Discover the secrets of seafaring on the St. Clair River with 'Freighter Frank'

Vessels passing through the St. Clair River area are visible to all, but they are also worlds unto themselves.

Frank Frisk, affectionately called Freighter Frank, opens the seafaring world to the curious minds who admire these mighty vessels as pass through the Blue Water area en route to farther oceans, lakes and rivers. 

The Great Lakes Maritime Center is located at Vantage Point in Port Huron, right on the St. Clair River and named "the world headquarters for" due to the wide use of the website for Great Lakes maritime information. Freighter Frank, 69, makes his office at the GLMC and is in his 12th year as the Maritime Consultant there. Frisk offers a variety of opportunities to learn about the history and current events of the Great Lakes. His video formats, displays at the center and his website at present a wide range of information online. He also is a well sought-after speaker who shares his research on people, places and things on the Great Lakes outside his office, as well.
He recently spoke at the Algonac/Clay Historical Society program about the S.S. North and S.S. South American vessels. They were both popular steamships built by the Great Lakes Engineering Works in Ecorse, Michigan in the early 1900's for the Chicago, Duluth & Georgian Bay Transit Company. During the program, Frisk asked the audience to raise their hands if they ever sailed on the South or North American. Nearly half of the standing-room-only audience did so. They shared memories; some brought memorabilia to add to the display. These included photos taken on board, souvenir tickets, and travel bags or hats emblazoned with the cruise ship logos.

"We sailed the South American on my 1957 Algonac High School senior trip," says Historical Society member Adele Erickson Heinrich. "We drove to Detroit, taking a train to Chicago. We sailed from Chicago through Michigan inland seas, disembarking in Detroit. A wonderful time with my classmates."

The origins of Freighter Frank

Frank Frisk is awake to life's possibilities. As a boy, he chased freighters and learned to cook and bake as a seminarian. In the 1950s, Frisk spent 15 summers at his family's summer home in Algonac on the North Channel.

"I had my own 14-foot wood boat, 7.5 horsepower Mercury outboard, for unlimited travel and fishing, swimming, and freighter chasing," Frisk says. "I got to know many of the cooks on the boats. That's how I came to love freighters."

He continued to tap into his creative passions, including writing and professional photography, while he worked as a logistics manager for the Miller Brewing Company. His photography for Interlake Shipping gave him access to their maritime employees. This connection, once he retired from his logistics profession, opened Frank to a career on the freighters. His background in cooking and baking came in handy. He worked as a second cook/relief chief steward on eight freighters, including the Paul R. Tregurtha, the longest ship on the Great Lakes. 

"It was great working a boat coming into my home port," the Marysville resident says. "I had a regular run between Superior, Wisconsin and the St. Clair Detroit Energy Power Plant with 68-plus tons of coal." Now, in his second retirement, Frank combines his logistics skills, photography talent, cooking experience, research passion, and desire to share. He provides thousands of photos on his website and plenty of recipes for big boat meals, too. While BoatNerd isn't his site, he was asked to contribute and does so daily with his research, photos, and expertise.

Frank Frisk's inspiration

Perhaps Frisk's motivation to pay it forward daily is inspired by a quote of the late Dr. Edward Goodrich Acheson: "Any inspiration which arouses one's life and awakens it to its own possibilities, guiding one to devote his life and efforts as a leader in the world's work is worthwhile."

When he began as the Maritime Consultant, Frisk says a 92-year-old retired coal passer with the Davidson fleet came to Vantage Point to see him. Frisk will always cherish that research project.
"He said he’d been looking many years for information on his boat,” says Frisk. "I told him I'd find the data."
As the gentleman was wondering when he would be able to walk back down from his home for another visit, Frisk told him to sit down and grab a cup of his daily fresh''steamboat" coffee. "Forty minutes later, at no charge, I gave him a folder full of papers with all the data and several photos of his boat," says Frisk. "He cried as he walked out of my office."
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