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BREE'S BLOG: In The Wake of the Fitzgerald

The old steam-powered tugboat

I started to introduce myself to Capt. Adolph Ojard, the retired captain of the steam-powered tugboat built in 1896, but he said, "I saw you coming in. Nice looking boat." That was enough for introductions. He saw my boat, he knew me. We settled down to talk in the Edna G.'s wheelhouse and he told me some of the stories of the big lake. "And can she burn coal," the old silver haired captain told me, "We had to go out after the Joe Thompson, a freighter that had lost power about 18 miles from here.. We towed her back with her rudder cocked. By the time we got back to Two Harbors, my fireman had lost 19 pounds."Fired by hand? "Sure," he said. "She's the only hand-fired coal burner around. We always kept a hundred ton in her with her bunkers full." I looked out the wheelhouse window, trying to imagine how a sturdy, but small tugboat could handle storms and huge waves and still tow huge Superior ore boats. I wondered what speed she operated at. "She's a 110 feet long with a beam of 23 feet and a draft of 15 feet 6 inches and her propeller is 9 feet in diameter with a 12-foot pitch. That works out to 1 revolution every 12 feet. At a full 125 r.p.m., which is not too slow for steam, she'll cruise at 12 1/2 knots. " He paused for a moment: "Trouble is, at full speed (at 14 knots), the fireman can't keep up." The tug burned roughly a ton of coal an hour. "One time in the winter, we had to take her out." he said, "A big ore boat, the James Farrell, had caught a northeaster and tried to get in but couldn't and was was being carried to the rocks. Despite the storm, Capt. Ojard had maneuvered his tug alongside the ore boat and tossed up a line. "But by the time we got her stopped, her stern was so near rocks the propeller was kicking up sticks." That had been another close one. He glanced out over the water. It was growing dark."We didn't begrudge her anything. She got us there and back again." It was growing dark. I asked, "Do you still sail the lake these days, for yourself?" "I don't own a boat. I spent all the time on one that I want to. Now if I want to do some rocking, I'll get me a rocking chair."
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