Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Shipping news

This is the Canadian Ranger, a Great Lakes bulk carrier that's been tied up at pier 51 here in Toronto for the past year or so. I shot these photos from my sea kayak earlier this fall.

If you would like to feel incredibly small, I strongly recommend sidling up next to one of these huge iron monsters in a craft that's less than two feet wide. You'll feel especially vulnerable next to the Ranger; even though she was apparently retrofitted in 2004, it's difficult to find much evidence of this. In fact, every time I go down to the harbour I expect to find her flopped over, resting on the lake bed with her wheelhouse half submerged. Finished.

Why? For one, the hull appears to be so rusted out it's hard to imagine she's still a serviceable laker (you can pull flakes of surface rust off with your hands if you work hard enough at it). This is mainly because, although she's considered a fairly new ship by lake freighter standards, the Ranger is in fact the product of an unhappy marriage between two older ships, the Hilda Marjanne, an ocean tanker launched in the forties that was later converted for lake service, and the Chimo, a lake freighter that first put to sea in 1967. I think it's safe to assume that building a new ship out of two old decrepit ships is cheaper than building an entirely new one, hence the Canadian Ranger was born out of the stern section of the old Chimo and the bow of the Hilda Marjanne.

It must have been a helluva job. To match both sections, which varied by nineteen feet at the beam, a special twenty-five foot midsection had to be built and slotted in. This was apart from razing the Marjanne's old wheelhouse, lifting the Chimo's wheelhouse the level of an entire deck, and essentially gutting both ships. The whole project took more than a year to complete, and the hybrid freighter slipped (back?) into the water in April 1984.

So next time you're in the city, have a look in the harbour for the Ranger. It's a safe bet she'll still be here.

For the full story on the Canadian Ranger, click here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Ripple effect

Rogue waves have been in the news a lot lately. So what's the difference between a rogue and just a run-of-the-mill big wave? Naturally, it depends who you ask.

Click here to read more.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Daily grind

When you live in a city the size of Toronto, you are constantly faced with choices. Where to eat? Pick one of a million places. Where to go for a pint? Same problem. How to get to work?

This one is perhaps the most difficult. There is the old standby, the car, but the idea of driving to work has always left me feeling mildly suicidal. Besides, by only using the car to get to points outside the city, I associate driving with going somewhere fun -- the beach, Georgian Bay, wine country. Thus, like an excited family dog, I literally quiver with excitement when someone asks if I would like to go for a car ride.

But if you're like me and the car's not really your bag, either, there are a plethora of other options to ponder: you can walk, skateboard, rollerblade, take the subway ... or bike.

I started out with the subway when I first moved here six years or so ago. But driven by a craving to get a bit of exercise and, let's face it, to save money (I am in publishing, after all) I soon chose the two-wheeled method. I've never looked back.

Toronto cyclists are a curious lot. Aggressive, yes, but in order to defend the small amount of turf you're allotted on this city's streets, you have to be. And I've seen it all: motorists yelling at cyclists, cyclists kicking cars as they sped by and, just today, an old lady stepping off the curb and only barely missing the business end of a bike courier's front wheel as he swerved into traffic.

But city cyclists also stick together. When I caught a tire in a streetcar track a while back and did a full-body flop in the middle of the street, not one passerby bothered to stop and give me a helping hand -- except a passing fellow cyclist.

They can also be amorous. My friend Hadley was once hit on by a bike courier in motion. She claims to have declined the offer. But we have no evidence of this.

So now as the cold winds and freezing rain set in, I refuse to ponder having to tuck my faithful steed away. Instead, I hunker down, put on extra layers, stuff a tuque under my helmet and, of course, keep an eye out for black ice as I pick my way through the streets to work every day. How long can I go? Time will tell. But it is certainly fun, and yes, dangerous, too.

Still, I'm convinced I've added years to my life.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The abyss

Interesting news today about the discovery of the wreck of the Milan, a Great Lakes schooner like this one that went down on Lake Ontario over 150 years ago. In October 1849, she set off from Oswego for Cleveland. Shortly afterward, she slipped quietly beneath the waves after springing a leak. Her crew did their best to steer the boat to shore, but it was too late by the time they discovered the incoming rush of water. The nine men aboard, and the boat’s dog, escaped in a lifeboat and were later rescued.

What’s more fascinating is that the Milan is almost entirely intact, sitting upright with her masts sticking straight up. Sometimes I don’t think we appreciate just how deep Lake Ontario really is: even though it’s the smallest of the Great Lakes, it’s the second deepest, trailing only Superior.

And chilly -- in order to get down to the Milan’s depth of about 60 metres and explore her, the wreck’s discoverers had to enlist the help of students to build them a remote-controlled submersible.

For the full story, click here.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Algonquin ... in a good mood

The last weekend of November found us at Algonquin Park. Algonquin is a crazy place -- a wonderful mix of dense coniferous forest and Canadian Shield -- and is, like, half the size of France. Lumbermen and trappers preceded the tourists here.

But on this day, no one awaited us but a lonely gatekeeper and a visitor's centre operator doing nothing more than trying to justify their presence. These are the attractions of the low season. No tourists -- just silence.

The first trail took us out to Bat Lake, an acidic lake, which means no fish, but lots of other life: birds, insects, and all manner of reptile. The second took us down the short Whiskey Rapids Trail. As you can tell, the water was running high on the ol ' rapids that day, leaving us with serious soakers. Amy managed to steer clear, avoiding recreating a scene from Deliverance. Sadly, no whiskey in sight.

Weekend beast count:
2 deer
2 woodpeckers (one half the size of France)
1 large white rabbit desperately hoping for snow
14 grouse

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Turn her into the storm!

With the coming of the fall monsoons, I haven't been getting out much, instead remaining hunkered down here in the bunker scrawling away on the all-consuming Incredible Tales of Lake Erie (or something like that). It's a three-year odyssey to try to get a book published. An insane amount of time to spend on such a long shot, you say? Correct! I could have learned four languages by now. But like a good soldier, we press on.

Speaking of, here is the venerable American Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry during the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. Perry has always been one of my heroes. Why? For one, because he had the balls to row across open water in a small boat while His Majesty's fleet did its best to pump him full of hot lead. And you thought your commute was a pain.