By Alex Binkley

Being situated on the St. Clair River within sight of the Bluewater Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron, Mich., means that sooner or later every ship sailing the Great Lakes will pass by your location. Since Sandrin Services Inc. offers a wide range of repair and overhaul work, some of those vessels will call when they need service. For emergencies, Sandrin also offers travelling crews for mobile repair services on a 24/7 basis, which means its employees travel throughout the Great Lakes to get ships back into operation or to repair or replace troublesome equipment. “We get everything from planned overhauls to last minute repairs,” explains Account Manager George Alves.

Sandrin works on both Canadian and American Great Lakes freighters as well as foreign ocean-going ships. The busy time for the company is from mid-December until late March depending when the Seaway re-opens. That’s when most ships go into winter layup and the owners use the downtime to get maintenance, inspections and other work done on their vessels. This past winter, there were 10 ships at the government docks for various upgrades and repairs. The summer is more about responding to breakdowns and ­emergencies.

Sandrin is celebrating its 75th anniversary serving the diverse industries in the Sarnia, southwestern Ontario and Michigan regions. It entered the ship-repair business about 50 years ago, notes Supervisor Paul Purvis. Its Marine Division can now take on various types of ship repairs. Among its offerings, it lists the overhaul and installation of electric motors, large diesel engines, auxiliary diesel units, steam turbines and auxiliaries, boilers, gas turbines and compressors, cargo and ballast pumps (centrifugal, reciprocating and screw), control gear and generators, steering gear and propulsion systems (gear boxes, tail shafts, plummer bearings and propellers) and bow thrusters. Sandrin manufactures and repairs fairleads, babbitt bearings, seal liners, shafts and pump parts. The company also stocks a standing inventory to facilitate emergency repairs in its shop or onboard a vessel.

The heart of its operations is a 42,000 square foot shop staffed with mechanics, machinists, electricians and technicians, he continues. Steering gear, and bulk unloading systems including conveyors, booms, cranes, anchors, chains, and rigging are also areas of our expertise.” It has a growing team of about 35 employees along with many contractors if required. Sandrin offers mobile machining service for emergency repairs on propeller shafts, and cylinder heads. Flange facing and milling machines are also available for in-situ work on in place equipment. Its patented Fleetfusion Service offers special welding for rudder stocks and other shafts and rollers, which can be a big time and money saver for shipowners as it extends the life of the equipment. In some cases, Sandrin will pick up a faulty piece of equipment from a ship while it is refueling and return the equipment when the ship is back in the area or it is delivered to another port, he adds. “In a critical situation, we can charter a boat and take emergency parts or personnel to the ship while it is sailing.”

Alves and Purvis say their work is anything but predictable. But even with all the new technologies, a ship still requires maintenance and repairs on a regular basis and a pump or a motor still requires the same attention.