Welland Canal, Sept. 19, 2012.

John McCreery

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature - Phoenix Star

by George Wharton

Launched on June 18, 1968 for the Algoma Central Corp., Sault Ste. Marie, ON; the keel for this classic traditional styled straight deck bulk carrier was laid December 28, 1967 as hull # 191 by Collingwood Shipyards, Collingwood, ON. At a formal ceremony held at the ship yard, the new bulker was officially christened Algocen (2) on September 20, 1968 by Mrs. John Robarts, wife of the Premier of Ontario.  Attending to the new vessel was Captain Les Brown and Chief Engineer Sam Wheeler.  The Algocen proved to be the last traditional styled (fore/aft cab design) straight deck bulk carrier built at the Collingwood Shipyards.

The Algocen name has been associated with Algoma Central since 1935. The name is derived from the first two words of the owning company's corporate title: "Algo" from Algoma and "Cen" from Central. The first Algocen was launched as the John H. Barlum (2) in 1909 built by American Ship Building Co., Lorain, OH. Her dimensions were 524' (159.72m) loa x 54' (16.46m) wide x 39' 08" (12.09m) depth. The vessel became part of the Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway Co. fleet and was renamed Algocen in 1935. The Algocen (1) continued to sail for the Algoma fleet until being sold for scrap in 1968. On the exact date of the Algocen (2)'s launch, her predecessor departed Quebec City, PQ under tow of the ocean tug Bremen for scrapping at Santander, Spain.

The vessel is powered by 4 Fairbanks Morse 12-38D8-1/8 opposed piston, single acting, 2-stroke cycle 12-cylinder 2,000 b.h.p. (1,494 kW) diesel engines built by Canadian Locomotive Co. Ltd., Kingston, ON.  These engines burn marine diesel oil.  The power is geared through a single screw output gearbox to a single KaMeWa 18.7' (5.70m) diameter controllable pitch propeller giving her a speed of 16.1 m.p.h..  The Algocen was originally built with the "side drive" option with 2 additional 12 cylinder Caterpillar D398 700 b.h.p. (523 kW) auxiliary diesel engines built by Caterpillar Tractor Co., Peoria, IL; that, when not being used as electricity generators, could be clutched into the central gearbox to provide additional power.  This capability was later disconnected but the engines were not removed.  She is equipped with an 800 h.p. (598 kW) bow thruster.

The laker's 17 hatches service 6 holds where she is capable of carrying 28.400 tons (28,856 mt) at a mid-summer draft of 27' 09" (8.46m) and approximately 26,666 tons (27,094 mt) at the new Seaway draft of 26' 06" (8.08m) which was implemented in 2004.  At the old Seaway draft of 26' 03" (8.00m), the Algocen could carry 26,414 tons (26,838 mt).  Approximate cubic hold capacities include 30,891 net tons (equivalent to 27,581 tons or 28,024 mt) of coal, 27,653 tons (28,097 mt) of wheat, 26,012 tons (26,430 mt) of corn or rye, 22,822 tons (23,189 mt) of barley and 20,979 tons (21,315 mt) of oats.  Other capacities include 452 tons (459 mt) of fuel oil, 80 tons (81 mt) of potable water, and 11,153 tons (11,332 mt) of water ballast and also has the facility for hold flooding.

The Algocen entered service on September 20, 1968 and was noted to have passed through the Port Colborne piers entering the Welland Canal with her first load of grain on September 28, 1968.  Shortly after, on October 13 and 14, Algoma held an "Open Ship" at Sault Ste. Marie, ON where over 14,000 people toured the Algocen.  By early November of 1969, grain cargoes for the new vessel were scarce and the Algocen laid up for the winter with a storage cargo of grain for a spring 1969 delivery.  The Algocen set a barley record at Superior, WI on May 6, 1970 carrying 1,061,300 bushels.  This record was followed up with a Great Lakes corn record loading 1,014,000 bushels at Milwaukee, WI on November 5, 1971 bound for Port Cartier, QC.  She was the first vessel to have loaded in excess of one million bushels of this product.  On August 14, 1973,  the Algocen set a Great Lakes soybean record loading 934,000 bushels at Duluth, MN for Baie Comeau, QC.  She then reset this record on July 3rd, 1974 by loading 946,000 bushels of soybeans at Superior, WI bound for Quebec City, QC.

As well as setting cargo records, the Algocen has also had a number of incidents on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway system.  A few of these follow.  On November 27, 1970; the Algocen was caught by strong currents while entering the harbor at Port Colborne swinging her stern causing her bow to strike a sunken bridge abutment at Welland Canal's Bridge 21 resulting in a 24' (7.32m) x 3' (.91m) gash in her starboard bow.  The damage was patched at Port Weller Dry Docks with permanent repairs being completed at Thunder Bay, ON at a cost of approximately $150,000 CN.  She was noted to have run aground on South McNair Shoal in the St. Lawrence River near Ogdensburg, NY on August 31, 1975 while laden with grain for Port Cartier, QC. with resulting serious bottom damage. After refloating, she was taken to Port Weller Dry Docks where a 600 foot (182.88m) section of bottom plating was found to be in need of repair. After a month in dry dock and 750 tons of steel later, the Algocen was sent back into service.  On December 15, 2003; the Algocen was driven by high winds into the Cargill dock at Sarnia, ON while approaching the dock to secure and load for Montreal.  Scraped paint and a 4 foot (1.22m) gash to the port bow above the waterline as well as some dock damage resulted.  Repairs to the vessel were completed at Sarnia before departing.

The Algocen's entire career had been spent as part of the Algoma Central Marine fleet. Since January 2000 the vessel has sailed under the management of Seaway Marine Transport, St. Catharines, ON (partnership of Algoma Central and Upper Lakes Group). A 2003 summary of loads shows the Algocen having carried a total of 30 cargoes consisting of 13 grain, 13 iron ore, 3 cement clinker, and 1split load of iron ore and black sand, with no mid season lay-up.  The bulker remained active throughout the entire 2004 navigation season as well. 

The 2004 navigation season appeared to be her last season sailing on the Great Lakes with her final load being from Duluth, MN clearing the Duluth breakwall on December 18, 2004 bound for Port Cartier, QC.  The Algocen arrived back at Montreal for her final lay-up on January 4, 2005.  Before the end of the month, her new registered owner was Recycling Technologies, Inc. (subsidiary of Bayshore Recycling) in New Jersey; to be used as a spoils storage barge.  After being renamed Valgocen and flagged Panamanian in July of 2005, the retired laker departed Montreal on July 25, 2005 bound for New Jersey in tow of Atlantic Towing's new tug Atlantic Oak, being assisted down the St. Lawrence River by tug Andre H.  The tow arrived at Bayshore's dock in Keasbey, NJ on August 3, 2005.

On June 12, 2008, the Valgocen was officially re-registered Canadian under the new name J.W. Shelley with a home port of Quebec City, QC after being acquired Kim and John Shelley Jr. of Sarnia, ON with three partners in May, 2008.  The group established the new Canadian corporation Vanguard Shipping (Great Lakes) Ltd., Ingleside, ON to operate the vessel.  The laker was named in honor of John Shelley Sr., founder of Sarnia's former Shelley Machine and Marine; a man who worked on ships all his life and loved the sea.  The new company has secured a 5 year agreement with a large Canadian grain handler for the carriage of grain cargoes throughout the Great Lakes.

After being towed dead-ship from Keasbey to the Brooklyn, NY naval shipyard for repairs, steel work and a new coat of paint, the J.W. Shelley left the shipyard on August 30, 2008 under her own power bound for Montreal, QC and the Great Lakes.  The returning laker arrived in Montreal late on September 5 and after Canada customs clearance and a mandatory Seaway inspection, departed Montreal the next day on an upbound transit of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes to the Gavilon Elevator (former Peavey elevators) at Superior, WI and a load of grain destined for Sorel, QC.  The laker arrived September 11 to begin loading, departing late on September 13.  It is believed that this self-powered voyage from New York to the Great Lakes to be a "first" for any classic laker to have made.

In July 2012, Vanguard Shipping (Great Lakes) Ltd. sold its assets (and those of affiliate Vanship Ltd.) in a court-mandated sale to an affiliate of debtor-in-possession lender T.F. Warren Group Inc. of Brantford, Ontario. While laid up in Sorel-Tracy, the Shelley was renamed Phoenix Star and departed on August 28, 2012 bound for Thunder Bay to load grain.

In the early morning hours of October 16, 2012 the Phoenix Star, in ballast destined for Hamilton ON, grazed Sunken Rock Shoal near Alexandria Bay on the St. Lawrence River. The vessel was able to go to anchor pending a damage assessment without any reported water ingress. She was cleared to proceed by investigators with no apparent damage or pollution, arriving at Hamilton to load the next day.

The Phoenix Star laid up for the winter at the Ironhead Shipyard in Toledo OH on December 19, for a 5 year survey and hull work. While in the dry-dock it was found that the damage suffered in the October grounding incident was far more severe than anticipated, necessitating substantial hull repair in addition to work already scheduled. This work was started, but her owners ordered work stopped on January 25, 2013. The holding company that owned the Star filed for bankruptcy shortly afterwards and a second court mandated sale process was initiated to find a buyer for the ship. Considering work on bottom shell replacement had already begun, the Phoenix Star could not be removed from the dry-dock without significant expenditure just to allow her to float. Without any offers from buyers interested in further operation or even scrapping, Ironhead purchased her for $200,000 in lieu of payment for services owed. With no interest in her as an operational vessel and potential revenue being lost each day she occupied their drydock, Ironhead opted to have her scrapped where she lay. Her Canadian registry was closed on May 31, 2013 and cutting operations began in mid June.

The demise of Vanguard and the subsequent ownership saga proved to be a sad and unfortunate end for a distinctive vessel that had already once returned from near oblivion. With her scrapping and the recent demise of the former Algoma Provider, the era of the traditional Collingwood Seaway era straight-deckers has come to an end.


Overall Dimensions (metric)
 Length  730' 00" (222.50m)
 Beam  75' 00" (22.86m)
 Depth  39' 08" (12.09m)
 Capacity (mid-summer)           28,400 tons (28,856 mt)
at a draft of 27' 09" (8.46m)
 Capacity (Seaway)  26,666 tons (27,094 mt)
 at a draft of 26' 06" (8.08m)
 Power (diesel)  8,000 b.h.p. (5,696 kW)


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Under the bridges of the Burlington Ship Canal,
July 23, 2010. John Mc Creery
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Into Lake Ontario, destination Port Cartier, QC.
John McCreery
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Loading at Duluth's Cenex Harvest States 2,
Aug. 5, 2010. Tom Caine

St. Marys River after turning at Johnson's Point,
July 4, 2010. Scott McLellan
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Meeting the downbound Algocape on the
St. Lawrence River at Mariatown, ON,
July 20, 2010. Ron Beaupre
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After leaving Hamilton's Pier 25, turning to approach the Burlington Ship Canal,
July 23, 2010. John McCreery
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Downbound the St. Lawrence Seaway entering the Iroquois Lock, Apr. 27, 2010. Dave Bessant
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Upbound Lac St-Louis May 15, 2010.
Ken Goslett

Upbound the St. Marys River at Mission Point,
July 4, 2010. Herm Klein
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Loading grain at Duluth's CHS 1 as the 1st grain boat of 2010 season, Apr. 6, 2010.
Travis Chadwick
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Being fueled by tanker Hamilton Energy below Lock 1 at
Port Weller, Apr. 18, 2010. Paul Beesely
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Sliding the wall into Lock 1, Apr. 18, 2010.
John McCreery
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Entering the Burlington Ship Canal in ballast from Port Cartier, QC, Dec. 29, 2009.
John McCreery
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Bow close up.
John McCreery
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Into Hamilton Harbour.
John McCreery
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Arriving at Hamilton, ON in ballast from
Sorel, QC, July 8, 2009. John McCreery
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Departing Welland Canal's Lock 7 downbound,
Dec. 20, 2009. John McCreery
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Leaving Lock 3 at dusk, Dec. 20, 2009.
John McCreery
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Downbound the St. Marys River above light 29,
June 15, 2009. Herm Klein
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Entering the St. Clair River at Point Edward, ON,
June 16, 2009. Marc Dease
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Stern view. Marc Dease

Upbound the St. Marys River, June 12, 2009.
Herm Klein
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Upbound into Lake Huron at Point Edward, ON,
June 11, 2009. Marc Dease
2-jws-6-09-09-b-md.jpg (82321 bytes)
At Sarnia's North Slip, June 9, 2009.
Marc Dease
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Welland Canal passing under the Glendale Bridge, May 18, 2009. Bob Dowson
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Stern view. Bob Dowson
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Passing under the Welland Canal's Allanburg Bridge, May 3, 2009. Bill Bird
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Downbound the St. Marys River at Mission Point,
Apr. 16, 2009. Drew Dewit
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Bow profile. Drew Dewit
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Stern view. Drew Dewit

Inbound Maumee Bay, Oct. 18, 2008.
Jim Hoffman

Passing the museum ship Willis B. Boyer.
Jim Hoffman

Loading at Toledo, OH, Oct. 19, 2008.
Jim Hoffman

Passing under the Welland Canal's Glendale bridge, Sept. 18, 2008. BoatNerd Staff

Stern view. BoatNerd Staff

Downbound, clearing the Iroquois Lock of the
St. Lawrence Seaway, Sept. 19, 2008.
Ron Beaupre
Welland Canal transit, Sept. 18, 2008.  John McCreery

In the twin locks with
salty Carola &
Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin.

Emerging from Lock 4 east.

Under the Glendale bridge.

Lots of photographers.

Holding above Lock 3 as the Kwintebank passes.

Passes through the Homer bridge.

More photographers gathered above Lock 2.

Approaching the wall at Lock 2.

CSL Laurentien passes as the Shelley slides the wall.

Entry to Lock 2.

Downbound the Detroit River, Sept. 17, 2008.
Brad Neych

Stern view. Brad Neych

At Superior, WI, Sept. 12, 2008.
Chris Mazzella

Downbound Lake Huron at buoys 1 & 2,
Sept. 17, 2008. Marc Dease

Stern view on the St. Clair River.
Marc Dease
Click image at right for a J.W. Shelley "Return to the Great Lakes" gallery.

Atlantic Oak, Valgocen and Andre H on the St. Lawrence River, Trois-Rivieres. Kent Malo

Bow profile. Kent Malo

Stern view. Kent Malo

At Montreal with name removed, Mar. 24, 2005.
Kent Malo

Stack with Algoma logo removed, Mar. 25, 2005.
Kent Malo

After renaming in Montreal, mid July, 2005.
Kent Malo

Downbound the St. Marys River at Mission Point,
Oct. 18, 2004. Lee Rowe

Welland Canal, Dec. 11, 2004. Al Howard

Loading at Duluth, MN, Dec. 16, 2008>
Glenn Blaskiewicz

Stern view. Lee Rowe


Loading at Windsor, ON, Aug. 25, 2004.
Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholl

Upbound into Lake Huron, Apr. 28,2004.
George Wharton 

Welland Canal, June 15, 2004.  Rod Burdick

St. Lawrence River, June, 24, 2004.  Kent Malo

Engine room, Feb. 2004.  Kent Malo

Galley, Feb. 2004.  Kent Malo

One of the holds, Feb. 2004.  Kent Malo.

Aerial view, July 23, 2003.
Don Coles

Detroit River, Aug. 25, 2003.
Mike Nicholls

St. Marys River, Oct. 2003.
Roger LeLievre

Mission Point, June 27, 2003. N. Schultheiss 

Profile. N. Schultheiss

Rock cut stern view. N. Schultheiss

Downbound off Lake Huron, Apr. 23,2003. 
George Wharton

Bow profile, Apr. 23, 2003.  George Wharton

Unloading cement at Duluth, MN, June 22, 2003.
Lee Rowe
Algocen video (Bill Bird)

More pictures from our archives

In ice, upbound the St. Clair River at Marine City, MI, Apr. 1984. Jim Lindholm

Soo Locks. Rod Burdick
algocen.jpg (61290 bytes)
Night loading at Sarnia, ON,
July 6, 1992. Marc Dease

Welland Canal, 1999. Andy Severson

St. Clair River.  Mark Shumaker

Winter Lay-up. Todd Davidson

Welland Canal. Todd Davidson

Loading in Duluth. Gary A. Putney

Underway. Alex Howard

Burns Harbor with the Chicago in the distance. Peter Zagorac

Soo Locks MacArthur Lock.

Unloading at St. Lawrence Cement.
Steven Sliwka

Docked. Jeff Thoreson

Underway. Todd Davidson

Loading in Thunder Bay, Aug. 23, 2001.
 Rob Farrow

Detroit River, Aug. 17, 2001. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Detroit River, July 15, 2001.
Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Loading in Thunder Bay, 2001.
 Rob Farrow

Welland Canal, June 9, 2001.
Jeff Thoreson

Welland Canal, June 9, 2001.
Jeff Thoreson

Lake Superior, May 8, 2001.
Rob Farrow

Aerial view underway. Don Coles

Aerial view underway. Don Coles

Lay-up in Hamilton, Jan. 2001. Bill Bird

Whitefish Bay, Apr., 2002. Paul Beesley

Thunder Bay, Apr. 22, 2002.
Rob Farrow

Welland Canal, May 22, 2002.
Alex Howard

Welland Canal, May 22, 2002.
Alex Howard

Detroit River, Aug. 27, 2002.
 Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

St. Marys River, Aug. 28, 2002.
Roger LeLievre

Arriving  in Thunder Bay, Oct. 2002.
Rob Farrow

Loading in Thunder Bay, Oct., 2002.
 Rob Farrow

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