When Sue Topley’s son comes to town she doesn’t get a knock at the door, she gets three toots of a freighter’s horn as it glides under the Blue Water Bridge.
Alan Bell is a wheelsman for Rand Logistics Inc. and for the past five years has been steering freighters up and down the Great Lakes.
“I have to give her an ETA,” said Bell, who uses texting and social media to stay in touch with his mom and girlfriend, who have started a family tradition.
Whenever one his enormous ships are approaching family members head to the Point Edward shoreline to wave while he steers it under the Blue Water Bridge. He waves back and the captain sounds the horn.
For 35 days at a time that’s as close as they can get to each other.
So it was a happy day on Sept. 16 when Rand Logistics celebrated its newest addition– the Manitoulin. The company, which owns and manages a major fleet of freighters, held a special ceremony and reception at Sarnia Harbour that included tours of the newly acquired ship.
“I always imaged him with a steering wheel like this!” said a proud Sue Topley, indicating one more often found on a tall ship of the past.
As part of a 17-person crew, Alan Bell navigates during four-hour shifts between Thunder Bay and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with many stops in between, carrying cargoes of coal, grain or aggregates.
The Corunna native began as a deck hand and has been stationed on the Mississagi, The Manitoba, the Saginaw, and most recently the Manitoulin, a 664-foot self-unloading bulk freighter.
He works the lakes nine months of the year before being able to really reconnect with family. And when he gets home mom is always ready for him.
“She’s got me moving air conditioners and putting in windows,” he said with a laugh.