After moving on from selling books at the Nautical Mind I found myself working as a wheelsman onboard a lake freighter. As you can imagine from the job title, it involves a lot of wheeling, or steering. When underway I spend my watches on the bridge, either actively steering the vessel (in rivers, canals, harbours, etc); or if we are on autopilot then I am helping to maintain a good lookout. You might also find me doing some cleaning when the bridge needs a mopping, or if its time to clear the bugs from the windows; whatever needs doing I get to do it. When in port the job changes quite a bit, the wheelsman is responsible for a whole range of tasks while on watch, this includes: gangway watch, keeping an eye on the mooring wires, sounding ballast tanks, assisting the deckhands and really, anything else the mate might want you to do. On top of this the wheelsmen are also responsible for handling the wires back aft whenever we are tying up, letting go or in a lock. No two days are ever the same, and except for those long lake watches on the in the middle of the night, it rarely gets dull.
The ship I am working on is called Ojibway, she is owned by Lower Lakes Towing out of Port Dover, Ontario. We ship a lot of grain, picking it up all over the Great Lakes, and we take it out to Quebec City, or sometimes Montreal. On a recent trip to Quebec City I took these pictures while downbound in the St. Lawrence. We are in St. Catherine Lock, just outside of Montreal. Lower Lakes and their affiliate, Grand River Navigation, are featured in the book The Grey Ghosts which outlines the history of the relatively new company, and provides some great information about their ships.
Here we are “sliding” the wall into the lock. The bow is brought up gently to the wall, and the ship then slides along into the lock.
Here is a view of Montreal from inside the lock. The ship is in position and ready to go down.
Here we are at the other end, the lock is empty, the doors are open, and we are heading out.
One last look back, as we exit the lock. The large ‘X’ to the right of the picture is a lock door, the crane above it is used to lay a retaining cable across the lock when a ship is entering, the cable is meant to prevent damage to the lock doors.