 and trudge toward Lock 4. She’d worked the lakes she told us. Algosoo was her last ship.
The gloom returned as Algosoo moved into the flight locks. The ranks of the faithful thinned as dusk fell and the rain returned. Hours later I was alone, standing vigil at Bridge 21 in Port Colborne — staring into the blackness; keeping company with spiders in the steelwork; wondering what the hell I was doing.
A dark form materialized in the distant lights of Lock 8. Algosoo at last. Still 30 minutes away but in sight at least. Time passed slowly. A warning siren and clanging bells announced the imminent arrival as Bridge 21 raised for the vessel’s passage.
The cold blue beams of its spotlights piercing the dark, Algosoo inched into sight. Pielsticks droning, spotlights dancing along the canal wall. A couple more onlookers showed up. No one spoke. Algosoo slowed and stopped. For good.
At 22:43 a lowly tug-barge combination chugged past: the tug Sharon M1 upbound with the grandly named barge Niagara Spirit. Shoving past the bow of the doomed ship, the tug sounded a salute from its high-pitched horn. From the Algosoo — already in the process of being shut down for the last time — came a bone-chilling baritone response that shattered the night and shot up my spine.
And that was that.