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One ship visits during Christmastime

Sam Hankinson/Ships Log • Dec 27, 2018 at 7:00 AM

Port City Marine’s articulated tug/barge combination Prentiss Brown/St. Marys Challenger was the only visitor in our port this past week.

The duo arrived before daybreak Sunday and proceeded up the Grand River to the St. Marys Cement terminal in Ferrysburg to discharge a cargo of cement. The pair was backing out to the lake around mid-morning Christmas Eve.

The St. Marys Challenger used to sail as a steamship. It held the title of the oldest operating vessel on the Great Lakes up until a few years ago, when it was cut down to a barge.

Built in 1906, the Challenger began its career as the bulk carrier William P. Snyder, sailing under the banner of the Shenango Furnace Co. of Cleveland, Ohio. In 1926, the vessel was renamed Elton Hoyt II and wound up under the ownership of the Interlake Steamship Co. In 1952, the name Elton Hoyt II was transferred over to a newly built vessel in the Interlake fleet. The older Hoyt was renamed the Alex D. Chisholm.

By the 1960s, the Chisholm was considered surplus tonnage and mothballed in Erie, Pennsylvania. Medusa Portland Cement purchased the hull in 1966 and converted it to a self-unloading cement carrier at the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co. in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Later that year, the vessel entered the cement trade under the name Medusa Challenger.

1988 saw Southdown Inc. acquire Medusa Portland Cement, which prompted a rename to Southdown Challenger. In 2005, the vessel was given its present name.

Over the 2013-14 winter, the St. Marys Challenger was converted to a barge at Bay Shipbuilding Co. in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

It was disappointing for boat watchers to see the Challenger’s days as a self-powered ship end, but the hull lives on. Operating on the Great Lakes for more than 100 years is an incredible feat and the Challenger should be around for plenty of seasons to come.

The tug Prentiss Brown was built in 1969 by Gulfport Shipbuilding of Port Arthur, Texas. It was christened the Betty Culbreath and renamed the Michaela McAllister when it was acquired by McAllister Towing and Transportation, an off-Lakes firm. It was subsequently purchased by Port City Tug and completely refitted at Bay Shipbuilding. It is 123 feet, 5 inches long; 30 feet wide; and 19 feet deep. It is powered by two GM EMD 12-645-E2 diesel engines.

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