Tuesday, March 28, 2017

More Ships

There were two more ships berthed in Owen Sound harbour when I was there last week, the Algoma Olympic, another bulk carrier, and the Chi-Cheemaun, our favourite ferry.

The Chi-Cheemaun can be found here every winter, with a skeleton crew living onboard keeping all the systems running and ready.  It runs between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island from about May 24 until Thanksgiving.  Unusually, the Algoma Olympic had reversed into the harbour, and was berthed ready to head out into Georgian Bay.

But I first approached it from the other end, walking along the dock that`s all open to the public.  This walk seems to be a good balance of an industrial site that is safely accessible.  Closer to the downtown there are a number of historical plaques outlining the history of shipping in the harbour.

Actually I took this picture because the pattern of the street lights appealed to me, but you can also see the stairs that is lowered for staff to access the ship while it`s berthed here for a long time.  You can also see one of the large electrical cables that they run to the ship for such a stay.  Must be interesting to live onboard an inactive ship for 3 months.

This ship has a square stern, which helps increase the hold capacity, and lots of activity onboard at the moment.  Those double dark square towers are the smokestacks.  Although I didn`t get a picture to illustrate it, this ship is another self-unloading bulk carrier like the two ships I featured yesterday.  It has carried a lot of coal, but also carries salt and grain on occasion.

The crew was obviously busy with maintenance activities, though I have no idea exactly what they`re doing.  There are five men working on things in this photo if you can spot them.

The Chi-Cheemaun (`big canoe`) ferry is berthed on the far side of the harbour.  Since we once owned a cottage on Manitoulin Island, we have travelled on this ship at least 40 or 50 times.  We got to know it quite well.  It loads and unloads from both stern and bow, letting vehicles drive straight through.  It`s large enough to handle full size trucks and buses.

The current paint job features an interesting native design on the smokestack.  Both the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island have significant First Nation communities, with strong and creative artistic interests.  Although it`s a good size for a ferry, it is dwarfed by the nearby lakers.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ships in Harbour

There were three big lake freighters in harbour in Owen Sound the other day, and I'm always fascinated by those big ships.  They were all floating high, probably empty of cargoes for the winter, and anxious to get moving again.

When the John D. Leitch was built, in St. Catherines, Ontario, it was the largest self-unloading bulk carrier on the lakes; now it's the oldest such ship, though it's had a major refit.

Originally it was built to carry coal for Ontario Hydro, but now that Ontario has phased out coal power generating stations, it can carry grain, iron ore, gravel and other bulk cargoes.  John Leitch owned Upper Lakes Shipping, but the business has been sold to Algoma Central, who have kept his name on this ship.

It took a little walking around to get a picture of the full ship, but the cement dock isn't busy of course, so I was able to walk under the loading tower for that and get these pictures.  This ship has been called the "little bank building on floats" because of its tall wheelhouse that looks a bit like a corporate building.

I think it must have taken a team of boathands to drag this chain up and onto the pier.  A lot of other ropes are holding it close all along the dock.

On the other side of the harbour was the Algoway, another bulk carrier.  It carries the same range of bulk cargoes, including salt from the mines underneath the harbour in Goderich.

Owned by Algoma Central, this ship was built in Collingwood when there was still ship-building in the harbour there.  It's a little smaller than the John D. Leitch.

This is the huge boom for loading and unloading, 250 feet long.  It can swing out at right angles to help load or unload.  On older ships there might be several cranes unloading bulk cargo out of each hold, and corresponding cranes on shore to load each hold.  Loading with a bucket on a crane is a slow process!

On ships like this, conveyor belts do all the work.  They run along the bottom of the ship so the cargo can be dropped down onto them.  Then they rise up an elevator and drop onto the 2nd main conveyor belt that runs along this boom, extending onshore.  It can drop piles of coal on a dock, or drop grain into a receiving bin for an elevator.  All the magic is actually out of sight, and it makes shipping much safer than it has been in the past.  Dust control is also much better if the conveyor belts are enclosed in a tunnel.  You can find a neat video that illustrates all this here.

The rear superstructure looked freshly painted,

But the wheelhouse definitely looked like it could use a fresh coat of paint!

And the hull looked like it had either run through a lot of ice, or they were preparing to repaint it.

Looming over all of this were the Owen Sound grain elevators, though none of these ships are necessarily carrying grain.

And stretching to the north, behind the Algoway, is the blue water of Georgian Bay.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Winter's Last Gasp - I hope!

We had a very light bit of freezing rain over Friday night, and woke to tiny ice pellets falling off the trees into the leaves below.  It was like a light rattling coming from all directions.

Little drops of ice decorated the White Pine, rapidly melting and turning into drips of water.

Looking upwards through the pine needles gave a very different impression.

Back in the meadow, the bare twigs of the Tamarack were marked with plenty of ice drops, as well as the tiny cones ready to grow and unfold.

Looking through an old apple tree.  By mid-morning the sun had melted all the ice and our last winter storm (?) was gone.

Hopefully that bit of freezing rain was winter's last gasp.  The snow along the fencerow is almost gone, and will probably be totally gone in 24 hours.

The big pile of snow where I blow snow off the driveway will take a little longer, but it is shrinking rapidly, down to 18 inches from 4 feet.

And underneath the snow we've had for 4 months, the mosses and lichens on logs and boulders provide the brightest bit of immediate green as spring tries to drive winter away and take over.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017


There is actually no bird species called a "seagull", even though everyone uses that name for the ubiquitous gulls (17 species of which can be seen in North America) that you find all around the Great Lakes shorelines.  So when I dropped into the Owen Sound harbour the other day, I wasn't surprised to find some gulls.

There were four ships in the Owen Sound harbour, making the Chi-Cheemaun, the ferry that runs between the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island, look relatively small.  The other three were big lake freighters, including the Algoma Olympic on the right.  I presume they were all in harbour for the winter.

It's actually their raucous call that I always associate with the Great Lakes shoreline, more than actually seeing the birds.  That screeching is always in the background, as the birds wheel around and pick up whatever they can find to eat while I usually try to ignore them.

I don't usually get photos of birds in flight, let along clear ones, but I just lifted my camera and snapped, and it worked.  These first two photos are a Herring Gull, the larger of the two common gulls we see here.

Incoming! - another gull sailing toward me.  I raised the camera and snapped three times.  I amazed myself as how clear the focus was, as these three pix are considerably cropped.

You can clearly see the black ring around the bill that marks this as a Ring-billed Gull.  They're very common, and are actually found inland as much as on the shoreline.  I often see flocks settle on fields, and there are always a herd of them around the garbage dump.

There are actually 7 gull species that have been seen in Ontario the past year according to 'ebird'.  These two species are by far the most common and the only ones that can be seen year round.  With the success of these, I think I may have to try a few more bird shots!

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Friday, March 24, 2017

A Walk in the Woods

The other day I went for a walk in the woods, a nice bushwacking spring walk through the woods next door, where the snow was melting fast.  No need for snowshoes anymore, and a special time in the woods before the leaves starting thinking about coming out.

Parts of the woods still had a fair bit of snow on the ground, I suspect here because it blew in off the field and was deeper than average.

Other parts, including the old tractor trail I walked in on, had almost no snow left at all.

There's an interesting small forested wetland in the woods, which is melting, but won't lose all it's ice for quite awhile yet.  This becomes an oasis of interesting plant life later in the season.

I've noticed one Butternut tree in the woods, a tree that is endangered in Ontario because of the Butternut Canker disease.  It's easy to identify with those flat strips on the bark, winding up the trunk.

Looking upwards it appeared that this tree was still healthy.  At least it wasn't already full of dead branches.  I'll have to keep an eye on it over the summer.

A fallen log was decorated with hundreds of tiny white bracket fungi.

And this tree is infested with the Hoof Fungus, also called the Ice-Man Fungus, as the Ice-Man had some of this in his pack, apparently used as tinder for starting fires (5000 years ago).

Although the bark at ground level still looked ok, looking up I saw that the entire tree was already dead.

I left the trail and worked my way in a big circle to the farthest corner of the woods, where this nice old stone fence borders the field.

A big contrast is the long pile of rocks and tree stumps bulldozed up around the field from clearing of other fencerows a few years back.  I'm afraid this is part of the new face of agriculture.

You can now see all the way to the far end of the farm where the house and barn are, a view that was formerly broken by three separate fencerows, breaking this view into three separate fields.

But if you ignore that, the view over the rest of the back field was beautiful on this particular day, with small white clouds scudding across a blue sky.

Several of you commented on our cold temperatures here, after my shots of ice on Georgian Bay the past two days.  But to us, this is not cold unless there's a wind.  It's normal spring weather, when most of the snow cover is gone, the solid ice is gone, temperatures have risen from -10 or -15°C (5 - 15°F) and are now hovering around freezing, probably below freezing at night and above during the day, at least by after lunch.  It's all part of that transition from 'real' winter to 'real' spring.  And it's great weather to get out walking.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thornbury Harbour

Thornbury Harbour, where I shared pictures of the ice formations yesterday, is still clogged with ice.  Inside the harbour walls the ice ranges from flat but broken ice floes to that slushy white ice in circular patches that I found last week in Meaford.

Looking west from the main pier, the inner harbour is still ice-filled, but you can see the waves of Georgian Bay washing in to the shoreline further west.

There is lots of ice along the shoreline to the west as well.  I actually caught the little green light in the top of this harbour light - though what a green light means at this time of year I'm not sure!

I think this was the coldest picnic table in North America yesterday, with a bitter Arctic wind rolling in across Georgian Bay.  We hurried back to the car to get warm.

But not before I noticed those slushy circular icy patches, moving hypnotically up and down as the swells rolled in underneath them.

Over on the other side of the inner harbour, where the waves don't roll in beyond the sailboat docks, the ice was still in flat ice floes.

But then I realized, the white ice building up along the edges of these floes as they move back and forth and bump into each other, is all step one in creating those slushy circular ice patches further out.  I've learned a bit about how ice disintegrates at this time of year here.