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Dave Wobser  

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- Mississagi

by George Wharton, updated by Sam Hankinson

Mississagi, the oldest-operating Canadian flagged laker on the Great Lakes, sailed her last in late 2020. The vessel began its career in 1943 when it was launched at Great Lakes Engineering Works in Ecorse, Michigan, as the Hill Annex.

The L6-S-B1 designated Maritime-class straight-deck bulk carrier was one of 16 such ships built by the United States Maritime Commission to assist shipping companies in fleet renewal during World War II. Hill Annex and two other Maritimers were sold to the United States Steel Corporation, and in exchange, U.S. Steel retired six vessels that were older and smaller.

The original names for the Maritime class vessels were considered placeholders for the vessels until they were resold to shipping companies. The Hill Annex name that was briefly held referred to the Hill Annex mine in Itasca, MN. The mine produced iron ore that was so rich it could be shipped to steel mills with almost no processing. The largest annual shipment the mine ever produced was during WWII when 3,500,000 tons of ore were shipped. The mine closed in 1978.

Before its first trip, Hill Annex was rechristened George A. Sloan by U.S. Steel, and it joined the large fleet of so-called tin stackers plying the inland seas. The nickname came from the silver smokestacks that U.S. Steel vessels had, and still have, thanks to successor company Great Lakes fleet. George A. Sloan was a prominent citizen of New York and a director of U.S. Steel at the time.

Even though the Coast Guard had signed off on the construction plans of the 16 Maritimers, the George A. Sloan's deck cracked on her first trip in moderate seas on Lake Huron in September of 1943. As a result, her hull had to be strengthened using three by two-inch thick steel strapping. After a similar problem that nearly caused the foundering of her fleetmate Robert C. Stanley in November the same year, again in moderate seas, the Coast Guard ordered all the Maritimers to have their hulls strengthened in a similar fashion.

Following the Cedarville disaster of 1965, the Sloan was transferred over to the Michigan Limestone-owned Bradley Transportation Co. in 1966 and converted to a self-unloader. Had that not happened, the vessel would likely have met its demise in the 1980s. U.S. Steel absorbed the Bradley fleet in 1967. The arrival of 1,000-foot-long vessels to the U.S. Steel fleet at that time sent many smaller ships to scrap. Many tin stackers were sent to the breakers with their tonnage replaced by much larger vessels, but because of her self-unloading system and ability to reach smaller ports, the Sloan was spared.

George A. Sloan was initially powered by a shipyard-built 2,500 horsepower triple-expansion steam engine. She was repowered in 1984/85 with a pre-production model 4,500 b.h.p. 12-cylinder Caterpillar 3612TA marine diesel engine burning intermediate grade 320 fuel. Her oil-fired boilers were retained to provide steam for the steering engine, winches and ballast pumps. At that time she also received a variable pitch propeller and a new rudder (new hydraulic steering gear installed on the Sloan in 1996 allowed the vessel's rudder to turn up to 70 degrees). She was equipped with a bow thruster. Her 16 hatches feed into 4 compartments where she was capable of carrying 15,800 tons at her maximum mid-summer draft of 25 feet 5.5 inches. The self-unloading system was gravity fed through gates to two, four-foot wide conveyor belts feeding a forward-mounted loop-belt elevator to a 262-foot bow-mounted discharge boom that could be swung 100 degrees to port or starboard.

In 2001, the Sloan and two fleetmates were sold to Lower Lakes Towing. The two other vessels, the Myron C. Taylor and Calcite II, were sold to the American subsidiary Grand River Navigation and renamed Calumet and Maumee, respectively. Both of these vessels have since been scrapped, but their names remain in the fleet on newer vessels.

The Sloan was reflagged Canadian and renamed Mississagi. This name change honored the Mississagi Strait, which is the body of water separating Cockburn Island and Manitoulin Island in Northern Lake Huron. Meldrum Bay, situated on the west end of Manitoulin Island, is home to a quarry where the Mississagi loaded many cargoes during her career.

Despite her age and the uncertainty that swirled around the entire Great Lakes as the pandemic that began in 2020 affected shipping, Mississagi remained busy all season, quietly going about her work. She was all over the Great Lakes, in places such as Grand Haven, Holland, Muskegon, and Saginaw as well as frequent sight on the St. Marys and St. Clair rivers. Her final trip saw her load wheat at Thunder Bay, ON, for Hamilton, ON, in early 2021. She arrived there Jan. 8 and was retired, although plans for final disposition were announced .

Overall dimensions
Length 620'06"
Beam 60'00"
Depth 35'00"
Capacity (tons) 15,800



Sarnia lay-up 2003. N. Schultheiss

Saginaw & Mississagi panoramic.

Fresh paint on the Calumet and Mississagi.

Detroit River, 2003.
Mike Nicholls

Stern view.
Mike Nicholls
Loading in Windsor.
Mike Nicholls

New paint job Jan. 2003. Scott Best

Departing Bay Ship with new paint, Jan. 2003. Wendell Wilke

First trip as Mississagi, downbound at Port Huron. Matt Miner

Loading in Windsor. Don Coles

On Lake St. Clair. Skip Meier

Stern view on the Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Backing from the Rouge. Mike Nicholls

On the Saginaw River. Todd Shorkey

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Unloading in Detroit. Mike Nicholls

Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. Scott Best

Close up of stack. T. Parker

Pilothouse. N. Schultheiss

Looking down on the engine. N. Schultheiss.

Engine control room. N. Schultheiss

Flags flying 2001. N. Schultheiss

Ship's bell on pilothouse. N. Schultheiss

New named painted in April 2001. T. Parker

Christening the Mississagi April 21, 2001. N. Schultheiss

As the George A. Sloan. Steve Vanden Bosch.

Aerial view. Don Coles

Sloan on the Saginaw River. Dan Maus

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