Getting to know the crew of the Lee A. Tregurtha

TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson, aboard the vessel, talks with the crew about balancing family, friends and life on the ship with life at home
A multi million dollar investment replaced the Lee A. Tregurtha's steam plant with two diesel engines and a scrubber system
Published: Oct. 17, 2023 at 7:55 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 30, 2023 at 1:42 PM EDT
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GREAT LAKES, Mich. (WLUC) - This week we’re taking a ride on the Lee A. Tregurtha. We’re learning the ins and outs of moving cargo through the Great Lakes. TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson joins the crew as they transport iron ore from Marquette to Burns Harbor, Indiana.

The Lee A is a vessel with a history like no other. Built in 1942 for the ocean, she was used during World War II and was actually in Tokyo Bay during the surrendering of Japan. She proudly displays the medals she earned during war and is one of the most altered vessels on the Great Lakes.

Captain of the Lee A. Tregurtha, Nick Parsons said, “I tell people I’m Captain of a boat that was built in 1942 and they’re like, that things still moving? Well, absolutely! We’re in fresh water and Interlake Steamship as a company invests millions of dollars in these boats all winter, from steel renewal to cargo holds to decking. Over time, a lot of work is done.”

The Lee A. Tregurtha has changed ownership a number of times, but is currently owned by the Interlake Steamship Company.

One of the largest investments by Interlake was removing the steam plant on board and replacing it with two diesel engines and a scrubber system.

Yesterday in part 1, we dove into the process of loading iron ore into the belly of the Tregurtha.

In part 2, we hear from the crew, some who’ve been on the ship for over 80 days, as they detail their schedule, their ship and life as they know it.

Every person on board the Lee A. Tregurtha has a different reason behind joining the crew.

Captain Nick recalled, “my dad sailed, he was a captain out here and has since passed. I decided I’d give it a try for a couple of months, sail the summer, see how it goes... that was March of 1999.”

“My grandfather. I used to go on his boat when I was a kid,” said Wheelsman Tom Pilarski. “There’s really not a whole lot out there... so, I might as well go sailing. My wife told me to go sailing. That’s what she said, go sailing.”

First Mate Chris Pilkington said, “I didn’t like sitting in an office, I didn’t like the idea of doing that for the next 30 years. So, I kind of threw a dart at a wall and picked something out of the blue.”

Regardless of why they decided to sail or what position they hold, they’re all a vital part of the system that moves cargo through the Great Lakes.

Chief Engineer Ryan Carpentier admitted, “It’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a good job, and I’m happy to do it here because I know the boat well.”

He continued, “a ships like a little city, so anything that a city has - sewer, plumbing, electrical, all of the mechanical stuff - we have that on board.”

It’s a city with many moving parts, but don’t be fooled, this isn’t a joy ride. It’s hard work, long days, and requires mental toughness many can’t fathom.

Captain Nick said, “some people think, oh it’s a boat, it’s a cruise. It’s not. It’s a load and you know we’re loading right now, it’s a loud environment, it’s a work boat.”

“When you first come out here your body physically changes,” recalled Pilarksi. “You end up working so hard, you’re using muscles you’ve never used before.”

Polkington reflected, “it’s challenging, but everybody’s got them, it’s challenging for everybody out here. Personally being away from family and friends, it’s tough for everybody, I’m not that much different.”

Ryan Carpentier spends most of his time on the boat below deck. As the Chief Engineer, it’s his primary duty to keep all of the ship’s moving parts doing just that, moving.

“We can monitor all of our temperatures and pressures and open and close valves from here,” said Carpentier. “We can switch over generators from here and we can monitor the scrubber system. One of the interesting things about the Great Lakes ships out here is that our steering gear is all pretty much original to the ship, while the engine room has been upgraded the steering gear is still from the early 1940′s.”

A multi million dollar project replaced the Lee A’s steam plant with two, 4,000 horsepower Rolls Royce Bergen engines with a controllable pitch prop and exhaust scrubber system.

It’s an investment Captain Nick is proud the company made. “When everyone see us sailing along the lakes and we’ve got that beautiful little plume going, that’s all steam, that’s it, that’s all that’s coming out of my stacks now is steam. Even though we’re burning a heavy, heavy fuel, we’re almost net zero on emissions and we’re well below any government standards.”

It’s something the entire crew is proud of, actually there’s a lot that happens they take pride in. From the day to day operations to the relationships they’ve formed. And as each day brings them something different, they’re the constants they can lean on.

Pilarski said “The perfect day is when everything goes right, we have great weather, a nice calm day and I get to see the guys I work with. That we all get to work together, nobody gets hurt. That’s a perfect day for me. That is an absolute perfect day.”

“It’s a big thing of realizing, we may have our differences, we may have our different backgrounds, we may not see eye to eye on a lot of issues, but at the end of the day, every guy on this boat always looks out for the next guy, because when you’re here - you’re family,” said Captain Nick.

Follow along the entire journey:

Part 1: TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson begins her journey with the Lee A. Tregurtha through the Great Lakes

Part 2: Getting to know the crew of the Lee A. Tregurtha

Part 3: Feeding the crew on the Lee A. Tregurtha

Part 4: Navigating the Lee A. Tregurtha through the Soo Locks

Part 5: The final leg of our journey with the Lee A. Tregurtha