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Detroit River

Mike Nicholls  

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- Sarah Spencer/ Jane Ann IV

By Brian Wroblewski

The barge Sarah Spencer started its Great Lakes career as the powered steamer Adam E. Cornelius. It was built at Manitowoc, Wisconsin as hull #424 in 1959 and was named for one of the two founding members of American Steamship who had recently died in 1953. It was similar in appearance to AmShip's other steamers McKee Sons and Sharon but the Cornelius was a one off design.

The Spencer traded for many years under the U.S. flag and was then sold to Canadian interests in 1989. Great Lakes Transport of Halifax, NS bought the vessel and renamed it Captain Edward V. Smith and converted the vessel to a 611-foot barge.  The vessel was named after the owner's father who had been a Great Lakes Captain for Keystone Transports on canallers out of Kingston, ON and later as a Traffic Manager for many years with Hall Corporation of Canada.  Operating her as a non-powered vessel allowed the new owners to save on crew costs, shipping regulations and gave the vessel more flexibility in ice conditions. The engine room was gutted and a deep notch was created in the stern for a pusher tug.

Caterpillar diesel engines and generators were added to the barge in the remaining section of the old engine room along with air compressors and other necessary equipment. These compressors are used to operate her pneumatic controlled hopper doors in the unloading tunnel under the holds. The barge's forward cabins were retained as a lookout station and for storage space. A platform was installed over the tip of the bow to assist with anchor handling operations when the tug needed to break out of the notch and pick up the barge on a wire.

The barge traded across the Great Lakes and East Coast from 1989 to 1990 before being renamed Sea Barge One from 1991 until 1996.

Since then the barge has been named Sarah Spencer and until the 1999 season was pushed by the large, raised pilothouse tug Atlantic Hickory almost exclusively in the grain trade. At nearly 700 feet long with the tug in the notch it became the largest vessel to pass the Ohio St. turn on the Buffalo River when it traveled up to the ADM Standard Elevator during the 1998 season.

The tug Atlantic Hickory was on charter from Atlantic Towing and was wired into the notch while pushing. This arrangement proved less than ideal and the owners decided to buy the Brazilian work tug Jane Ann IV. The new tug and the old barge were then converted to the Bark River Articulated Tug Barge Coupling System. This involved the installation of a set of hydraulically controlled pins in the tug and reception ladders in the barge's notch. The barge was also given a set of new skegs below the waterline to help improve seagoing performance. The coupling system allows the tug to move in pitch, but not in roll or yaw.

The tug and barge can operate as one vessel under almost all conditions. Control has been moved to the pilothouse of the barge section to reflect this change. The captain sits in a large plush chair at the center of the barge's bridge and his navigation commands are relayed back to the tug through a flexible control conduit hanging over the notch. During the late 2000 season the captain frequently stopped the vessel, boarded the tug and left the notch to assist the Coast Guard in ice breaking operations. The new coupling system will allow for better control of the barge, reduce down time, and keep her a viable carrier for some time while blending the look of an old laker with modern technology.

In February, 2005 while at winter lay-up at Goderich, ON, both the Sarah Spencer and the Jane Ann IV were listed as for sale direct from the owners as a unit by ship brokers Marcon International, Inc. of Coupeville, WA.

Sarah Spencer Overall Dimensions (metric)
Length  611' 03" (186.31m)
Beam  72' 00" (21.95m)
Depth  40' 00" (12.19m)
Capacity  23,200 tons (23,573 tonnes)


Jane Ann IV Overall Dimensions (metric)
Length  137' 06" (41.91m)
Beam  42' 08" (13.03m)
Depth  21' 04" (6.48m)
Power (diesel)  8,000 b.h.p.


Toledo. Mike Nicholls

Off Toledo Harbor Light.

Close up of the notch.

Tug Jane Ann IV. Dave Yager

Onboard looking aft. Dave Yager

View forward departing Rouge River. Dave Yager

Looking aft. Dave Yager

In the Welland Canal. Dave Yager

Rudder work in Port Weller Dry Docks. Dave Yager

New pins on tug.

Winter lay-up at Goderich, ON Feb., 2005.
Grant Culbert 

Bow view.  Grant Culbert

Click here for more information on the connection system that mates tug & barge

Under construction as the Adam E. Cornelius

As the Sea barge One. Rod Burdick

Arial view with the Atlantic Hickory. Don Coles

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Tug out of the notch breaking ice. Rob Farrow

Arriving in Thunder Bay. Rob Farrow

Loading in Duluth. Glen Blaszkiewicz

Winter lay-up February, 2003. Capt. Alain Gindroz

Welland Canal, 2003. Mike Nicholls

Close up of Jane Ann IV. Alex Howard

Stern view. Alex Howard

Profile. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Tug pushing the barge. Alex Howard.

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