Feb. 11, 2002
LIKE THE LITTLE ENGINE, THE TUGBOAT CAN
by Bill Taylor, Toronto Star

If you want to be romantic about it, the Algocape is a sleeping giant. On the other hand, you might just as easily compare the ship to a comatose whale. Either way, it's a dead weight, streaked with rust and badly in need of a paint job. More to the point, it needs to be moved. But not under its own steam. The Algoma Central Marine bulk carrier has been sitting at the Redpath Sugar wharf with its bow up against Queens Quay. As the days have passed, the nose has risen in the water and the ship is looking distinctly stern-heavy. More than 220 metres long, it way outstretches the dock. And once the raw sugar in the forward compartments has been unloaded, there's only one way to get at the stuff in the rear. Pull the ship out, turn it around and slot it back in stern-first. Not as easy as it sounds and with a westerly wind getting gusty a little trickier than Lee Dufour, captain of the McKeil Marine tugboat Glenevis, might like. "That ship's just a big slab with dead engines," he says as he pours lubricating oil into the World War II-era tug's steering gear and spins the big wood-spoked wheel to and fro. "She can't help herself, she can't help us. If we get her out there and the wind starts pushing her ... ." Major problems? Dufour looks surprised. "Nothing we can't handle," he says. So where's the rest of Glenevis' crew? "Bob? He'll be along any minute." Glenevis has the silhouette of a duck but the heart of an eagle. It may fuss around the big boats like a terrier, but when you hear it growl, you know you're looking at the alpha dog. It's only 26 metres long and weighs about 90 tonnes, but its hefty diesel engine produces 1,000 horsepower. And it's all applied to pulling hard, not going fast. Glenevis has a top speed a little shy of 10 knots, which means if the skipper wants to water-ski he's out of luck. Just don't challenge him to a tug-of-war. The boat is docked in a little backwater off Cherry St. with its smaller sister Lac Como. Both tugs will be used to move the Algocape Glenevis doing the pulling and Lac Como manoeuvring the big ship's bow. Bob Baker usually skippers Lac Como, but today he's Dufour's deckhand and engineer. "Skippers come and skippers go," Baker grins. "Deckhands make the difference." He's 30 and a Newfoundlander, "a Bayman from Little Bay East. You won't find it on the map. Population 200 and sinking. I live in Brampton now. Been doing this for about 10 years." Dufour, 27, is a Hamiltonian. McKeil Marine gave him a summer job as a painter when he was 19 and, without ever having thought of a career on the water, he's worked his way up to a captain's ticket. The men are on 24-hour call. Time is money, and if the stevedores have unloaded as much sugar as they can and it's the middle of the night, the ship still has to be moved right away. This is an afternoon job and, Dufour says, "as usual, it's hurry up and wait." `That ship's just a big slab with dead engines. She can't help herself, she can't help us. If we get her out there and the wind starts pushing her ... .' Lee Dufour Captain of tugboat Glenevis The job was fixed for noon, but they're still unloading the ship and it's after 1:30 when the word finally comes. Glenevis, shuddering under its suppressed power, moves out into the lake in formation with Lac Como. Tom McKeil is skippering with Des Chabot on deck. The sun is brass-bright in a gleaming sky, but that westerly wind could cut you in two. Lac Como bustles in toward the quay and the Algocape's bow. But, as the last few crane-loads of sugar are hoisted from the hold, there's another wait. Dufour reads a magazine and helps Baker with a crossword puzzle. But the radio is on and both have their ears wide open. "Hello, Lac Como. Como, we can throw the heaving line to you now for the bowline," says a voice from the ship. Two guys in hardhats and sunglasses, muffled against the wind in jumpsuits and balaclavas, appear on the Algocape's stern, and a thick rope is passed down. Baker misses it the first time, then grabs it and loops it around and around the "tow bits," a huge bollard on the deck. Dufour jockeys the hand-throttle, picking up the slack, taking the strain. On the dock, the Algocape's ropes are being cast off. "Lines in aft," the ship reports. "Okay, gangway's coming up now." Fully loaded, the freighter can carry almost 30,000 tonnes. Dufour isn't sure what she weighs right now, "but she's plenty heavy." Slowly, slowly, gruff and grumbling, but not to be denied, Glenevis pulls the Algocape stern-first away from the wharf. Glenevis holds the stern steady as Lac Como gently swings the freighter around. "Getting her out and turning her is easy," Dufour says. "Lining her up to go back is tricky." As the freighter pirouettes, Dufour has his head out of the wheelhouse checking his alignment with the dock. "We're gonna stay 15, 20 feet off the wall. We're gonna bring her in more to the west," he tells McKeil. "A little more. I've lots of room yet." Lac Como is at a 90-degree angle to the freighter, keeping the bows where they need to be. There's some complicated geometry at work here as the ship moves crabwise toward its berth. Someone on shore throws a snowball. It falls well short. Glenevis noses up against Queens Quay and drops the tow rope. Dufour backs away, then moves the tug up against the freighter's acne-pitted hull. He puts on full power to push the ship into place against the huge tractor tires that line the dock. The Algocape is back where she belongs, securely tied to the shore. As the tugboats back away, the cranes are already moving into position to resume unloading sugar. Tomorrow, the two tugs will tow the empty ship across the harbour, where it will wait out what's left of winter. "Call me when you know what time you'll need us," Dufour tells the ship. "I'm playing hockey tonight. I'll be up late." "Good job, guys," says the voice of the Algocape. "Thank you." Two hours to the minute from when they left, the tugs tie up again at Cherry St.
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you'll often see the freighter strange attractor docked at redpath

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