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Great Lakes Sailing Days Recalled by Former Steamer Frontenac Shipmates

Wheelsman, First Mate, Bring Romance of Sailing to Local Ship Enthusiasts

May 7, 2009       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Shipmates Alan Flood and Greg Rudnick, with help from ship enthusiasts, hoist the huge banner of the Steamer Frontenac that Mr. Flood acquired after she was scrapped.
(MyBayCity Photo by Dave Rogers)

Alan Flood (with mate's hat) and Greg Rudnick swap tales from the Great Lakes shipping days.
(MyBayCity Photo by Dave Rogers)

Barb Story receives the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society's "spotlight" award from her son, Dave.
(MyBayCity Photo by Dave Rogers)

Amazingly, you could actually hear the ship's horns and whistles from 30 years ago.

Halcyon days on the Great Lakes were recalled by Alan Flood and Greg Rudnick, who sailed together on the Steamer Frontenac, a Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co. vessel.

The pair entertained a packed house at the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society meeting in the Trinity Episcopal Church parish hall recently.

Mr. Flood, a onetime first mate, had taped the sounds of the ships back in 1978 and played the recordings for the audience, adding a significant dose of reality to Mr. Rudnick's slide presentation.

Even more realism was added when Mr. Flood, Mr. Rudnick and officers of the society unfurled a 25 foot long banner that once hung from a staff waving over the ship.

Mr. Rudnick, who had driven from Cleveland with his wife, Marilyn, recalled the Frontenac: "It was a good ship with nice people; there was really something about it."

The Frontenac sailed under the flag of the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co. and her fortunes rose and fell with those of the auto and steel industries.

An earlier ship named Frontenac sank and burned in 1907 in Lake Cayuga, New York, with eight lives lost.

And, there is a Canadian Frontenac, still sailing, to add to the confusion.

The American Frontenac was built in 1923 at the Great Lakes Engineering Works, Ecorse.

Mr. Rudnick was a wheelsman on the Frontenac 1978-79 and gave insights into that job during his presentation. Mr. Flood was first mate on the ship in 1978 and served other tours aboard.

Mr. Rudnick presented poignant scenes of the old days on the Great Lakes, when ports like Buffalo, Detroit, Toledo and Duluth were booming. Before the St. Lawrence Seaway (1959), Buffalo was the center of the grain trade, Mr. Rudnick said, showing pictures of wire mills and other facilities at lakes ports that are now vacant lots.

Once, as wheelsman, Mr. Rudnick recalled having to avoid a moose that was blithely swimming along, "headed upbound," he cracked.

He talked of one shipmate, describing him as "a good sailor but a little thirsty."

In 1911, the men recalled, the Willis D. Boyer, at 611 feet, was longest in the world. The Canadian Frontenac, built in 1967 at the Davie Shipbuilding, Ltd., Lauzon, Quebec, exceeded that at 730 feet. Then, came the supertanker Stewart J. Cort, at 1000 feet able to carry five times the load at great speed and with the ability to unload quickly. The older ships were consigned to the specialty trade or sold Canadian, said Mr. Rudnick.

The program included photos of the yacht Helene, built in 1927 at the Defoe Shipbuilding Co. in Bay City for C.O. Miniger.

The Frontenac was severely damaged on the rocks at Silver Bay, Minnesota, in 1979. She was towed to Superior, Wisconsin and eventually scrapped.

"I still like to remember her in her prime," he said, "she was a happy ship."###

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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