Tug boat Mink Isle hauls lightning struck cruiser south

Rob and Jeanette Cox are the proud owners of the Mink Isle, which was put to work in recent weeks helping to bring a disabled vessel to a Sarnia dry dock. photo by Michael Erskine

LITTLE CURRENT – An unfortunate lightning strike in the North Channel left the 480 Sedan Bridge cruiser Laurina IV powerless in Gore Bay, but the tugboat Mink Isle travelled from its home port in Penetanguishene to tow the unfortunate vessel to a repair facility in Sarnia.

It is an ill wind that blows no good, they say, but this storm had a silver lining for Rob and Jeanette Cox, owners of Sixth Great Lake Marine Service of Tiny, Ontario who have owned the tug for the past eight years.

Built in Owen Sound, the diesel-powered tugboat has quite the range, boasting a 1,000-gallon fuel tank and a robust nature.

The last time the couple visited Manitoulin Island was over 30 years ago and they retain very fond memories of their visit.

“We spent a week and met Pat Boyle, who was absolutely wonderful,” said Ms. Cox, who got an in-depth tour of the waters of the North Channel and Northern Georgian Bay, including the Bay of Islands and McGregor Bay. “We had a great time.”

This isn’t the first time the Mink Isle has visited Manitoulin, in fact, it was a regular visitor with its previous owner, a constant at the annual tugboat regatta held in Sault Ste. Marie. Now the Mink Isle is once again a working boat.

Built in 1947 by Russel Brothers Limited of Owen Sound, the Mink Isle was originally launched as the Brompton Duchess for the St. Lawrence Corporation of Montreal. Later renamed Mink Isle, the tug was eventually acquired by William Parr of Parry Sound. Today, the Mink Isle is owned by Sixth Great Lakes Marine Services of Penetanguishene—although she is registered in the port of Ottawa.

The tug is a beautiful, if utilitarian, vessel measuring 47 feet, eight inches in length with a beam of 12 feet, 11 inches and she draws six feet, six inches at the dock.

Captain Bob Parr bought the then Brompton Duchess in Sault Ste. Marie in 1983 and had it shipped to Parry Sound where it was set up in the parking area of the town dock while Mr. Parr stripped down the machinery and the layers of rust and old paint the vessel had acquired over its working life.

The vessel originally had a Kahlenberg engine, but Captain Parr replaced that with a Caterpillar diesel, then sandblasted the hull and added a new wheelhouse and accommodations. The interior remains somewhat spartan interior—definitely not luxurious, laughs Ms. Cox—but is homey enough to be plenty comfortable for long hauls.

At Parry Sound’s Tugfest events, the Mink Isle often found itself in the winner’s circle for Best Engine Room or Most Congenial Captain, and in the tug races, the Mink Isle regularly won the high-power category, as Captain Parr knew how to push his tug to the limit.

The tug occasionally took on a job or two around Parry Sound with Captain Parr at the helm, but he was reportedly pleased to hand off the vessel to the Coxs as the vessel would be resuming a working life.

It probably didn’t hurt that the new owners were also decidedly congenial. The couple obviously enjoys engaging with folks at the dock.

“Kids especially are a lot of fun,” said Mr. Cox. “It’s nice to get them engaged with the tug; when you have a boat like this it naturally draws attention and you sorta have to roll with it. Folks are always curious.”

Today the Mink Isle is engaged mostly in recreational towing down by Penetaguishene and it is kept much busier than when Captain Parr hauled the occasional stranded boater.

“It’s really busy down by Penetanguishene,” said Mr. Cox. “It gets busy here (on Manitoulin) in the summertime, but down by Pentetang it is just crazy. Even with all that is going on, it is still pretty busy. Nothing like it is normally, but busy still.”

The couple’s company is engaged primarily in marine salvage and towing. “We take on jobs others may not attempt, we have assisted many vessels in peril in all hours of the night with high winds, even gale force,” said Mr. Cox. “Not all breakdowns are on calm sunny days and we assist in search and rescue of persons/vessels/aircraft.”

The company also works on various marine construction jobs. “We have on hand over 1,000 feet of oil boom and approximately 2,000 oil absorbent pads,” said Mr. Cox. “We hope to never have to use this oil boom and pads, however they are available if needed. All our vessels comply with Canadian Coast Guard collision regulations and have been inspected.”

Mr. Cox fell into the tugboat business almost by accident, being a hoist operator by trade, but having found himself searching for work during an economic downturn. The job came up with a marine company in Penetanguishene and when the owner retired, Mr. Cox and his wife decided the business was a viable option that fit their livestyles and personalities.

The couple have two adult children who currently live in Victoria.