By Al Miller
Updated January 2003
The night of August 11, 2001, appeared to be another routine transit of the Welland Canal for the Windoc.

The 730-foot vessel, owned by N.M. Paterson and Sons Ltd., earlier had loaded 26,000 metric tons of grain in Thunder Bay, Ontario, consigned for delivery to Montreal. As the Windoc approached the Allenburg Bridge, Capt. Ken Strong, wheelsman Alan Hiscock, and the vessel's third mate watched from the pilothouse as the bridge span was raised to allow their vessel to pass underneath.

But as the pilothouse neared the bridge, the span unaccountably began coming down. Capt. Strong quickly ordered his men to abandon the pilothouse, and then he and the third mate scrambled down an external ladder running from the pilothouse wing to the deck below.  Hiscock, concerned the boat would drift out of control if he left the wheel, dropped to the floor as the vessel's pilothouse and the bridge span collided with the shriek of ripping steel.

As the Windoc slid under the bridge, the span ripped apart the thin-skinned pilothouse, passing above Hiscock by only two feet. The boat continued on as the bridge span folded back the remains of the pilothouse, then tore off the exhaust stack off and shoved it onto the Windoc's fantail. The 15-foot-by-eight-foot exhaust boiler was ripped free and pushed into the canal.

Hiscock managed to escape the crumpled pilothouse and run down an interior stairway. Once on deck, he joined other crew members who were mustering. There they faced two new threats. Crewmen raced to drop the Windoc's anchors to stop the vessel from careening out of control in the narrow waterway. But the vessel's momentum carried it over the anchors, puncturing the hull and threatening the boat with flooding. At the same time, flames -- probably resulting from the exhaust stack being torn off -- began appearing inside the Windoc's cabins. Crewmen began breaking out ship's firefighting gear to battle the rapidly spreading blaze.

The battered boat came to rest near the canal's banks about 1 kilometer from the bridge. With its bow in mid-channel and without propulsion or generator power, the Windoc was a dead ship blocking a key portion of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Local emergency crews responded to block off the damaged highway bridge and to battle the growing fire in the Windoc's cabins. Most of the boat's 22 crew members were taken to shelter at a nearby community center.

None of the crew members were injured, but perhaps the most fortunate was Hiscock. ``All the metal just crunched above him. Some of the metal bits came toward him, but nothing touched him. He was lucky he wasn't  hurt," said a union official who later listened to crew members' account of the accident.

By the afternoon of Sunday, August 12, the Windoc's fires were out and work crews from the St. Lawrence Seaway had begun planning the salvage of the vessel and repair of the bridge. The McKeil tug Carrol C1 with salvage equipment was in the canal waiting for the bridge to open. Another tug from Hamilton was expected to assist in moving the Windoc, which had suffered flooding in its forward end.

With the Windoc blocking the channel and the Allenburg Bridge unable to raise its span, the Welland Canal was forced to close. Vessel traffic quickly began backing up, with boats tying up at docks or dropping anchor wherever they could. Vessels delayed in the canal Sunday morning included Canadian Leader and Catherine Desgagnes above Lock 6; Federal Kivalina at Lock 5; barge St. Marys Cement II and the tug Sea Eagle II above Lock 3 wall; CSL Tadoussac below Lock 3; Algobay below Lock 2,; Atlantic Huron at the Stone Dock; the cruise ship Cape May Light at Lock 8; and the Canadian Olympic at the Port Colborne Fuel Dock.

By early Monday, August 13, tugs were on scene working to move the Windoc to clear the channel. A generator was lowered onto the stricken vessel's deck, enabling salvage workers to restore some power. The barge Henry T., with a crane on deck, lifted the Windoc's anchor. Because the boat was fully loaded, four tugs -- Carrol C 1, Paul E No. 1, Lac Vancouver, and Progress -- were needed for the move. The damaged bridge span was raised about 20 feet to allow the tug Progress to reach the scene.

After Seaway crews had determined it was safe to do so, the the Allenburg Bridge was raised about 8:30 p.m. August 13 to a round of applause from about 100 spectators or After a test lowering and raising, the span was left in the up position, where it was expected to remain for the rest of the navigation season. Waiting vessels were told about 10 p.m. to warm their engines, and traffic had resumed by 11 p.m. Canadian Leader, Catherine Desgagnes, Federal Kivalina and the barge St. Marys Cement II and the tug Sea Eagle II led the upbound traffic while downbound vessels were CSL Tadoussac, Algobay, Atlantic Huron, cruise ship Cape May Light and the Canadian Olympic.

As boats crawled past the Windoc on August 14, two pumps on the boat's bow ran all day as the vessel slowly regained an even keel.  Divers worked under the starboard bow off and on all day to place rubber membranes over eight fractures in the hull. The Windoc eventually was moved to a location near Lock 7.

The Windoc's accident was a tough blow to N.M. Paterson and Sons. The 26,000 mt of wheat aboard the Windoc appeared to be undamaged, but vessel was so badly damaged that the company couldn't make an immediate decision on whether to repair or replace it. Early estimates placed the damage at $5 million to $10 million. Loss of the Windoc cut 25 percent of the company's of its ability to meet customer demand.  .

For Paterson, the news only got worse. According to the September 1 edition of the Hamilton Spectator, repairs were estimated to cost more than $10 million, almost twice the early estimates. The amount was much higher than the reported insured value of the vessel of $6.5 million.

"The ship can be repaired, that is an option," a company official told the Spectator. "I don't know if that is feasible, but repairs are not out of the question. There's a whole lot of things that have to happen."

One factor in the repair would be insurance money from the St. Lawrence Seaway Corporation. Investigators were still trying to determine why the bridge span was lowered prematurely as the Windoc passed underneath.

The Paterson official said one option the company was considering was to replace the stern of the Windoc with that of another boat. A likely candidate would be the Windoc's sister, Algontario. That vessel was damaged in an April 1999 grounding in the St. Marys River and had been docked in Thunder Bay since then.

The firm had three boats out of its seven-vessel fleet that hadn't sailed since 1996. The Paterson official said, "They present options as well, but I'm not sure that is a high priority."

The Windoc remained docked in the Welland Canal near Lock 7 waiting for a decision to be made on where its $8-million grain cargo was to be unloaded. Owners of the cargo were looking at unloading the cargo at elevators in Port Colborne and Windsor. Paterson hoped for a decision on a unloading port within a week. Once a decision was made the Windoc would be towed to the selected port.

Finally, on September 4, word came that Windoc would be towed from the Welland Canal on September 5. Two tugs owned by McKeil Marine and  two smaller tugs owned by Nando Marine took the damaged vessel to Hamilton, where part of its cargo would be unloaded onto a barge. Paterson had declared the vessel a loss and turned the ship over to the insurers. The insurers contracted with McKeil to handle the salvage operation.

The tugs Josee M., Sea Hound, Vac and Carole C. took the Windoc in tow on the night of September 5. A fully loaded vessel had never been towed that distance through the canal. After a long and careful tow through the canal, tugs took the ship to Hamilton where it arrived on Friday morning and docked at Pier 8 at the foot of James Street.  Once unloading in Hamilton was complete, the Windoc was to be towed with a partial load to Montreal. After the remaining cargo was unloaded there, the ship faced an uncertain future

In May 2002 the Windoc hull was once again sold with her news becoming Groupe Ocean of Quebec. The hull remained in Hamilton until early September 2002 when it was towed to Montreal by her new owners. At that time Groupe Ocean was examining three possible uses for the hull. One would be conversion to a tug and barge combination with a notch at the stern, next would see use as a storage barge and finally they could sell the hull for scrap.

Groupe Ocean owns a dry dock in Quebec and a subsidiary of the company is McAllister Towing. With the range of services available to the company many believe the hull will be converted to a barge.

Through out the summer of 2002 the former owners of the Windoc remained in a legal battle with the St. Lawrence Seaway Corp. seeking damages for the loss of the Windoc. Ontario-based NM Paterson & Sons was seeking $16.9M (C) damages from the seaway operator.  Paterson claimed that the accident effectively forced it out of the shipping business. Paterson's remaining four ships were sold in 2002 ending their long history of shipping on the lakes and Seaway.

Accident Investigation TSB Report - January 2003


Tow to Montreal
September 2002

Pictures from the Incident August - September 2001


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Copyright 2001, N. Schultheiss All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.