Scrapping of Phoenix Star inspires wave of Facebook commentsWritten by Don Lee | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Great Lakes freighter fans hate to see a beloved old boat go under the scrapper’s torch. News of the scrapping of the freighter Phoenix Star at Toledo Shipyard turned their Facebook page into a wake of sorts.
The “Boatnerds of Facebook” page, an unofficial online clubhouse that’s an offshoot of www.boatnerd.com, lit up last week with photos and memories. the activity increased after a member drove down to the shipyard’s Front Street gates and posted the photo he took of what’s left of the ship sitting in dry dock, with its wheelhouse collapsed backward into the hull.
“The only good thing about the scrapping of the Algocen (the freighter’s original name) is that so many great photos are being posted of her,” one boatnerd posted. “Long live her memory … ”
Ships are scrapped all the time, and many a laker has gone to the torch, both on the lakes and in overseas scrapyards that do the work cheaper — often at the cost of environmental health and worker safety.
But like the economic and legal “perfect storm” that doomed Phoenix Star — according to some freighter fans, before its time — the varied circumstances of the freighter’s final days came together to awaken the interest and occasional outrage of freighter fans from one end the Great Lakes to the other.
Boatnerds responding to a request for comments cited the relatively young age of the freighter. Launched in 1963 in Collingwood, Ontario, as the Algocen, it’s only 50 years old and there are several freighters still active — heavily modified and nursed along by affectionately exasperated crews — entering their eighth decade on the lakes.
“There are ships 107 years old and still running,” said Tyler Fairfield, a 15-year-old boatnerd from Muskegon, Mich., who hopes to eventually start training to be an officer on a ship. “All of us boatnerds thought it was going (into the shipyard) for a five-year (inspection), and it ended up being the end of the ship’s career.”
As one owner and then the next ran into financial trouble, the ship was figuratively and literally left high and dry. Ironhead Marine, which operates Toledo Shipyard, wound up buying the multimillion-dollar freighter for $200,000, according to Canadian court papers dug up by industry watchers and posted at www.boatnerd.com.
The cost of keeping the ship in dry dock was piling up at thousands of dollars a day, and the previous owners would not pay for the costs of removing the ship from dry dock, according to the court papers. Also, as Ironhead president Tony LaMantia said for an earlier story, the shipyard needs the drydock for its other work.
Court papers also mention an incident in which the ship ran aground in the St. Lawrence Seaway, damaging its hull to the point where, in combination with the other financial storms blowing about the ship, permanent repairs became unrealistic.
Any one of these circumstances might have been survivable, boatnerds say, but together they piled up to doom a ship that in better economic times would have sailed, repaired and refurbished, down the Maumee River into a new shipping season.
“She’s one of the last Collingwood-built classic lakers,” wrote Chris Mazzella, 26, of Ashland, Wis., who sailed briefly in 2006 on another historic Great Lakes ship, the Arthur M. Anderson. That boat was famous for being the ship that followed the Edmund Fitzgerald through the storm in which it was lost.
When the Star — then called the Valgocen, a corruption of her original name made to satisfy transfer-of-ownership requirements — went to New Jersey, “It was thought that this would be the end of her,” Mazzella wrote.
The ship was for several years used as a dead-ship storage silo in New Jersey before being brought back onto the lakes under its own power — something almost unheard of.
“When the news broke about her coming back to the Lakes as an operational carrier the excitement was widespread about her return,” wrote Jim Hoffman, 65, a former Coast Guardsman from Toledo who grew up watching and photographing the lakers from Cullen Park in Point Place.
His photos of the Star’s collapsed wheelhouse triggered an outpouring of memories on the Facebook page.
“Due to the vessel’s design, she was a very popular boat to observe amongst the boat watchers and marine historians. She had a very powerful and distinctive engine noise as well. In other words, you could hear her a long way off before she would get close to you.”