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Wind blocks Block in GH's channel

By Sam Hankinson/Ships Log • Dec 20, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Early Friday morning, Central Marine Logistics’ self-unloading motor vessel Joseph L. Block returned to port with another cargo of slag, this time for Meekoff’s D&M on Harbor Island. It was the Block’s second visit of the season.

Amid snow flurries, the Block completed unloading and began backing out to the lake. Once the ship made the turn near Snug Harbor and the Army Corps of Engineers, high winds pushed it close to the Coast Guard basin.

Despite the situation, all remained calm on the Block. While the wind had clearly overpowered the ship, it also conveniently positioned it snugly against the Coast Guard dock. Crew members were put ashore and the ship was tied up at the dock until the winds died down.

With nothing to do for a while, some of the crew disembarked and headed into town. My good friend, Bob Haworth, invited me to lunch, along with a few other crew members. They were all happy to have a break from the boat.

After lunch, Bob and I went aboard the Block.

The only way up was via a ladder attached to the side of the ship. As I approached it, a wave came over the dock and I found myself wading in chilly Lake Michigan water (Mom, that’s why my boots were wet).

I could feel the boat moving up and down as I ascended the ladder. As scary as the feeling was, it was important not to rush.

Once on deck, Bob gave me a fantastic tour. The Block is a well-maintained ship that has preserved multiple things from its earliest days of operation. There is an original meal-time announcement poster in a mess hall and Inland Steel logo in the engine room that both dated back to 1976, the year the Block was built.

The Block’s pilothouse is pretty spacious. Looking forward, I could see the power plant and behind us the pier, with waves crashing over. I recall feeling the ship roll while I was up there, and I had to catch myself from falling. I guess I don’t have my sea legs yet.

Nestled deep in the ship, the Block has two General Motors EMD 20-645-E7 diesel engines, both about the size of an RV. It was quiet when I ventured down in the engine room, but I imagine it can get loud when both of those engines are running.

By far the coolest thing I saw was the tunnel. It’s a narrow corridor that runs the length of a ship’s cargo hold beneath the decks. In bad weather, you can see the ship bending and flexing in the waves. This is normal for a lake freighter to behave like this. The flexible hull holds up better in rough seas than a rigid hull.

Again, thank you to Bob and the crew of the Block for welcoming me aboard.

The Block was able to depart Saturday morning and proceeded north to Two Harbors, Minnesota, to load iron ore. The ship is currently en route to Hamilton, Ontario, to deliver that iron ore. After this load is completed, the ship will eventually make its way back to Lake Michigan, where it is scheduled to deliver two more loads of slag into port.

With the Wilfred Sykes done for the season and potentially out for even longer, the Block may not be a rare visitor for much longer, as I had first labeled it when it arrived a few weeks ago.

The Block waiting out weather at the Coast Guard station was certainly a peculiar sight for people to see. Bob was telling me that as they were backing out, he was talking to some crew members, saying that Grand Haven would be a nice town to go “up the street” in. Who would have thought that he’d get to do just that!

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