Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Things that go Bump in the Night


Entering Port of Rochester

No, I don’t mean ghosts and goblins on Halloween.  I mean large vessels that seem to have a knack for bumping into things that they shouldn’t.  Bump into, that is.

But I’m way ahead of myself.

The other day I spent the afternoon walking what’s called the Genesee Riverway Trail, a trail that runs from just south of the city – along the river, obviously – all the way to the river’s mouth (into Lake Ontario).  I’d have to check, but I think the trail is 9 or 10 miles long and is paved most of the way.  Personally, I’ve never come close to walking the whole thing.  I tend to spend most of my time near the northern end by the lake.

Anyway, at the end of this particular excursion I was getting ready to leave when I heard the horn on the lift bridge signal that it was going to open up.  I went back to the river’s edge, looked downstream, and saw a very large vessel heading into the port.  It was the Stephen B. Roman, a cement carrier that spends most of its time sailing around Lake Ontario.  Rochester, you see, is kind of a regional center for cement.  If you live in the northeast and need to buy a bag or two of powdered cement, those bags probably will have come from Rochester.  That’s not nearly as glamorous as being the world’s center for photographic film (Eastman Kodak), of course, but the world has changed.  We used to do film – now we do cement. 

Naturally, I decided to photograph this particular event.  I mean, you just don’t get that many chances at this.  It isn’t as if this is the Port of New York or Charleston or San Francisco.  It just isn’t very busy.  Then, once I had the picture, I figured I should do “due diligence” and conduct a little research on the vessel.  I knew it was big – it looked like a battleship in a bathtub – but how big was it?

Well, that part was easy: it’s 488′ long and can carry 7,600 tons of powdered cement.  That’s big for the Genesee River.  The channel coming in, at least the dredged part, isn’t all that wide.  If you look at the image, you’ll see a guy standing right at the bow of the vessel.  He isn’t on break and he isn’t sightseeing.  He’s making sure that they remain in the center of the channel and that the way is clear.  This thing is moving very, very slowly.

What fascinated me, though, was what I read about the ship’s history.  It was originally built in 1965 and christened the Fort William.  On one of its first voyages, while docked in Montreal, the ship capsized and exploded, killing 5 crewmen.  Apparently, they were moving cargo to an upper deck while pumping ballast at the same time, rendering the vessel unstable.  Not a good start.

Then, in August 1967, the ship was involved in a head-on collision on Lake Huron.  In December 1977 she ran aground (in a fog) near Toledo, Ohio.  Finally, in October 1979, the starcrossed vessel hit the Detroit River light (again, in a fog).  All in all, not a great track record for a Great Lakes vessel.

She was eventually sold and converted (in 1983) into the cement carrier she is today.  Interestingly, they also changed her name.  Apparently, it worked.  She hasn’t been involved in any kind of incident since.         

So I guess it’s true – there’s always a story behind every image you capture.  You just have to look for it.


4 Responses to “Things that go Bump in the Night”

  1. Paul

    Interesting history. When I read things like this, I wonder how in the world do two ships run headlong into each other on a lake, let alone, a Great Lake?! It seems that a change of name was certainly appropriate. The old one had too many ‘ghosts’ following it. They probably changed the crew, too, which probably helped more than the name change! 🙂

  2. Paul Maxim

    Andreas: Well, I initially just wanted to find out how big the damn thing was. After I googled it, there was this incredible history staring me in the face. It was just too good to pass up.


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