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Block returns after 15-year absence

By Sam Hankinson/Ships Log • Dec 6, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Last Tuesday, a ship appeared off Grand Haven. It was not a ship that had been in port at any point this year, or the year before that, or the year before that.

The ship was Central Marine Logistics’ self-unloading motor vessel Joseph L. Block, and it was loaded with a cargo of slag for Verplank’s dock in Ferrysburg. The Block crossed the pier heads at about 9 p.m. Tuesday, unloaded at Verplank’s, and backed out Wednesday morning shortly after sunrise.

There was a nice photo of the Block backing out in Thursday’s paper, courtesy of my friend, Bob Haworth.

The last time the Joseph L. Block was in Grand Haven was more than 15 years ago — May 22, 2002.

It was built in 1976 by Bay Shipbuilding Co. in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The ship’s namesake is Joseph Leopold Block, who became Inland Steel’s vice president in 1927 and then ascended to president in 1953. Mr. Block was later the CEO of Inland Steel and also chairman of the board.

The Block measures 728 feet long, 78 feet wide and 45 feet deep. It’s powered by two GM EMD 20-645-E7 diesel engines rated at 7,200 bhp, which allows the ship to travel at speeds of up to 17.3 mph.

As I have mentioned before, the Joseph L. Block is a fleetmate of the Wilfred Sykes. The Sykes is Grand Haven’s most frequent visitor over the past five years, and visited 19 times this season before laying up for the winter early. The Sykes is Grand Haven’s main slag boat, and loads the cargo in either Burns Harbor or Indiana Harbor, Indiana, for delivery to Meekoff’s D&M on Harbor Island or Verplank’s in Ferrysburg.

While the Sykes is laid up, the demand for slag still exists at those two docks in port, hence the reason for the Block to visit instead.

The Block has essentially the same trade routes as the Sykes, but it is larger and occasionally makes travels to Lake Superior. The Sykes mainly stays on Lake Michigan.

The number of cargoes we have received through the month of November is 97. The Sykes’ total of 19 visits is followed by the Bradshaw McKee/St. Marys Conquest’s 13 times so far. We have seen 13 different U.S.-flagged vessels call on Grand Haven, as well as five different ships of Canadian nationality.

We received our first cargo of December this past Sunday when Port City Marine’s articulated tug/barge Prentiss Brown/St. Marys Challenger came into port with a load of cement for the terminal in Ferrysburg.

Our total number of cargoes last year was an even 100. With the arrival of the Challenger, we are now two cargoes away from reaching our total from last season.

There will likely be more ships in port, but weather is a huge factor, so there is no definite information on when we will get our next cargo.

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