Federal Weser on lower lake Huron.Rolling on the river with pilot Alain M. Gindroz
By N. Schultheiss

On Saturday, May 17, the big saltwater vessel Federal Weser passed down bound through the St. Clair and Detroit rivers, bound for Huelva, Spain, with a cargo of wheat loaded in Duluth. Built in 2002 at Jingjiang, China as one of five sister ships, Saturday's passage was the downbound leg of the Federal Weser's fifth trip to the Great Lakes.

The bulk freighter sails under the Cyprus flag and is under charter from Athena Marine Co. Ltd. to Canada's large Fednav fleet. The Federal Weser is 656 feet long, 78 feet wide and 50 feet deep. Power comes from a single MAN
B&W Diesel engine that can produce 10,480 BHP. Capt. Rafal Kapuscinski and his crew all hail from Poland.

We joined river pilot Captain Alain M. Gindroz for the nearly seven-hour trip from lower Lake Huron to Detroit. As with all foreign registered vessels plying the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, the Federal Weser is mandated by federal law to carry a licensed Canadian or U.S. pilot depending upon jurisdiction.

The pilot’s role is to effectively take conduct of the vessel and to deliver it safely and efficiently to its next change point or destination. Pilots have expert local knowledge of their respective waterways and most have sailed as Master’s of their own vessels. It is recognized that foreign shipmasters and their crews are highly trained and qualified. However, they cannot be expected to be familiar and proficient with every waterway and port throughout the world.

It is a fascinating line of work as pilots meet crews of varying nationalities and all have stories to tell. As a bonus they are treated to different cuisine’s from around the globe. Pilots service vessels of different types, shapes, sizes, as well as maneuvering characteristics. Even though pilots traverse the same waterway on a daily basis each assignment is unique and presents new challenges.

Pilots are employed globally in most waterways and ports. In fact, their humble beginnings date back to ancient times with Roman and Phoenician traders. It is the world’s second oldest profession!

Our trip begins Saturday afternoon at the pilot boat station on the Black River in Port Huron. We depart the dock early Saturday afternoon aboard the pilot boat Huron Belle, heading upbound to meet the Federal Weser in lower Lake Huron.

Huron Belle at her dock on the Black River.

Pilot boat operator Doug Ireland (left) and deckhand John O'Neil.

We meet the Federal Weser in lower Lake Huron.

Ziemia Gornoslaska (former Lake Charles) in the anchorage.

Along side, both vessel continuing moving at reduced speed. We head for the boarding ladder.

It  seems much higher as you are climbing.

John O'Neil steady's the ladder.

A crew member escorts us up many flights of stairs to the bridge.

On the bridge Capt. Gindroz relieves Capt. Eric Johnson.

Capt. Johnson brings Capt. Gindroz up to speed on the transit.

Looking down at the pilot boat.

Name board

Pilot boat departs above Lights 7 & 8 in the Lake Huron Cut.

Heading to deliver a pilot to the Ziemia Gornoslaska

Wide view aft.

Meeting the Agawa Canyon

Tug William C. Gaynor towing two barges.

Close up.


Downbound at the Blue Water Bridges.

Fort Gratiot Lighthouse and new Port Huron Coast Guard Station.

Close up  of the new building. The old building can be seen in the back ground.

Now downbound in the St. Clair River below the bridges.

Passing the Museum Lightship Huron.

Passing the Bramble. Note her Coast Guard markings on the starboard side have been painted out for the upcoming decommissioning.

Wheel stand. Course and speed changes are called out by the pilot and carried out by the crew.

Algonova docked in Sarnia.

Tug Doug McKeil and Barge Ocean Hauler loading in Sarnia.


The Port Huron Seaway Terminal, home to the tall ship Highlander Sea.

On many lakers the crew uses land marks to steer as they pass through the rivers. This is different on the salt water ships. For accuracy when working with a crew that may speak English as a second language, the course changes are called out by the pilot as a heading. All from memory!

Tug Manitou.

Downbound we find the Algolake unloading coal at the Lambton Power Station.

Close up.

A short distance down river the Walter J. McCarthy Jr. is unloading at the Recor Edison Power Plant. 

Fednav logo on the stack as the skies begin to clear.

A popular Polish dish is served for dinner in the pilot house. (yes, it was very good)

Capt. Gindroz on the bridge wing.

Passing Marine City

The Marine City, Mi to Sombra, Ont. car ferry Daldean. The Sombra dock is in the back ground.

View from the bow as we continue downbound.

Time for a tour of the Weser. Office and conference room.

Weight room.

Crew Mess.

Officers Mess

View forward.

Galley staff straightens up after dinner.

Crew members relax after dinner.

We continue downbound.

Mary E. Hannah and barge passing.

Close up.

Looking down to the bulbous bow.

Deck view.

Access to the cranes.

One of the Weser's four
- 40 ton cranes.

Crewmembers sound the ballast tanks.

Accommodations block from the hatch cover.

Close up.

Builders plate.

Capt. Gindroz working from the bridge wing.

Lines ready for use.

"Only for VIP's"

Life rafts.


High tech engine control room.

Another view.

Monitoring equipment.

Back on the bridge.

At the window.

Cedarglen approaching.


Stern view.

Algoway passes in the St. Clair Cutoff Channel.

Close up.

60 day cruise. The Federal Weser can accommodate up to six passengers. This gentlemen was from Germany, enjoying his yearly cruise.

3rd Officer Jacek Lojek poses for a picture (this picture was for me to e-mail to his son in Poland)

Cutoff Channel behind us we enter Lake St. Clair.

Capt. Gindroz and the crew were good sports through all the pictures I took.

Across Lake St. Clair.

Navigation equipment.

Close up of the ECPINS unit. This impressive high tech display combines Charts, GPS, AIS, Radar and all operational information onto one screen.

As daylight fades,  we reach the slower moving W.N. Towlan pushing the barge McAllister 132. The barge is loaded from with lumber from Thunder Bay for delivery to Detroit.

How the tug & barge appear on radar.

Capt. Gindroz calls the tug on the radio to make passing arrangements.


Another view.

Entering the Detroit River we pass Coast Guard Station Belle Isle.

Downbound past the Dossin Great Lakes Museum.

Capt. Rafal Kapuscinski monitors our progress.

Friendly and professional atmosphere.

Off Detroit and Windsor.

A crew member takes a picture of the Detroit skyline.

Detroit based pilot boat Huron Maid comes along side for the pilot change.

With another pilot aboard we quickly head for the ladder.

Down the ladder.

baggage is lowered

We exchange salutes and end our trip down the river. The Federal Weser will continue downbound through the Seaway eventually reaching the Atlantic Ocean and crossing to Spain.



My sincere thanks to all who made this look inside possible: Capt. Alain M. Gindroz for allowing me to ride along and experience a trip down the river; Capt. Rafal Kapuscinski and his friendly crew for their hospitality and professionalism; and the crews at the Port Huron and Detroit pilot stations.

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