Damen newcomer at Ontario port has line on versatility


Capt. Joe Farish eased the tugboat Sheri Lynn S. off the Picton Terminals dock before 0730. It had snowed overnight, and the channel in from Lake Ontario was smooth on the calm, overcast December morning. With the tug’s full-vision wheelhouse, Farish had visibility all around him. Looking forward, he could see one deck hand readying lines on the port bow, and he could turn to spot the other clearing the remaining snow and ice off the spacious aft deck. Through the sky windows, an indispensable feature when docking and undocking ships, a crane and the top of the cliff beyond were visible.   

The tug broke through ice near the dock while awaiting assist instructions from the bulk carrier Lake Erie. Radar and AIS displays showed the ship less than a mile off, invisible until first a gray shape appeared, followed a few seconds later by the ship’s navigation lights. Two days earlier, the first ice of the season had formed on the narrow end of the bay west of the Ontario port near the town of Picton. East of the terminals and toward Lake Ontario, ice had only formed overnight and was not yet covered by snow. Deck hands John “Sparky” Van Koughnett and Mike Lees had cleared all of the snow and ice from the tug’s open work space and readied the lines. 

Sheri Lynn S. is lowered into the St. Lawrence River in November 2017 after traveling from China to Canada on the deck of a heavy-lift ship.

Courtesy Damen Shipyards Group

Lake Erie, Sheri Lynn S. What is your intention?” radioed Farish, and a few seconds later came the response, “Sheri Lynn, we’re going starboard side to.”  

Sheri Lynn S., a Damen 1606 Stan ICE-class tug, has worked the northeast corner of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River as far downstream as Montreal since being delivered in November 2017. The Canada-flagged tug, owned and operated by H.R. Doornekamp Construction Ltd., was built at a shipyard in Hunan, China. That Damen yard, one of 36 around the world, is located more than 700 miles from the sea on the Yuan River, a tributary of the Yangtze. The Stan designation refers to standard designs of different sizes ranging from the tiny 1004 (35 feet long) to the massive 4013 (133.6 feet long).

In Ohio, Cleveland’s Great Lakes Shipyard is licensed to build Damen boats and currently is working on 10 tugs with the 1907 design (64 feet). The 1606s, like Sheri Lynn S., are 55 feet long with a 19.5-foot beam. Power comes from two Caterpillar C18 engines that generate a combined 1,216 horsepower at 1,800 rpm, turning two Kaplan II fixed-pitch propellers in 54-inch Optima nozzles. The exhaust is routed to the rear of the boat, allowing for visibility that would otherwise be obscured by stacks.

Deck hands John Van Koughnett, left, and Mike Lees secure the tug at the Picton Terminals dock, which is at the base of a 90-foot cliff. Self-unloading bulk carriers use long booms to move road salt to a storage area at the top.

Will Van Dorp

Picton Terminals is one of several businesses operated by the Doornekamp family based in Odessa, Ontario. In 2014, the Doornekamps purchased the dock and upland for redevelopment. The port was established in 1955, when Bethlehem Steel built it to ship ore from the company’s mine in Marmora, Ontario, about 50 miles to the northwest. The ore traveled to Picton by train, then was loaded on bulk carriers for transport to Lackawanna, N.Y., at the rate of about 50 shiploads per year. The port closed in 1978 when mining at Marmora was no longer feasible after groundwater overwhelmed the pumps and flooded the mine. Minimal commercial activity took place at the port for several decades.

About 100 ships and tug-barge units have called at Picton Terminals annually since 2014. Many of the “salties,” or saltwater ships like Lake Erie, request tugboat assistance. Previously, a tug would be called in from Hamilton or Toronto, over 100 miles away on the opposite end of Lake Ontario. When Picton Terminals’ owner Ben Doornekamp explored the possibility of having a Canadian or U.S. shipyard build a tugboat to meet local needs, he learned it would take several years to obtain the right vessel from such a source. The Dutch shipbuilding company Damen, on the other hand, could get a tug there in six months, shipped directly from Shanghai to Montreal on a heavy-lift vessel. “We were eager to use the tug on various projects, so timing from order to delivery, as well as price, sounded perfect to us,” Doornekamp said.

With another day of work in the books, Sheri Lynn S. awaits new duties at the Picton Terminals dock.

Will Van Dorp

Since being redeveloped, Picton Terminals has handled aggregates, road salt and steel products. Aggregates are moved using the refurbished ship loader system that dates from the Bethlehem Steel days. Ferry dock and wind farm construction projects on nearby Amherst Island required 500,000 tons of aggregates, which were transported on barges towed by Sheri Lynn S. Picton also is a convenient source of construction materials for Toronto, about 120 miles away by water. Construction enterprises there include the Cherry Street stormwater and lake-filling project, said to be one of the most complex urban flood-protection efforts in Canada.

Road salt arrives at the terminals on self-unloading bulk carriers, or “lakers.” They use their booms, at least 250 feet long, to move the product directly to the top of the 90-foot cliff inland from the dock, where efforts are underway to create covered salt storage. Kingston-based Kimco Steel Sales, a steel service and recycling company, leases space in the 80-acre port to store imported steel since outgrowing its current location.  

Lake Erie was the fourth ship in 2019 to deliver I-beams and C-channel steel from South Korea to Picton Terminals for Kimco. A Liebherr LHM 420 mobile harbor crane, purchased by the port last spring, offloaded the 3,200 tons of steel from the ship onto trucks that delivered it to the Kimco storage site at the facility. Doornekamp’s marine enterprises are growing, and it is purchasing a second larger Damen tug for regional work. 

The Doornekamp tug meets Lake Erie in Picton Bay as the bulk carrier heads for port with a load of I-beams and C-channel steel.

Will Van Dorp

Sheri Lynn S. is helmed by a rotation of four licensed captains who work for Picton Terminals on a contractual basis. Farish lives locally, and since Picton is not far from the Thousand Islands summer tourism area, his time aboard the tug is a variation of excursion vessel work. “I enjoy the more technical work of ship assist,” he said.

Van Koughnett and Lees work full time at the port as deck hands and engineers. When the services of Sheri Lynn S. are not required, they operate or maintain other mechanical equipment for the Doornekamp enterprises. Once Lake Erie was tied up at the dock, they joined with other port workers to move steel from the ship to storage.

Since arriving at Picton, Sheri Lynn S. has kept busy beyond ship assist and moving aggregates. When ice forms on the bay, the tug breaks it to keep navigation open at the terminals and the nearby Lehigh and Lafarge cement docks. In October 2019, when a laker ran aground on Galop Island, N.Y., about 100 miles down the St. Lawrence River from Picton, the tug was one of four of varying sizes that helped free the ship. Sheri Lynn S., with a draft of 8 feet 6 inches, performed shallow-water operations. The tug also assisted a deep-draft tug to move a 200-foot barge to shallower water at a tank manufacturing facility in Cornwall, Ontario.

Taking a break in the wheelhouse after docking the tug are, from left, Mike Lees, John Van Koughnett and Capt. Joe Farish.

Will Van Dorp

Size, power and wraparound visibility are valuable features on Sheri Lynn S. With heated wheelhouse glass, that visibility is assured in winter for safe and efficient operations. Crews tending lines benefit from an obstacle-free walkaround deck at roughly eye level with the captain, a safety feature that complements radio communication with visual contact.

Once Lake Erie was secured at the dock and lines were released and stowed, the deck crew on Sheri Lynn S. re-entered the wheelhouse to warm up and have some coffee. Conversation ranged from the work completed to assignments for the rest of the day. Quoting a deck hand on Lake Erie, Lees summed up the impression of the tug: “She looks small, but she’s mighty.”

By Professional Mariner Staff