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 Upbound the St. Marys River, May 23, 2009.

Roger LeLievre 

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- Ojibway

By Jody L. Aho
(updated by George Wharton)

This classic Great Lakes bulk carrier was built by the Defoe Shipbuilding Company in Bay City, Michigan, and entered service on September 24, 1952. The vessel was built along the same basic plans used for building U.S. Steel's "Super", or AA, class of vessel (Leon Fraser and others) in 1942.

The vessel was powered by a high pressure and a low pressure steam turbine engine each rated at 2,200 s.h.p., giving her a speed under full load of between 13.5 and 14 m.p.h. The engines were built by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in 1941 having been originally installed aboard the ocean vessel Alcoa Protector, which was sunk by the Japanese in late 1943. The engines were recovered from the wreck several years later to be used in this vessel. The vessel is fitted with oil-fired, water-tube boilers to produce steam, and the vessel has been an oil burner for her entire career on the Lakes.

The cosmetic differences between her and the Leon Fraser class for U.S. Steel include a larger, more modern pilothouse with the captain's quarters on the Texas deck behind the pilothouse. The after cabins are enclosed, and she has a smaller, more streamlined stack with the mast attached to the forward side of the stack. Strangely, the vessel has the classic counter stern common on older Great Lakes vessels as opposed to the modified cruiser stern which was becoming more popular by 1952. Nonetheless, she has always been an attractive vessel with a look that seems ahead of its time.

The Voyageur Independent began its career with the Pioneer Steamship Company subsidiary of Hutchinson and was originally named Charles L. Hutchinson (2). As Hutchinson was an independent company not closely affiliated with any one steel firm, the vessel's early years were spent hauling iron ore from Duluth and other ports to a variety of lower Lakes steel mills.

When Pioneer folded at the end of the 1961 season, she and 52-year-old fleetmate W.H. McGean were sold to the Ford Motor Company. The Hutchinson became the Ernest R. Breech while the smaller McGean became the Robert S. McNamara. Under the Ford flag, the Breech took on a different trade pattern. Duluth remained a common ore loading port, as well as Escanaba, but the Breech began to make frequent trips to the Ford Motor Company steel-making complex on the Rouge River in Dearborn.

She stayed in this pattern until the early 1980s. With the depressed steel industry during the early- and mid-1980s, Ford began to use the Breech to carry grain cargoes. The grain was often loaded at the Cargill elevators in Duluth, with occasional visits to other Twin Ports elevators, and was taken to Buffalo.

After Ford acquired the Edward B. Greene and the Walter A. Sterling from Cleveland-Cliffs late in 1984, the Breech began hauling grain almost exclusively. After the 1987 season, the Breech's career with Ford was over, and rumors were afloat regarding the boat's future. Scrap was one of the rumors, but early in 1988 the vessel was purchased by Kinsman Lines (Great Lakes Associates Inc., Rocky River, OH) to replace one of the Kinsman fleet's 600-foot, coal-burning straight-deckers. On June 24, 1988, the newly renamed Kinsman Independent (3) set sail on her first voyage for Kinsman Lines, and it resumed its familiar Duluth to Buffalo trade route.

Occasionally, the Kinsman Independent deviated from this route, usually to load grain in Thunder Bay. On November 24, 1990, the Kinsman Independent was on one of her Thunder Bay runs when she grounded hard on the rocks off of Isle Royale in Lake Superior. The vessel had somehow ended up 25 miles off course, and was severely damaged. Given the level of damage to the vessel, which was estimated at $2 million, and the uncertainty of salvaging the vessel before bad weather set in (the fall of 1990 was relatively warm and storm-free), again rumors were that the vessel had sailed her last. However, the Kinsman Independent was towed to Thunder Bay and was repaired over the winter of 1990-91 before resuming service.

Kinsman Independent's career continued with the seasonal trips from the lake head to Buffalo until changes in the way grain was shipped brought her future into question.

Hauling grain to the elevators in Buffalo was once considered a trade that only suited straight deck bulk carriers, guaranteeing work for Independent. In 2000 self unloading vessels began delivering grain and unloading into hoppers with out the need for shore side equipment.

This trend continued and in 2002 an unloading hopper was installed at the General Mills Frontier Grain Elevator,  the elevator serviced by the Kinsman Independent. With the ability to accept grain from self unloading vessels, the new hopper could put the Independent out of work. The Kinsman Independent's fleet mate Kinsman Enterprise was sold early in 2002 for scrapping.

Grain unloaded at the elevator is processed in the attached flour mill and used to make various General Mills cereals such as Cheerios, Lucky Charms and flour products such as Gold Medal Flour.

The Kinsman Independent laid up for a final time in Buffalo, NY on December 16, 2002 after having delivered her final cargo of approximately 600,000 bushels of grain from the General Mills "S" annex in Superior, WI.  With General Mills in Buffalo now capable of receiving cargoes delivered by self-unloaders, her owners replaced the straight-deck bulk carrier by chartering the veteran self-unloader Joseph H. Frantz from Oglebay Norton Marine Services to service their accounts.  In the spring of 2004, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) approved the application of Minch Transit Co. (Great Lakes Associates) to sell the Kinsman Independent to McKeil Work Boats Ltd. of Hamilton, ON.  On September 1, 2004; the Kinsman Independent was towed from Buffalo by McKeil tug Tony MacKay and Nadro tug Vigilant I bound for the Welland Canal and Hamilton, ON, arriving at Hamilton in the late afternoon of the next day.

In late May of 2005, the bulker was officially registered and renamed as the Voyageur Independent on behalf of Voyageur Marine Transport Ltd., Ridgeville, ON (after being acquired by them from McKeil Work Boats).  The Voyageur Independent received an extensive refit in Hamilton including the installation of a new General Electric V-16 four stroke, turbo-charged 7 FDM EFI diesel engine rated at 4,100 continuous b.h.p. at 1,050 R.P.M. (3,015 kW), a new propeller shaft, new propeller with a controllable pitch propeller control system, and 2 new Caterpillar diesel generator sets.  On November 14th, 2005, the Voyageur Independent departed Hamilton on her maiden voyage in ballast to Thunder Bay, ON.  Her passage through the Welland Canal was delayed until November 19th due to high winds closing the Canal.  She had to drop anchor at the Port Weller anchorage in Lake Ontario with other vessels until the winds died down and the Canal reopened.  After arriving at Richardson's Elevator and later shifting to Mission Terminals in Thunder Bay on November 21st, the Voyageur Independent departed Thunder Bay on November 22nd with her first load under her new name.  The cargo consisted of 17,673.27 tons (17,957.17 mt) of wheat for a St. Lawrence River port.  As in the past, the Voyageur Independent's cargoes will consist primarily of agricultural bulk products.  She is operating under a time charter to a large Canadian grain brokerage firm.

On Tuesday, August 28, 2007, Rand Logistics of New York, NY announced that its wholly owned subsidiary Lower Lakes Towing Ltd of Port Dover, ON acquired the Voyageur Independent and fleet mate Voyageur Pioneer for $25 million CAD from the Voyageur group of companies.  Under her new ownership, the Voyageur Independent would continue to service companies engaged in the grain trade as a result of Lower Lakes assuming or negotiating contracts with grain companies, thus allowing Lower Lakes to better utilize their self-unloaders in additional self-unloader business.  On February 29, 2008, Lower Lakes registered the bulker with Transport Canada under the new name Ojibway out of the port of Nanticoke, ON.


Overall Dimensions (metric)
 Length  642' 03" (195.76m)
 Beam  67' 00" (20.42m)
 Depth  35' 00" (10.67m)
 Capacity (mid-summer)  20,668 tons (21,000 mt)
 Power (diesel)  4,100 b.h.p.(3,015 kW)
 Displacement (light)  7,011 tons (7,124 mt)


Ojibway-jh509.jpg (95725 bytes)
Maumee River, Toledo, OH, May 2009.
Jim Hoffman
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Upbound the St. Clair River,
June 5, 2009. Marc Dease
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Stern view into Lake Huron.
Marc Dease

Upbound the St. Clair River under new name Ojibway at Port Huron, Mar. 27, 2008.
Marc Dease

Owen Sound, July 6, 2008.
Ed Saliwonchyk

Downbound lower Lake Huron at Point Edward, ON, Sept. 20, 2008. Marc Dease

Stern close-up, St. Clair River, Nov. 20, 2005. John Meyland

Upbound the St. Marys River,
Apr. 2006. Roger LeLievre

Loading at Sarnia, Nov. 1, 2007.
Marc Dease

Departing Lock 8, Welland Canal, Nov. 19, 2005. Jim McCreery

Detroit River, Nov. 20, 2005.
Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Welland Canal, Lock 7, Nov. 19, 2005.
Bill Bird

Approaching the Allanburg Bridge.
Bill Bird

Stern view at the Allanburg Bridge.
Bill Bird

Hamilton, Sept. 26, 2004.
Roger LeLievre

Hamilton, Feb. 5, 2005.
Roger LeLievre

Stern close-up,
Roger LeLievre

More Pictures as the Kinsman Independent. Brian Wroblewski

Passing the J. L. Mauthe

Passing under Michigan St. Bridge.

Under tow

Forward cabins.

On deck looking forward.

Close up of forward cabins.

On the main deck

Pilot house.

Chadburn and equipment.

Chart room.

Windlass room.

Unloading legs at the Lake & Rail Elevator.

Close up.

Unloading leg enters the hold.

Unloading crew in the hold.

Close up.

Close up of unloading leg scooping grain.

On deck looking aft.

Life boat.

Close up of stack.

Loading taconite in Marquette 1992. Rod Burdick

Loading in Superior November 2002. By Steve Haverty
Entering port through the Duluth Piers.
On deck looking forward.
Close up of stack.
Looking forward from the Emergency Steering Station.
Looking aft.
Internal phone system.
View across bridge.
Chadburn and emergency whistle lever.
Guests enjoyed their own lounge.
Another view.
View from the guest's private deck.
Bar in the guest quarters.
Guest galley.
Remnant of Kinsman past in the old name.
Staterooms 1-2 shared bathroom.
Another view.
Stateroom 2 as it would appear in use. (Staterooms have not been used in several years and still remain more or less original from Ford days)
"S" painted on turbine casing in the engine room.
View across engine room (chad and pressure gauges in foreground).
Main gauge board for monitoring ships steam pressure.
Close-up of engine room chadburn.
Low Pressure Turbine from above prop shaft looking forward.
Steam turbine DC electric generator 1 of 2.
Builders plate on generator.
Turbine builders plate.
Electrical motor center in engine room.
Turbine from upper deck.
Looking forward to boilers.

Charles L. Hutchinson departing Duluth, 1958. Wesley R. Harkins

Charles L. Hutchinson in 1952 outbound the Saginaw River for sea trials from the Defoe shipyard. Dick Wicklund (Dave Story collection)

 Ernest R. Breech loading coal in Toledo. Jim Hoffman

Breech at Mission Point. By Tom Manse courtesy Roger LeLievre.  

Passing salty Bordatxda near Detour,
July, 1973. Roger LeLievre

Breech at Mission Point early in 1974.
Roger LeLievre

St. Marys River, July, 1985.
James H. Jackson

Breech at Thunder Bay, June 1987. Gene Onchulenko

  Kinsman Independent at Thunder Bay. Sept. 27, 1994.
Gene Onchulenko

Kinsman Independent departs Duluth on her last trip Dec. 14, 2002.
Glenn Blaszkiewicz

Stern view. Glenn Blaszkiewicz

Last trip up at the Soo. Scott Best

Aerial view, 2000. Don Coles

Detroit River, Oct. 2001.
Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

St. Marys River, 2002. Roger LeLevre

Loading in Duluth. N. Schultheiss

Underway St. Marys River, R. Burdick

Winter lay-up in Buffalo.


Bow view.
Brian Wroblewski

Kinsman Independent at Duluth in 1998. Jon LaFontaine

Brian Wroblewski

Inbound Buffalo. Jeff Thoreson

Hatch covers come off.
Jeff. Thoreson

Loading Superior 2002. Al Miller

Departing Duluth. Lee Rowe

Making a turn close to the docked J.A.W. Iglehart, Brian Wroblewski

Traffic passing. Brian Wroblewski

Stern view at the Soo. N. Schultheiss

Silhouette downbound below the Soo Locks. Stephen House

Tow in the Welland Canal with tug Tony MacKay, Sept. 2, 2004.
Chris Rombouts

Into Lock 1 with tug Vigilant I.
Chris Rombouts

Below Lock 1. Chris Rombouts

Kinsman Independent (1) loading in the late sixties. Jim Hoffman

 Kinsman Independent (1) underway. Len Barr

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