Mahon: Did a derelict lake freighter become a parenting moment?

Every time I see a lake freighter in the distance on the Great Lakes, I am reminded of a story I heard third-hand back in the day.

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Every time I see a lake freighter in the distance on the Great Lakes, I am reminded of a story I heard third-hand back in the day.

Up close those freighters are battered and grimy-looking things. They leak in a lot of places, on purpose no doubt. One of the best places to see one up close is at the port in Goderich. Ships 600 to 700 feet long (I paced them) can tie up alongside the pier to be loaded with salt from the mine, or grain from the elevators deeper in the small harbour.

People show up to watch the freighters slide into port and get handled by the tugs, except for the newer ones that have their own side jets. The tugs push away and when the job is done, they honk their horn in friendly departure.

Several years ago I had wanted to ride a grain freighter from Goderich to Sarnia, doing a story about where the local crop would end up, and I had an appointed time to slip on to the ship at Goderich for what would be a partial day at sea.

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I was nervous about the whole thing, wondering if I might either be seasick, or pressed into indentured service for the next three years.

It may have been summer but the droning dirge of Gordon Lightfoot was never far away.

Schedules got changed and the ship sailed without me. I wasn’t sure whether I was doing it because it was a great story or because I wanted a ride on a boat.

When ships are docked at Goderich the merchant mariners sometimes lean out their ports and wave to the crowd. I do wonder what sort of stories some of these people have seen and lived.

Down from the pier, there is often a derelict freighter tied up in a convenient spot. For several years in the last decade one freighter occupied the spot, and I was told one day by one of the older pier groupies that it was headed for Turkey for salvage whenever it was profitable to do so. That is unverified.

Now, on to the story that the freighters always bring to mind, which, if not yet an urban myth, ought to become one.

I don’t know that it was Goderich, but the story revolved around two guys with whom I went to high school. They took it upon themselves one night to climb aboard a derelict freighter and explore it end to end.

What a scary thing that would be, walking the echoing metal plates from the engineering room to the bridge to the main deck, to the bilges and crew spaces. A trip of oil and fuel and rot and rust. And they made it out safely.

While I only heard the story a decade or more ago, it must have dated back to an earlier time, because one of the boys felt guilty about it or got caught at it. He finally told his father what he had done.

That father told the other boy’s father, in some manner or another, as responsible people do.

The two men had to face up to the urgency of a parenting moment, that their little boys had done such a thing. One might wonder what their reaction was.

Indeed!

The next night, the fathers climbed aboard the same freighter and toured it themselves.

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