My voyage on the CSL Niagara - August 2008

CSL Niagara

My brother Duncan, his wife Debbie, and I joined the Canada Steamship Line ship, CSL Niagara in the Welland Canal at Lock #7 on Saturday August 2, 2008 around 1600 hours Ship was downbound for Belledune, NB with 30,000 tons of petro-coke. There were 2 members of the crew rejoining the ship at the Lock, Captain Ron Taylor, who hailed from St. Catherines, and Wheels-man James, who helped us get our gear aboard and showed us to our cabins on the promenade deck Cabins were quite large and bright with adjoining full head. Duncan and Debbie occupied Starboard side cabin, and I took the one on the port side. We were aft and had the Observation Lounge within a few steps of our cabins.

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My cabin and Debbie relaxing in the Observation Lounge on board CSL Niagara

Not long after arriving on board we were called to dinner by the Cook “Wally” who came from the Caribbean originally but now lived in Lawrencetown, NS. The second cook was Doris from Shawinigan, now living in North Hatley, QC. The food was excellent and continued that way throughout our voyage.

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Ship's Cook - Wally

I awoke around 0600 Sunday morning and went up to the bridge. The ship was now in the middle of Lake Ontario, and making good time at 11.6 knots. The weather was perfect, bright, sunny, and warm. Wheels-man Dale offered us all a turn at the wheel and showed us how the steering system worked. We have freedom of the ship and can come up to the bridge whenever we feel like it. The crew is very friendly and seem happy to tell us their experiences of sailing on the lakes, seaway, and river. As we sailed through the Thousand Islands we were often surrounded by hundreds of pleasure craft enjoying the warm afternoon. It was great seeing all the houses built on the tiniest of islands. We saw both of the two castles on the American side and took some nice photos.

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Dale the Wheelsman, with Debbie, Captain Ron, and Duncan, on the bridge as we sail past Singer Castle in the Thousand Islands

There was very little up bound traffic so we made good time in arriving at Iroquois Lock. Captain Ron used a technique he called “Sliding the wall” to make a perfect entrance into the lock. It is quite a feat to get 729 feet of ship into the lock when you have only inches to spare on either side. We were up on the bridge again for our arrival in Eisenhauer Lock, where this time he made a straight in approach. Captain Ron said he didn't want to push his luck, and reverted back to sliding the wall when we got to Snell Lock. The satellite TV in our lounge wasn't working but the cadet on board advised he would have it going on Monday for us.

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Leaving a lock in the St. Lawrence Seaway

When I got up on Monday morning I went down to the galley to grab a coffee, and then headed up to the bridge. We were just exiting Upper Beauharnois Lock and arrived at Lower Beauharnois Lock soon thereafter. We tied up at the seawall for a bit waiting for an up bound ship to clear the lock. The deck crew landed the dirty laundry, and we took on some supplies and mail during the wait. We arrived at St. Lambert Lock just after breakfast. Duncan and I swapped a few tales and pointed out some of the old Expo 67 pavilions to Debbie. The area has changed so much since the old days when we used to take our 52 ft. yacht “Gabrielle” on trips from Longueuil down to the Boucherville Islands. We now had a River pilot on board until Trois Riviere, and another pilot from Trois Riviere to Quebec City, and then a third pilot to Pointe D'Escoumins.

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Approaching and entering St. Lambert Lock downbound

Tuesday morning we were off the mouth of the Saguenay River at Tadousac where we spotted some beluga whales of our port bow. The weather continued to hold warm and sunny as we headed down river to the Gulf. Really settled into shipboard routine now. Up early, go to the galley for a coffee, up to the bridge to see where we are, and chew the fat with the First Mate, Brent from St. Anthony, and young James the helms-man of the watch, then down to the mess for a huge breakfast, followed by shore watching, reading, and watching TV. By then it's time for lunch and a leisurely afternoon enjoying the warm weather on deck, and then back up to the bridge to hear a few yarns. And then of course back to the mess for dinner. Rough life.

Early Wednesday morning, we rounded the eastern end of the Gaspe Peninsula and passed Bonaventure Island to starboard and headed up the Baie de Chaleur arriving in Belledune, NB at 1400 local time. Right into the New Brunswick Power dock to offload at the rate of 2 tons of petro-coke per hour. The CSL Niagara has self-unloading equipment, which is interesting to see in action. Duncan and Deb went ashore but were not overly impressed with the security people at the gate or the town/village of Belledune. Our First Mate Brent announced that he was leaving the ship in Sept Isles and was going to sail as Third Mate on a pipe-layer in the Gulf of Mexico out of Galveston, Texas. Captain Ron was busy calling head office to arrange for a replacement mate to meet the ship in Sept Isles.

Thursday morning we departed Belledune at 0600. The Captain decided to take the ship on a bit of sight seeing trip as we passed between Bonaventure Island and Perce Rock. The weather was sunny, warm, and clear and everyone had a chance to get some great pics of Perce Rock.

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Approaching Perce Rock

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Sunset at sea in Gulf of St. Lawrence

We thought that we would have to go to the anchorage at Sept Isles, but on arrival at 0200 on Thursday we were able to dock on the waiting wharf behind another CSL ship the “Birch Glen.” There was a large :”saltie” the “Helwig Altendorf” loading iron ore at the Iron Ore Company of Canada dock and we were scheduled number 3 to load. This meant the crew could get a break and a run ashore in Sept Isles so everyone was in good spirits that morning. The Second Engineer suggested we visit Omers Restaurant and try the “Seafood pizza with cream sauce”. Dunc, Deb, and I took a taxi into the library and spent an hour using their computers to check email and investigate various options for getting home. We then had a walk around town, and went to Omers for lunch. I didn't have the pizza but the crab sandwich was excellent. Met the Second Engineer, the Tunnelman and his wife, who came in to have a pizza. Dunc and Deb took off to go to Walmart, and I walked down along the boardwalk in the harbour. Nice town and much nicer than I had imagined it would be. I took a cab back to the ship and spent the afternoon reading.

On Saturday morning we shifted to the loading dock at 0650 hours and started to load iron ore pellets at 0730. We stayed on board and watched the Opening Ceremonies .of the Olympics on TV. Loading was completed around 1500 and we immediately got underway for our voyage upbound to St. Lambert. The ship is filthy dirty covered with iron ore dust and bentonite. The crew hosed down all afternoon but it will take several more times to get rid of all the dirt. A few minutes after clearing the buoy going out of Sept Isles, George the wheels-man on watch, who hails from Rose Blanche, Newfoundland, asked me if I wanted to take the wheel. It took a while to get used to steering with the kort nozzle as opposed to a normal rudder but after a bit I could keep the ship within a degree. I made a couple of course changes before turning the wheel over for Duncan for him to have a go at it.

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Loading iron ore pellets in Sept Isles

Got up early on Sunday morning as I hoped we would see some more whales as we crossed the mouth of the Saguenay River. No luck this morning. After breakfast Duncan called son Bentley to make us some reservations to fly home from Montreal via Westjet out of Dorval on Monday morning. The weather gods continued to bless us as we again enjoyed a great day on the St. Lawrence. There were many yachts out sailing as we passed Quebec City. One of the things I enjoyed was speaking to the river pilots. All were experienced mariners and only to happy to share a salty dip or two and point out interesting sites. One that comes to mind is at Cap Charles on the south shore between Quebec and Trois Rivieres.An individual has set up a large flag pole and as ships pass he raises and dips which ever national flag is appropriate and plays their national anthem. The ships appreciate the gesture and salute by blowing their horns in return.

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Passing Quebec City

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Pilot boat leaving and approaching Quebec Bridge

Our cook “Wally” out did himself by preparing a lovely seafood platter with shrimp, scallops, and haddock for our final meal on board. Today was our last full day on board as we expect to reach St. Lambert Lock around 0600 on Monday morning.

A great trip that I will remember fondly for many years to come.

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Angus Cross at wheel of CSL Niagara - August 2008