Shuttleship – Summer 1982


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The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Christine Rohn Hilston

M/V AMERICAN REPUBLIC conducting a hairpin maneuver for sea trials. Image from Alpena Public Library archives.

July 18, 1981 – Stadium Pier, Cleveland, Ohio.

Five hundred members of the maritime community* toured the new M/V American Republic whose mission will be shuttling taconite from Lorain to Cleveland.

At pre-christening ceremonies, speakers heralded M/V American Republic as symbol of advances in Great Lakes transportation and in the American steel industry. Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich told the audience that, “this represents another vote of confidence in the future of our community and of Republic’s continued growth in Cleveland.”

With the speeches ended, Cleveland’s First Lady, Janet Voinovich, held up a bottle of Ohio State champagne, “I christen this motor vessel the American Republic. And may God bless all who sail on her.”

She then brought her arms down and champagne sprayed the ship.

The American Republic’s horn blew. The horn of the Great Lakes Towing tug Illinois sounded. The fireboat sprayed. Hundreds of red, white, and blue balloons rose over Cleveland. The crowd cheered – a spirited reaction from the normally staid maritime executives.

Yet this may be the last such christening the United States Great Lakes maritime community will see for a while. For the M/V American Republic was the last American Great Lakes bulk freighter built during the recent flurry of shipbuilding activity. There are no more bulk vessels on order on the U.S. side of the Lakes.

Built by Bay Shipbuilding Corporation in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, at a cost of approximately $30 million, the M/V American Republic is the nineteenth vessel in the American Steamship Company fleet. She is the tenth new vessel to have. joined American Steamship’s fleet since their major building program began in 1973. Nine of the ten were constructed by Bay Shipbuilding Corporation; the other was built by American Ship Building Company in Toledo, Ohio.

At an overall length of 634’10” and a beam of 68’0”, her dimensions match sister ships M/V Buffalo (built in 1978) and M/V Sam Laud (built in 1975). These three vessels were specifically designed at the maximum size for navigation of the winding Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, to carry taconite to Republic Steel Corporation’s Cleveland plant.

The taconite comes down from Silver Bay, Minnesota, to the Republic Steel Lorain Pellet Terminal largely by thousand-foot, self-unloading bulk vessels. The pellets are then loaded into smaller river vessels such as the American Republic, which transship them approximately thirty miles east to Republic Steel in Cleveland, near the upper limit of navigation on the Cuyahoga River. All three of American Steamship’s 634’10” vessels have plied the Lorain to Cleveland route, and this is to be the American Republic’s chief mission.

The M/V American Republic exemplifies state of the art technology in ship handling. What sets her apart from her sisters are her unique maneuvering capabilities enabling safe, efficient transit of the twisting Cuyahoga. Her 7,000-horsepower, twin-diesel powerplant (supplied by Electra Motive Division, General Motors Corporation) drives twin, controllable pitch propellers enclosed in Kort nozzles. Her steering system includes eight rudders – four flanking rudders are located forward of the propellers and four are in the conventional position aft of the props. To further enhance maneuverability, she is equipped with thousand-horsepower bow and stern thrusters.

Operating at a midsummer draft of 27’11”) she is rated for 24,300 gross tons of iron ore pellets. Due to a draft restriction of 22’10” on the Cuyahoga River, her capacity is necessarily reduced on trips up the Cuyahoga. However, she set a new single shipment tonnage record of 19,565 gross tons (21,913 net) for cargo carried on the river on July 7, 198 1.

For unloading, a single belt runs the length of her six cargo holds. As a series of gates open at the bottom of the holds, the ore falls onto the moving belt. Then a loop belt brings the pellets up onto the aft-mounted unloading boom. Her unloading rate for taconite pellets is 6,000 long tons per hour. Her 251’6” long unloading boom can swing 106 degrees to port or starboard.

The keel (623’3”) was laid in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, on November 10, 1979. Launching took place on July 14, 1980. She left Bay Shipbuilding’ during May 1981 for steering trials in the waters of Green Bay, and later that month began her shuttle service between Lorain and Cleveland.

Captained by Bernie Elliott and Larry Cohen, the vessel put in two months of active service before she was christened. Red Bjerk is Chief Engineer.

The vessel’s name combined “American” from her operators, American Steamship Company, and “Republic” for Republic Steel Corporation. The American Steamship stack – black with one red stripe flanked by two silver stripes – is already a familiar sight along the Cuyahoga River.

She makes the round-trip shuttle (Lorain Pellet Terminal to Republic Steel’s Cleveland plant docks and back to Lorain) in approximately twenty-four hours. Due to the demands such a short turnaround places on vessel personnel, the American Republic’s crew is headed by two captains who each work twelve hours, then have twelve off.

Provision for crew comfort includes air-conditioned living spaces, pilot house and galley. As the Steward commented, with air-conditioning “you only sweat a little bit over the range!”

Presenting a square stern and blunt bow, the ship is about as aesthetically appealing as the new breed of cabins after self-unloaders can be. However, she differs in appearance from other new Great Lakes vessels in her super structure.  While her pilothouse extends the width of the cabin area, a second, smaller navigational area faces astern one step up and aft of the pilothouse. This gives the appearance of dual pilothouses, and most certainly is an aid in navigation.

In a comment that will offend some people and delight others, Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich said during the christening ceremonies that the American Republic means more to the Cleveland area than would an Indians’ pennant or a Browns’ conference championship!

*Present at this christening were dignitaries representing Bay Shipbuilding Corporation, American Steamship Company, GATZ Corporation, and Republic Steel Corporation. Speakers included George K. Geiger, President, Bay Shipbuilding; Thomas W. Burke, President, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer, American Steamship; James J. Glasser, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, GATX; William J. DeLancey, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Republic Steel; and Mayor George V. Voinovich, Cleveland.

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About the Author: Christine Rohn Hilston and her husband, Paul, live in Avon, Ohio. In 1967, Mrs. Hilston won a trip aboard the William G. Mather in the Propeller Club’s Harding Memorial Essay Contest, and later, was a secretary in the Marine Engineering Department of Interlake Steamship Company. In 1971, she met her future husband, a crew member, aboard the steamer Reserve. Mr. Hilston, besides sailing for Columbia Transportation Division of Oglebay Norton Company, has served as Assistant Personnel Manager of Kinsman Transit Company.

Mrs. Hilston is a member of Great Lakes Historical Society and has two sons, who are fast becoming boatwatchers with their parents. She wishes to thank Mr. Thomas W. Burke, Mr. J. P. Dewitt, and Mr. Mike Beauchamp of American Steamship Company for their assistance in compiling this article.


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