The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Gull Isle

Gull Isle passing on the Detroit River above her base at Amherstburg, Ontario. Mike Nicholls

The Gull Isle and its sister ship Cove Isle were built in Kingston, Ontario in 1980.  These vessels were the first of the Coast Guard "Isle Class" type 800 small navaids tender. 

From 1980 until 1991 the Gull Isle worked navigational aids in the Thirty Thousand Islands of Georgian Bay, operating out of Parry Sound. In the fall of 1991 the Gull Isle was transferred to Amherstburg on the Detroit River to continue much of the work that had been performed by the recently decommissioned Kenoki.

Since 1992 the Gull Isle has been carrying out fixed and floating navigational aids work from southern Lake Huron to Port Weller at the Lake Ontario end of the Welland Canal. 

The vessels light 1.5m draft is particularly suited to the shallow waters and small craft routes of Lake St. Clair.  However, the vessel is fitted with a 19.7 tonne/metre hydraulic crane allowing it to service any main shipping channel buoys in its operational area.  At  20 metres long, the vessel does have limited carrying capacity and sea keeping qualities.  Its complement of five, Commanding Officer, Chief Engineer and three deckhands are accommodated on board in small but efficient quarters.

Alan Morris, Commanding Officer CCGS Gull Isle
Originally from Brantford, Ontario, Capt. Morris graduated from Canadian Coast Guard College in 1981. His initial assignment was to CCGS Simcoe followed by various relief assignments on Canadian Coast Guard ships Verendry, Alexander Henry and Montmorency.  In 1984 he moved to Amherstburg after being appointed First Officer on the CCGS Kenoki.  After the Kenoki was decommissioned in December 1991 Capt. Morris was appointed as Commanding Officer CCGS Gull Isle.
On June 24 we join the Gull Isle for a first hand look at operations aboard the vessel. Our trip will take us from Sarnia to Parry Sound, Ontario with an over night stop in Tobermory.  Capt. Morris is the only licensed officer on the Gull Isle, as such he must remain on watch through the entire voyage.

The Gull Isle normally operates as a "day boat" working during the day and then tying up for the night, five days a week. The captain is the only person on board with a watchkeeping certificate, unlike other boats that have a full compliment of watchkeeping officers.

This schedule means long hours for the crew but also offers the opportunity for over time.

The Gull Isle's mission keeps the ship on the lower lakes, this voyage will have the Gull Isle travel up Lake Huron and across Parry Sound to the Coast Guard Base at Parry Sound for her required Four-Year Survey. The Coast Guard Base at Parry Sound offers a Marine Railway that is used to pull the Gull Isle from the water. 


June 24 - Sarnia to Tobemory

The Gull Isle Dock at Sarnia's Government Dock.

Chief Engineer Sean Pero starts the two Cummings Diesel engines.

Port main engine.


Sean calls to the pilot house.

Spacious pilothouse houses all the modern electronics needed in a buoy tender.

Capt. Morris backs the Gull Isle from the dock.

Passing  the Canadian Prospector

Looking down  the bow.

Approaching the Blue Water Bridges.

Into Lake Huron.

New Coast Guard Station at Port Huron.

Fort Gratiot Light.

With a good amount of work to do on the trip up the crew gets right to work.

Calm day on Lake Huron, the only waves are from our wake.

Out come the needle guns and chippers as the Middletown passes.

Middletown upbound.

Close up.


Pouring on the power.

Light 7 in the Lake Huron Cut.



Underway - Time to Tour the Gull Isle

Don't be fooled by the size of the Gull Isle, her mission requires the vessel to carry out many of the same missions completed by larger Coast Guard Cutters. The Gull Isle if fully equipped as a larger Coast Guard Cutter, just on a smaller scale. At the heart of the Gull Isle is her crew of five. With a ship this size it is important that each crew member not only function in a safe and professional manner, but also get along. You would be hard pressed to find a finer crew than that on the Gull Isle.

Gull Isle Crew (L to R) Terry Pegahmagabow, Chester Nicolle, Alan Morris, Sean Pero, George Lawrence.

Wide view in Pilothouse.

Well appointed pilothouse.

Chart table and electronics.

Cooking duties are handled by one of the deck hands, rotating each month. They are excellent cooks.

Captain's accommodations and office.

Starboard crew quarters.

Main deck.

19.7 tonne hydraulic crane stores neatly on deck but can be extended to handled even the largest buoys..

With the push of a button the hydraulically operated hatch to the hold is opened.

Inside the hold.


View aft from the monkey island.

Rescue boat.

Fire monitor.

Upbound on Lake Huron

View aft.

Capt. Morris prepares a weather observation. (these ops are available online)

Radioing the report in to Sarnia Coast Guard Radio.

Reviewing the course we will take into Tobermory later that night. It has been four years since the last tip.

Weather buoy in Lake Huron.

View from  the bow.

Terry maintains watch while Capt. Morris eats his supper at the chart table.

Another view.

After supper reading. The galley doubles as the crew lounge and conference room.

Upbound on Lake Huron.

We continue through smooth conditions on Lake Huron.

Deck view.

A long day,  but a relaxing cruise up Lake Huron. The calm weather was a welcome change to previous trips to Parry Sound.

Name board.

View aft.

Upbound at sunset.

Straightening lines at dusk.

Upbound for Tobemory.

Night shot in the pilot house. Deckhand George is on watch as a look out in addition to Capt. Morris.

Approaching Tobermory we see the lights of the carferry Chi-Ceemaun

Approaching the dock.

Securing lines.


Another view.

June 25 - Tobemory to Parry Sound

Sun rise at Tobermory.

Coffee Brewing.

Chi-Ceemaun departing Tobermory for South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island.

Another view.

Another view.

Chief Engineer Sean Pero sounds the fuel tanks.

Chief Pero had planned enough to get us to Parry Sound but leave little to pump off.

Crew from Search and Rescue Station Tobermory stops by to help cast off.

George and Terry let go the stern lines.

Chester and Terry release the bow.

Backing from Tobermory.

The Gull Isle's small size, twin engines and variable pitch propellers  make her very maneuverable under the experienced hands of Capt. Morris

Wide view as we depart.

We make a quick pass but Small Tub Island and SAR Station Tobermory.

Small Tub Light.

SAR Station Tobermory.

A few quick hellos and we depart.

Outbound into Georgian Bay.

Nice day for sailing.

Our passage will take us across Georgian Bay to Parry Sound.

Flower Pot Island through the haze.

Eastbound into the sun.

Preparing for another day's work.

Crew gets back to chipping and painting.

Across Georgian Bay.

George grinding old paint from the work bench.

Coast Guard logo and builder's plate.

Hazy crossing. 

View aft.

Terry prepares lunch.

Terry delivers lunch in the pilot house/Captain's Mess/passenger stateroom.


Chief Engineer Sean Pero works the phones making finial arrangements for our arrival.

Close up.

Capt. Morris at the helm.

June 25 - Parry Sound

Heading into Parry Sound. The numerous shoals and islands call for an alert bridge crew.

We reach the first buoy marking the Parry Sound Channel.

Red Rock Lighthouse, Parry Sound Channel

Close up.

Spruce Tower (abandoned but still a good range mark and sometimes osprey nest site)

Close up of Spruce Tower.

Pancake Beacon

Killbear Point.

Close up of light.

30,000 Island Tour boat

Crossing the bay.

Three Mile Point.

Heading for the Parry Sound Coast Guard base.

Empty docks, all the Coast Guard Ships station at Parry Sound are out on assignment.

Lining up for the dock.

Another view of the base.

Tying up.

Hooking up the cable TV.

Riding high in the water.

The reason for our trip, the Marine Rail Way at Parry Sound Coast Guard Base.

The cradle will be lowered into the water and the Gull Isle with be pulled ashore.

Hoisted by cable.

Quick tour of the buoys stored at the base.

View back to the base across the plastic buoys.

An Aids to Navigation museum of sorts..

Anchors used to hold a buoy in place. (Iron and Concrete)

Plastic buoys are filled with foam.

Crew poses for a final shot.

Gull Isle waits to be pulled from the water for inspection.
In December 2002 the crew de-iced many light buoys in an effort to keep the buoys operating properly prior to decommissioning.  Detroit River Light is visible the background. Capt. Alan Morris
Recovery of submerged light buoy WC53 in Port Colborne harbor in the
Welland Canal. Capt. Alan Morris

My thanks to the Capt. Morris and the crew of the Gull Isle for their hospitality and making this look inside the Gull Isle possible. This was a fascinating voyage made that much more enjoyable by the friendly and knowledgeable crew.

My thanks also to Capt. Dave Fowler and Paul Beesley for their assistance in preparing this feature.


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