Three Great Lakes ships to watch for on the St. Clair River

Frank Frisk (a.k.a. Freighter Frank) cooked his way into a lengthy career aboard many of the grand ships that still pass by communities along the lake and river today. Frisk now makes his office at the Great Lakes Maritime Center at 51 Water St. in Port Huron.

Leonard M

The diesel powered tugboat, the Leonard M, was built in 1986 and was pushing a barge pushing stone down the river from Drummond Island on Tuesday. Frisk and the volunteers at the Great Lakes Maritime Center already know when each vessel is coming or when and why it is delayed by using a tracking device called an Automatic Identification System. The AIS is used for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships. AIS information supplements marine radar, which continues to be the primary method of collision avoidance for maritime traffic.

James R. Barker

One of the most important Interlake Steamship Company assignments Frisk took was on the James R. Barker. He was first second cook, assistant to the Chief Steward. "A second cook on the Great Lakes was the same as a pastry and salad chef. You name it, I baked it," he says.

The James R. Barker was built at a cost of more than $43 million. It is self-unloading, with a load capacity of 59,000 gross tons of iron ore pellets and 52,000 net tons of coal. Launched in 1976, power for the vessel is provided by two 8,000 hp diesel engines. In 1986, on Lake Huron, a high pressure fuel line on the starboard engine failed, Frisk recalls, causing an engine room fire extinguished by on-board firefighting equipment. No one was injured. The Barker was lashed side-by-side to the thousand-foot William J. De Lancey and taken to Wisconsin four days later for repairs. The ship's top speed is 15.75 knots (18 mph).

Mesabi Miner

Frisk's first chief steward assignment came aboard the Mesabi Miner, which made him the senior unlicensed crew member working in the galley. The chief steward does just about everything but pilot the ship, including directing instructing, and assigning personnel to duties such as preparing and serving meals. 

Mesabi Miner is a "super carrier," one of 13 1,000-footers built for various American flag carriers on the Great Lakes. Miner was named to honor the people of the Mesabi Iron Range who had encouraged the development of the mining industry in Minnesota. The new, giant self-unloader was one of a number of American ships built under the Merchant Marine Act of 1970. The act allowed U.S. shipping companies to build new vessels or modernize their existing fleets by government-guaranteed financing and tax deferred benefits.

The Mesabi Miner can unload up to 10,000 tons of iron ore or 6,000 net tons of coal per hour.  She continues to sail the Great Lakes under the Interlake Steamship Co. flag in the coal and iron ore trades, much as she has since her launch in 1977. The ship is powered by a 16,000 hp diesel engine.

The Great Lakes Maritime Center is located at 51 Water St. in Port Huron. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday. For more information, contact the GLMC at (810) 985-4817 or Access Frisk's research and photos at
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