Grand Haven Tribune: Four vessels visit Grand Haven this past week
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Four vessels visit Grand Haven this past week

Samuel Hankinson • Jun 19, 2019 at 4:00 PM

The port of Grand Haven is getting busy as four vessels called upon docks on the Grand River this past week.

On Saturday morning, Lower Lakes Towing’s self-unloading motor vessel Robert S. Pierson arrived off Grand Haven with a load of trap rock for the Verplank dock in Ferrysburg. Despite winds, the vessel slowly maneuvered into port and travelled up the Grand River to discharge her cargo.

By mid-afternoon, the Pierson was done unloading and backed out to a foggy Lake Michigan, blowing her horn several times to beachgoers on her way out.

On Tuesday, the port saw a flurry of activity. Pere Marquette Shipping’s articulated tug/barge Undaunted/Pere Marquette 41 arrived before sunrise with a cargo of slag for Verplank’s. The duo was backing out by mid-morning.

Grand River Navigation’s self-unloading motor vessel Manitowoc crossed the pierheads shortly after noon with a load of slag for Meekhof’s D&M on Harbor Island.

Later in the day, Port City Marine’s articulated tug/barge Prentiss Brown/St. Marys Challenger arrived from Milwaukee with a partial load of cement for the terminal in Ferrysburg.

The Pierson, Manitowoc and Challenger were all making their first visits of the season. The Challenger is much more frequent so I will not profile her this week.

The Robert S. Pierson and Manitowoc are nearly identical, as they are two of three “river class” vessels that were built by the American Shipbuilding Company of Lorain, Ohio in 1973 and 1974 for Union Commerce Bank of Cleveland. The Pierson entered service as the Wolverine and the Manitowoc as the Paul Thayer. The third vessel was the William R. Roesch, which sails now as the Calumet.

Originally, all three ships were to be managed by Kinsman Marine Transit, but during construction, the Wolverine was transferred over to the Oglebay Norton Company’s Columbia Transportation Division.

The Wolverine’s namesake is pretty obvious. Oglebay Norton named it after the mascot of the State of Michigan, the state where Oglebay Norton vessels frequently loaded or unloaded cargo. Oglebay Norton also operated a vessel named the Buckeye.

The Thayer and Roesch joined the Oglebay Norton fleet in 1975. In 1994 the vessels were renamed. The Thayer became Earl W. Oglebay and the Roesch became David Z. Norton.

While with Oglebay Norton, the Wolverine, Oglebay, and Norton were common sights in Grand Haven.

In 2006, Oglebay Norton sold the Wolverine, Oglebay, and Norton to the Wisconsin and Michigan Steamship Company, which ended Oglebay Norton’s time as a shipping company on the Great Lakes. 2007 saw the Wolverine sail with her same name, while the other two ran with shortened names of Earl W. and David Z. The vessels were operated by Lower Lakes Transportation during this time under a charter agreement with Wisconsin & Michigan that included an option to buy the vessels.

Grand River Navigation, the American affiliate of Lower Lakes, exercised the option to purchase the three vessels in early 2008. The Earl W. and David Z. were renamed Manitowoc and Calumet, respectively, while the Wolverine was resold to Lower Lakes Towing, registered under the Canadian flag, and renamed Robert S. Pierson.

The Manitowoc is named after the river of the same name in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Manitowoc is the Wisconsin port of call for the Lake Michigan Carferry SS Badger.

The Pierson is the only vessel in the Lower Lakes fleet to not be named after a river or body of water. Robert Scott Pierson worked for Misener Transportation and then later founded his own shipping company, The Soo River Company, in the 1970s. He worked for Lower Lakes Towing and Grand River Navigation until he passed away in December 2007.

Since being renamed, the Pierson has only visited Grand Haven a handful of times, with her last visit coming in June of 2011. The Manitowoc is much more common. The Pierson’s dedicated run is shuttling limestone from Colborne, Ontario to Clarkson, Ontario. This confines the vessel to Lake Ontario, so she is rarely seen on any of the other Great Lakes.

We may have seen the Wilfred Sykes at the Verplank dock by the time this is printed. We are also expecting the Kaye E. Barker, Pere Marquette 41, and John G. Munson at Verplank’s and possibly the Challenger back at the cement terminal over the weekend.

If you are unfamiliar with the John G. Munson, that’s because it has never visited before. You can track the Munson and the other ships that are due with marinetraffic.com.

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