A Brief Intro to Great Lakes Shipping

One of the more obscure class of vessel that I have seen are Great Lakes cargo ships, or, as they are more commonly known:  “Lakers”. I was in Milwaukee in 2001 and was for fortunate enough to see 4 of them, albeit in a static condition (laid up for winter). Unfortunately I did not have a decent camera and the images I have are not great at all. Only the one vessel was a true twin island laker, whereas the others are adaptations of the concept. It has been 16 years since I saw these ships so I am using the original data from my webpage that I had on them so many years ago (assuming that I can find it).

Paul M. Townsend

The Paul M Townsend did not start life as a laker, she was originally built towards the end of WW2 and was designated a “C1-M-AV1” short sea cargo ship. She was launched in 1945 and finally entered service as the Coastal Delegate. Her dimensions were 103,4 x 15,24 x 8.84 M with a GRT of 3882 and she was diesel powered. She was converted to a self unloader in 1952 with a revised GRT of 3581 and she became a member of the Great Lakes fleet in 1953. In 1957/8 she was lengthened to 136,25 Metres and her wheelhouse was moved to the foredeck like a traditional laker. I photographed her in March 2001 and after a few more years work she ended up in long term layup at Muskegon as a cement storage barge. Sadly in September 2017 she was sent for breaking up.  

Information and more images of the ship are available at the Boatnerd page on the ship

Laker number 2 is really more of a modern iteration of the wheelhouse forward laker. She was a large lump of a ship and I was not able to get a decent image of her because of her size and the position where we were parked at the time. The Stewart J Cort is interesting in her own right due to her odd construction.

Stewart J Cort

Tug Edward E Gillen with Stewart J Cort astern of her.

Originally when built in 1970 she consisted of a bow and stern welded together making a short 192 ft long vessel. She was then sailed up to the lakes and cut apart and the two sections were married to a 818 ft long midbody,  transforming her into a 1000 foot laker. She was not a pretty ship, but is a very functional vessel. She also holds the distinction of being the first 1000 foot vessel on the lakes although the 1000 foot length has been surpassed by other ships (but not by much). The longest ship on the lakes is the Paul R. Tregurtha at 1013 ft 

More information on her may be found at Boatnerd

The 3rd vessel I saw was a proper laker, and quite an oldie too. Southdown Challenger was originally built in 1906 as the William P Snyder and she was equipped with a  Skinner Marine  Uniflow 4-cylinder reciprocating steam engine burning heavy fuel oil. I saw her under the name Southdown Challenger in Milwaukee while she was laid up for the winter.

She was pretty much what I envisaged as a traditional laker, and considering that by the time I saw her she was almost 100 years old. Sadly in Nov 2013 she was converted into an articulated barge, and at the time she was the oldest operating self propelled cargo ship on the Great Lakes, and possibly one of the oldest cargo ships in the world  Her machinery was not preserved.  Boatnerd has a great page on this oldie, and I suspect everybody bemoans the loss of this classic.

The last laker is really a glimpse at what the future of the laker is (and that included Southdown Challenger). 

The tug/barge combination appears to be a logical way of operating as it does mean that the combination can be utilised in a variety of configurations, unfortunately from an aesthetics point of view it is not ideal. The hull is named “Integrity” while the pusher tug may have been the Jacklyn M. Integrity was built in 1996 and was not a converted ships hull like they did with Southdown Challenger. Unfortunately that was the only image I got of the vessel. I would have liked to have had a better look at the tug part, but that never happened.

And that was my encounter with great lakes freighters. And it was pretty much a good representation of ships and the various iterations of them. Lakers tend to last quite long as the are not subject to the corrosion of sea water and most were well built ships. Unfortunately the traditional twin island laker is going to become increasingly rare in the future, and that was why I have created this page. Unfortunately since March 2001 and November 2017 two of the ships are no longer in service, and the conversion of the Challenger was very sad to read about. I am however glad that I did get to catch a glimpse of them, I just wish I had had the time and proper camera to get pics with, but you know what they say about hindsight?

As far as I know there are a number of preserved great lakes vessels that are museum ships, one being the SS Meteor, the only surviving whaleback laker dating from 1896.

And that concludes my short post, its not much, but at least next time I wont have to scratch my head and try to remember what the names of the ships were. 

DRW © 2017-2021. Created 02/12/2017, moved to Blog 13/02/2021

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