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A few years have already passed since I posted the first in this series, which I should have called and I’m still in search of a photo of the ITB Major Vangu back in 1973 and 1974. But I was thrilled to open my email the other morning and find these photos taken in 1992 by Matt Schoenfelder. Check out his impressive range of galleries here.
The huge pusher tug in the photo below is Colonel Kokolo, recently refurbished and returned to service on the Congo River. Click here for a map of key waterways in the Congo; upper center, I lived west of Basankusu for two years teaching at a high school.
Matt writes, “I was looking through the web for some images of the Onatra barge from the Congo River and came across your site and read that you had traveled up the Congo River some years ago (my note: 1973-4). In 1992, together with a German man I met in Kisangani, I bought a dugout canoe and the two of us paddled 4 weeks down the Congo River to Kinshasa. Needless to say it was the adventure of a lifetime! Anyway, I have just recently scanned some of the old fuzzy and scratched film and thought you might appreciate a few images. From Kinshasa I wanted to get to Zambia and the “best” option available was to get back on the river and travel by barge to Ilebo, where I could take the train down to Lubumbashi. Well it sounded nice on paper but turned out to be an ordeal (as was ANYTHING in Zaire at that time!!) After the 4 weeks on the canoe I then spent another 13 days moving slowly upstream to Illebo on the river (tug and ) barge, which was supposed to be 5 days. The 3-day train trip from Ilebo to Lubumbashi took 30 days…walking would have been quicker! I added that last bit as I will include a few shots from the river barge I took to Ilebo. The images are far from high quality but you may find them interesting nonetheless.
I doubt I would ever repeat that journey but it was perhaps the most incredible chapter in my travels. Hardly a pleasure but fascinating and exciting nonetheless.”
I remember from my experience that riding on the tug was considered first class; the folks on the barge in the photo above . . well, they would be traveling second class.
Many thanks to Matt for getting in touch and sharing these photos.
Some of my scratchy old Congo photos can be found here. And yes, that person below was me as a mere young manster.
This series is used to catch up on items started.
Gregory Farino took this foto from the wheelhouse of a tugboat on the Congo River around 1980. He does not recall the name, as he was just catching a ride. My question is this: would the minimal detail of the stem bitt and shape of the bow surrounding it give the impression that this may be an “American” style tug serving the end of its life on an African river. The problem with that theory is that most of the Congo River is separated from the sea by waterfalls. Although I heard stories when I lived there and there are and have been shipyards above the falls going back to the time of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” I have no hard information that any vessels were taken around the falls by train and reassembled for use here. Anyone help?
Recognize the vessel below? The foto was taken by Jan van der Doe. Today it’s called Samuel de Champlain and appeared in this blog recently here.
Although it was built in Texas in 1976 as Musketeer Fury, it operated for a while as well as an Italian tug called Vortice, shown here post-fire. Here’s what frequent contributor Jan van der Doe wrote a few weeks ago: “While plying the waters near Trieste in 1993, she suffered a devastating fire to her upper engine room and deckhouse. The accommodations were completely destroyed and much of the steel deck and superstructure warped from the heat. The vessel was laid up in Italy until McKeil Marine Ltd. purchased Vortice on spec in the mid-’90s and towed her to Hamilton, Ontario. The engines were not damaged, probably the reason the tug came to Canada. I [was] onboard a few times during her lay up in Hamilton.” Here’s a link and foto suggesting the fire happened on the Atlantic off the Azores.
Excuse my parenthetical insertions, but Capt. Thalassic wrote this of Sachem, featured here recently: Sachem was built (1902, Pusey & Jones, hull #306. By the way Cangarda was built in the same yard in 1901 as hull #302) for J. Roberts Maxwell. It had elegant lines and significantly a very large main cabin for entertaining. Power was provided by a Fairbanks 8 cylinder slow speed diesel. During WW 2 the yacht was passed to the Navy and I believe engaged in submarine patrols and training in the Caribbean. After the war it was sold to the Circle line and probably had the most elegant lines in a fleet of converted landing craft although I am sure the direct drive diesel was terrifically difficult to maneuver with in NY harbor. Eventually it was retired and sold as junk to an organization known as the Hudson River Maritime Academy which was based in West New York NJ. The organization was less about maritime or learning than it was about drinking and it went bust. The owner of the pier sold the vessel to Butch Miller from Cincinnati. (Butch owned a company founded by his father that had developed those augers which you see on all those utility trucks.) Butch would drive a van from Ohio to NJ to renovate and get the vessel running. This proved almost impossible and Butch was convinced that he had to get the vessel closer to home. He purchased a Murray Tregurtha unit and plopped it on the rear deck. His first plan was to sail up the New England coast, down the Saint Lawrence. He sailed out of NY harbor with a complete compliment of road maps and promptly ran aground in the fog. He was towed back into NY harbor and was put up in Newtown Creek for another year. Eventually he headed north up the Hudson. The helm was a lawn chair on the roof and steering was done with a broomstick tied to the controls on the MT unit below. Amazingly Butch got upstate and through the canal all the way to Buffalo (I often repeat his description of the canal as “floating through a corn field”) and then through Erie, Huron (where he was detained by Customs for wandering over the border line near Windsor/Detroit). He went all the way down Michigan to Chicago, through the Chicago River to the Mississippi, down the Mississippi to Cairo and then up the Ohio to the Cincinnati area. It was truly an adventure of a life time and it is incredible he made it. As far a I know the vessel sits in a backwater on the Kentucky side of the Ohio near Cincinnati. It is sad retirement for an elegant vessel but it was an amazing adventure. It is fun and satisfying to see that every once in a while the eccentrics with old boats do live out a dream. ” In this Halloween season, it may just be part of the entertainment there . . . given this story. The foto is by Seth Tane, showing Sachem in that appears to be waters off Yonkers.
Let’s sign off with this vessel . . . Bertha. See the foto on the left margin. Surely this can’t be lost!!
Thans to Gregory, Jan, and Seth for use of these fotos. I look forward to any and all followup to these fotos.
The last time I had Congo River fotos here was almost seven years ago! In that post, I mention being a Peace Corps volunteer in the DRC (then Zaire) back in 1973. When I completely training and tried to fly up to my post, I learned the airplane was out of commission and the river was my only option to travel up there. I was thrilled! And now I’m thrilled again to have these fotos. These are NOT my fotos but Gregory Farino–who worked there about five years after me–generously permits me to use these. We don’t know the name of this “pousseur” tug–not unlike some of the Mississippi River “pushers,” but it looks similar to
what I recall of my conveyance, Major Vangu lashed to four huge barges. I believe Major Vangu has since sunk. The “O” on the stack stands for Onatra (Office National de Transports). For four nights and days non-stop, the tow went north. I shared a cabin on the second level with another PC volunteer. The enclosed area forward was a bar/restaurant with beautiful carved wood. The two levels above that were crew accommodations and wheelhouse, which I didn’t see.
These are two “second class” accommodation barges. Our tow had one of these. It also had two “third class” units, regular flat cargo barges with barrels of fuel for upriver towns, breakbulk bundles, and truckloads of fuel and other cargo. As I recall this was a pre-container time. And passengers who hadn’t even enough for the “second class” barges, rested in the shade of the cargo and under the trucks.
During my trip, I watched dozens of dugouts (pirogues) like these, loaded deep with forest meat and dried/fresh fish, paddled up alongside the tow while underway to trade for products (medicine, blades, ammunition, fish hooks and line, salt) not available in the forest/river villages. And when I say “paddled,” I mean stand-up paddled . . . as it was then done. More than once, the pirogue, caught in the wake, capsized, sending paddler(s) and cargo into the river. And the tow continued upriver.
I’d love to hear from anyone who has traveled on the Congo River in the past 10 years. I have a fantasy to retrace this trip, dangers and inconvenience notwithstanding.
Many thanks to Gregory Farino for bringing these fotos out.
Not quite two weeks ago I did my first post of Blount-built boats in far flung places. Read it here; a list of sixth boro Blount vessels appears at the end.
Now I’m thrilled to put up these fotos, generously sent by Julie Blount, executive vice president of Blount Boats, Inc. This is the launch of Blount’s cargo vessel Kasai, 1960, bound for
the huge inland waterways of the Congo.
Unrelated but what you might see on the inland waterways of central Africa could include MV Liemba, the second oldest operating steam ship in the world. MV Liemba is the ex-Graf von Götzen built 1912 in Papenburg, Germany on the Ems River, taken apart, and reassembled on the banks of Lake Tanganyika) . See this fine fine video trailer of MV Liemba underway.
Gratuitous foto of an interesting Blount vessel Sailor, taken on the Delaware River south of Philly last summer, and
Back to Blount’s Kasai, I wonder where it is today. For an interesting set of fotos of Congo River system vessels from the time of Joseph Conrad until the relative present, click here. The last shot of the skeletal remains of a steam vessel on a riverbank is haunting.
Thanks again to Julie Blount for the two fotos from the Blount archives. The last two fotos by Will Van Dorp.