Algosoo Tour, Spring 2003
The graduating Boating class of the Brockville CPS - and friends - had the opportunity to tour the lake freighter Algosoo on Sunday 2003 June 01. I think about sixteen were able to attend. This was very kindly arranged through Brent Argue of LaFarge, as that company was loading stone onto the ship at Prescott that day.
Our tour guide, the second mate, was charming, witty and hospitable to a fault. Unfortunately, we often found it difficult to hear him, but many of the interesting facts were relayed from person to person to those standing at the back, as we grouped at various places on the ship during our visit. One of things none of us seemed to learn was the man's name!
We had all signed "release of liability" forms, and he reminded us that this was a working ship, that we weren't wearing protective gear, and so to watch our steps and be careful.
The ship, empty except for ballast water in between its two hulls, had unloaded coal just the previous day, and had washed out its hold (big water hoses, he told us). It was starting to load 27,000 tons of stone, for use further up the Seaway in building a road. Algosoo is 730 feet long, 75 feet wide (the maximum dimensions permissible in the Seaway locks, as I recall), and can carry any type of "bulk" cargo, another example being grain. (Some of us wondered how sanitary that would be, after coal, regardless of how well washed the hold!) We were told that loading usually took about eighteen hours. While huge loaders scurried around down below, feeding two hoppers which fed conveyor belts. They, in turn, dropped their cargo into the hold.
Our tour started amidships, after climbing a staircase up the side, and from there we proceeded forward. Algosoo is the type of ship with a superstructure forward as well as aft, so we were shown where the crews' and officers' quarters were in this section. (I learned elsewhere that some of the crew also have quarters aft.) Our guide wondered out loud why some ships were built this way - apparently it's more conventional to keep the superstructure all aft (and, as I understand it, out of the way of waves). (I think this may have been the last ship built this way - it's clearly an "inland" design, despite navigating some waters like those of Lake Superior, which can rival any ocean for its tempestuousness.)
Up at least three flights of stairs was the pilothouse, with a tiny wheel for steering (not mechanically connected to the rudder), two RADARs, a conventional chart table but of course all the latest electronic charting, interfaced with D-GPS. We could see the ship, on the "chart" (video monitor), sitting exactly at the dock. There were radios, intercoms, a mechanical back-up engine-room signalling system, and of course a coffee station. There was a magnetic compass, and a pelorus. Visibility was good in virtually every direction. We think we saw tiny helm controls in each aft corner of the room, and some of us surmised that these were ersatz docking bridges, but the tour moved on and we never got to ask.
In fact, there was so much to see and know that it would have been impossible to have every question answered. Everything we learned and saw fascinated us, and left us wondering about details to much more than could have been covered in the two hours or so we were aboard.
There was some random guy attending to a clerical task over in one corner of the pilothouse, very casually dressed, more or less ignoring us - and then our guide introduced us to Captain Anderson(?), of whom he seemed very fond and respectful.
Underway, the Bridge may only have two crew (although I think three including the helmsman) - a navigator, and the Officer of the Watch, of whom I think he said there were three. They stand watch four hours on and eight off, around the clock.
We heard it confirmed that "local" ships don't use pilots, but that foreign ones must, not only by regulation, but also out of genuine need. All ships, local or not, require pilots in the St. Lawrence River east of Montreal, and they are very highly regarded, and again viewed as a necessity even by experienced officers.
Algosoo is a "self-unloader," and I'll try to describe how that works. Most of the ship is the "hold," the cargo area in between the pointy end and the blunt end! It's divided by bulkheads into five (I think) compartments, and they're just big, deep, open areas. Each hold is covered with multiple huge hatches, and a large deck crane rides fore and aft on rails, reminiscent of those used for a railroad, running the length of the deck, lifting hatch covers and simply stacking them between the hatch openings.
However, the holds don't extend all the way down to the bottom of the ship. Underneath them is part of the unloading mechanism. Lengthwise under the holds are three conveyor belts, running parallel to each other from ahead to aft. The cargo is dropped from the holds onto these belts through unloading hatches, and there are hundreds of these. Each hatch complex is perhaps two metres long. Virtually the entire floor of the holds is made of these hatches, whose doors are controlled individually, so that when one opens, that portion of the hold's cargo drops out onto a conveyor belt.
Here's an idea of the configuration of the unloading hatches at the bottom of the hold (and remember to keep them distinct in your mind from the loading hatches, which are above the hold). The scale and angles are off, but the idea is that the unloading hatches are peaked like a roof, and the space between them slopes down towards them. So, when the unloading hatches retract, everything in the hold will slide down and onto the conveyor belts below.
/\ /\ /\ \/\/ \/\/ ---- ----
At the stern, these belts all empty onto one larger belt, which brings the cargo up through a complex system to a huge self-unloading boom on deck. So, the ship needs to be loaded using external equipment (requiring about eighteen hours), but can unload itself (six hours). Our guide wondered out loud whether we could safely go down inside, below the aft superstructure, and have a look, and at first asked for three volunteers, who could then report back to the others what it was like down there.
His own enthusiasm for the tour, however, seemed to overcome him, and eventually most of us were taken down, in small groups. Way down into an increasingly dirty, sooty, confined, oily bilge we went, two or three flights of ever steeper, narrower stairs, until we were actually below the cargo holds. The only thing below us was the water ballast area between the double hulls. From there, at the stern, you can see the three long conveyor belts running all the way from the forward holds. Each of the many unloading hatches in the bottom of the hold is operated individually right there by a lever, actuating a hydraulic mechanism. So, crew goes down there, for self-unloading, and works those doors. It was tempting to try one...
The people waiting for the small groups were treated to a small snack and drink in the galley, also in the aft superstructure. We were told that the crew was well-fed, with good provisions and excellent cooks. We saw the crew dining room, but there is another for officers, and another for the Captain and the First Engineer. These two also will eat with guests or passengers - and the ship does have passenger quarters. Apparently, it's not like an ocean-going freighter, some of which carry a few paying passengers; it's more a matter of invitation, arranged at some level far above that of the mate who was showing us around. He said that although having passengers was fine and they were generally no problem, it really didn't impinge on his life - or work - very much. He reminded us that, with a total crew of 27, they operated this ship twenty-four hours a day, and that it was big, complex, dangerous, expensive machine. He considered that working on the ship was really working.
He also told us how many unsafe boaters they saw during the busy summer months, and I tried to remind him politely that the self-selected group he was talking to that day probably weren't the worst culprits.
The decor in the crew lounges, etc., that we saw, was very 1970's. This seemed about right, as the boat was built in the mid-1970's, apparently in Collingwood, for a cost at that time of $31 million. (Another resource says $15 million.)
Finally on our tour was the engine room. "Rooms," pluralized, would be more accurate. This section was also under the aft superstructure, but aft of the large conveyor belt section of the self-unloader. Down some narrow, steep steps we went again. This wasn't as enclosed-feeling or grimey an area as the self-unloader mechanism had been. These were big rooms, strewn with pipes, gauges, chimneys, motors, etc., but with lots of walking room in and amongst. The floors were mostly metal grates. We were shown three huge engines, one of them running and creating quite a racket (hearing protection required for the regular crew), and some of us wondered if perhaps this wasn't one of the ship's engines left running for power. But no, it was only one of the ship's three generators! When the self-unloading mechanism was working, he told us, they needed all three.
It was about on this level that we saw a side hatch open, and looked out onto the water, not too far below us. (The ship was sitting at a draft of about thirteen feet, I believe, and will settle when loaded sometimes to twenty-eight or more, so we must not have been as close to the water's surface as it seemed!) This is the engine room hatch which one can often see open on a warm, calm day as the freighters steam along the St. Lawrence Seaway. Sometimes a crew member or two will be sitting there, presumably enjoying the fresh air while on duty in the engine room, and in my experience they will wave back at you if you wave to them. (Don't accidentally do the distress signal!)
Just aft of this was the engine control room, and as one might expect it was full of panels, computers, readouts, etc. We had no clue what anything did, except that there was an interesting inclinometer on the wall there - a pointed weight on a string. The three crew manning the control room - even though at dock - claimed it was their most accurate and dependable instrument!
Anyway, we still hadn't seen the main engines. The generators were big, each higher than a man and three times as long, but the two propulsion engines were much, much bigger! First of all, we climbed down two more levels, to find these behemoths, each a V-10 producing 4500 hp, if I got that right, and driving forward into a huge transmission mechanism which then turns the single propeller shaft. At her open-water cruising speed of eleven knots, the Algosoo uses 25,000 litres of diesel fuel a day, assuming I got that right too.
Unfortunately, or not, these engines were, of course, not running when we saw them.
From there it was back on deck, forward to amidships (to get clear of the area where the loading was currently going on), preparing to disembark. We walked across the ship from one side to the other, and I looked down right beside me, perhaps thirty or forty feet, into the empty bottom of a cargo hold, nothing other than a six-inch hatch rim separating our walking space from the hatchway. Yikes!
Good-byes and sincere thank-yous were said all around. It had been a truly amazing, engrossing tour of an impressive machine. Many thanks to the Captain and crew for allowing us on board and for guiding us around, to Algoma Central Marine, and to Brent, from LaFarge, the boating graduate who lined all of this up for us.
(For more information about this boat, one resource on the Web is at Boatnerd - click on Photo Galleries and go from there. Searching from Google using "algosoo" raised many other web sites which refer to this ship.)
© 2003 ctLow, WebMaster
-first posted: 2003-06-08