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The big O

Kelly Ovayuak a big ship on the big river

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Aug 30/02) - One of the more familiar faces to Delta ports is the Kelly Ovayuak -- previously known as the Matt Berry.

The Northern Transporation Company Ltd. had the ship built in 1977 by Vito Steel Boat and Barge Construction Ltd. in Delta B.C.

She was trucked north in pieces and re-assembled in Hay River.

Chief engineer Michal Banach is originally from Poland, but has worked aboard the Kelly O for six years.

"She was one of four sister ships all built at the same time," he said. "Two were built in Delta, one in Vancouver and one in Victoria."

The tug is navigated with the help of two radar units, a gyro compass, magnetic compass and depth sounders.

Ship-board communications include a mobile telephone, VHF and HF radio telephones and an Internet connection for e-mail.

Powered by four Caterpillar V-16 diesel engines producing 4,500 horsepower, the ship can travel up to 14 knots.

She burns 550 litres of fuel per hour and has a range of 5,000 nautical miles.

There are two electric generators aboard that produce 115 kilowatts each.

Each spring, Banach said the engines are overhauled to get ready for the busy summer season.

As well as the usual bridge, the ship has a 30-foot tower that enables the captain to pilot from above the oil rigs, fuel tanks and other tall obstructions the ship sometimes pushes down the river.

"The skipper wouldn't be able to see, so he can go up there to those controls," Banach said.

The engine room also has a set of controls, so if the other fails, the ship can still be controlled from there.

Formerly named the Matt Berry, the ship now bears the name of one of Tuktoyaktuk's most well-known residents.

"Last time we were in Tuk, we had a big renaming ceremony," he said. "Many of Kelly Ovayuak's relatives were there to see it."

Banach says the boat's operation in mainly fresh water has been an easy life for the ship and the old girl still has lots of life left in her.

"She's nearly 30 years old, but I'm sure they can get quite a few more years out of her," Banach said. "She's still in pretty good shape."

After six years aboard the vessel, he takes a lot of pride in knowing the ship's requirements just by listening to the big engines rumble.

"You get to know ships very well after sitting in the engine room for that length of time," he said.

This sailing, the crew was pointed to Cambridge Bay and Banach says the salt chuck can throw the tug around pretty good.

"She wasn't really built for high seas, but she can take it," he said.

After her trip to Cam Bay, the river boat will likely make a couple more trips on the Mackenzie before pulling into Hay River to wait out the winter in dry dock.