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Ship parts make two bulk carriers  

The Colon Brown, named for the company's second chairman, was a self-unloading bulk carrier operated by the Skaarup Company. The world's first self-unloading bulk carrier was the Melvin H. Baker, built by A.G. Weser using the Ole Skaarup design.
The Colon Brown ran aground near Nova Scotia and was heavily damaged during a storm. It was transported to Japan in 1975 where its "parts" were used to build two bulk carriers – The Gold Bond Conveyor and later the Gold Bond Trailblazer.

Skaarup used the bow and stern from the Colon Brown to build the Conveyor. The midsection of the Colon Brown was refurbished and used as the midsection for the Trailblazer.

The Trailblazer

When the company ended its gypsum supply relationship with Kaiser (then Domtar), it needed a vessel to transport rock from San Marcos Island to the Richmond and Long Beach, CA plants.

The company leased a bulk carrier from Skaarup, an international shipping company. The carrier included the midsection of the Colon Brown, which had run aground near Nova Scotia during a storm in the early 1970s. The new ship was named the Gold Bond Trailblazer and christened in January 1978. According to legend, the ship was named for The Trailblazers, the organization of retired National Gypsum associates.

The Trailblazer is 584-feet long and 85 feet wide. It can carry 28,000 tons of rock and load ore at a rate of 1200 tons per hour. It has a side-mounted propeller (bow thruster) which facilities harbor maneuvering.

Director of Transportation Pat Hunter tells an interesting story about the Trailblazer: In its initial agreement with Skaarup, National Gypsum would lease the Gold Bond Trailblazer for 20 years. After that period, the company would purchase the ship for $100. The agreement stood and, in 1988, the company purchased the ship for $100 and immediately sold it to the CSL International, a Division of Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) for $9 million. CSL renamed the carrier – CSL Trailblazer, and has chartered her back to National Gypsum for successive five-year periods.

Gold Bond Conveyor

The Gold Bond Conveyor and its entire 33-person crew sank in "mountainous seas" on Sunday, March 14, 1993, off the cost of Nova Scotia in what was called the Super Storm of 1993.

Millions of Americans watched videotape of the ship rolling over and sliding beneath huge, frigid North Atlantic seas on CNN news broadcasts.

Investigators explored problems of structural failure and shifting cargo as they tried to identify the cause of the sinking, which took place about 65 miles southeast of Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia, parallel to the Maine coast. Many mariners speculated as to why Captain Chan chose to sail that day even though at least three other ship captains elected to remain in Halifax Harbor over the weekend after hearing urgent notices to mariners and severe weather forecasts broadcast by radio.

The entire crew was of Chinese or Taiwanese origin, with many being residents of Hong Kong. Most of the crew must have died within minutes of the sinking. The ship was carrying 24,000 tons of gypsum.

Gold Bond Conveyor left Halifax on the day before the storm in clear, spring-like weather and was carrying 24,000 tons of gypsum ore, bound for Tampa. The Halifax pilot, who guided the ship out of harbor, reported that he had discussed the oncoming storm with the ship's captain, who was apparently well aware of the risks.

Less than 24 hours later, the captain discussed his ship's predicament with a Canadian Coast Guard pilot who was circling above the stricken vessel just hours before it sank. He said winds were 90 miles per hour and 100-foot waves were battering the ship. The captain indicated that the ship was taking sea water into some of its five cargo holds, and that he was attempting to counteract the increasing list to port by taking additional water into his starboard ballast tanks. There was some confusion as to whether the ship was taking sea water through damaged hatches on deck or through some area of structural failure. The ship's master was unable to send crewmembers onto the deck to check for damage for fear they would be washed overboard.

The ship began to list more heavily to port, and would-be rescuers became concerned that sea water was mixing with gypsum in cargo spaces on the port side, thus dramatically increasing weight of cargo on that side and possibly causing additional shifting of cargo. "When gypsum mixes with water it turns into a solid substance like cement, and that can be very dangerous," said a marine surveyor, commenting on the sinking.

With its list to port steadily increasing, and waves sweeping directly across her decks, Gold Bond Conveyor finally rolled over and sank by the bow shortly after midnight on Sunday.

Canada's military dispatched a hulking, four-engine, Aurora turboprop patrol plane to keep watch over the Gold Bond Conveyor.

"I've been flying for five years, and it's the worst weather I've ever seen," the plane's pilot, Captain Al Wongkee, told the Toronto Star on March 16. Around midnight, Gold Bond's captain, Man Hoi Chan, radioed that the ship was listing 20 degrees; the Aurora began circling just 150 ft. above the water.

"He just got hit by a huge swell and he went down," said Wongkee, who watched through an infrared camera as the ship rolled. "You could hear him telling everybody to abandon ship, just after we'd flown over him. We'd gone out a couple of miles, turned around and come back over the top where the ship was, and everything was gone."

The ship had been created in 1975 using the bow and stern sections of the former Colon Brown, which had grounded and been heavily damaged in a storm. Rescuers speculated that the vessel may have experienced its final demise through structural failure in places where it had been pieced back together.

The Liberian-registered ship was owned by Skaarup Shipping Corp., of Greenwich, CT, and under long-term charter to National Gypsum Co.

Frank Parker of Skaarup Shipping, said that the captain had not been pressured in any way to leave port on the day before the storm.

Ironically, during the 1992 storm, which was portrayed in the book and movie, "The Perfect Storm," the Gold Bond Conveyor crew rescued the crew of another ship.

Reader Comments:
Sam Schiffman, Vice President, Gen Counsel & Secretary
September 30, 2010

These are very interesting events in the company's history. I was involved with both. The "swap" of the Trailblazer actually occurred in 1998 (not 1988) and was a huge battle with Ole Skaarup, a fascinating and brilliant guy who passed away this year (2010), I believe. He helped out the company in many ways (something he was very proud of) but in later years fought with us over everything. For example, when the Melvin Baker retired from our service (1993 I think) he tried to have us completely refurbish the ship and replace all the steel to the tune of over $1.5 million. We had an extremely expensive arbitatration over that issue and unfortunately we lost on most issues and paid most of that money. Later, he tried to block the $100 purchase of the Trailblazer and the transfer to CSL arguing that the ship was not seaworthy, but after lengthy meetings and a mediation in NY involving me, our maritime counsel, Skaarup and CSL representatives, and our threat to bring legal action he relented and we quickly got the deal done. Obviously the Trailblazer is still afloat and seaworthy.

The Conveyor sinking in 1993 was a real shock. It was another event where Ole Skaarup helped the company out, by settling up with all the families of the Taiwanese crew that were killed. The Canadian officials investigating the case eventually determined that most likely the large rear hatch on the vessel's side, where the rock conveyor comes out for unloading when the ship is docked, had come open somehow but the captain had no way of knowing that and likely couldn't have done anything about it anyway. Once that hatch was open in that storm water gushed in and the ship was doomed. I saw the infrared video shortly after the sinking and it was a terrifying sight watching the ship with its lights on going down by the bow. It was close to the feeling I later had when I saw the World Trade Centers collapse.