Ready to clear the way

ALPENA – Winter’s arctic cold and ice have created one benefit. After a two-year absence, the Manitou, a 110-foot icebreaking tugboat, is back in town.

Owned by Malcolm Marine of St. Clair, the boat is being used to break ice so freighters can get to and from the Lafarge plant and other facilities.

“This year’s ice is probably more like a normal winter for us,” company representative Don Malcolm said. “We’ve been spoiled for too long. We haven’t had any cold weather.”

A freighter out of Chicago is expected to arrive in Alpena Sunday, weather permitting, loaded with either salt or coal, Malcolm said. The tug will break its way through the shipping channel to the edge of the ice in Thunder Bay and help the freighter to port, he said.

The tug also will be used, if needed, to help turn the freighter around or assist with docking in windy conditions, he said.

Malcolm said his parents, Keith and Barb Malcolm, went into the tugboat business in 1960, out of Marine City and today offer salvage, towing, icebreaking and dredging services.

Malcolm heads the company’s marine construction division, while his brother, Dave, handles tug boat operations. Dave’s wife, Diane, also is involved in the business.

Competition for Great Lakes shipping is stiff, Malcolm said. Even the U.S. Coast Guard provides ice breaking services. But Thunder Bay is smaller, and the family-owned business has been serving Lafarge for over 40 years.

The tug was built in the 1950s for the U.S. Coast Guard and served the New York City area before being retired, Malcolm said. It has a galley and sleeping berths, and normally carries a crew of four. For around-the-clock jobs, the crew is increased so deck hands can work in shifts.

The winter-time work is dangerous, because of the ice and the weather, Malcolm said.

“Anything’s possible. It’s cold out there,” Malcolm said. “It’s tough, too, because there’s a lot of competition out there.”

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.