Cleveland Port boats Flotsam and Jetsam clean Cuyahoga River

Damon Franklin stands at attention with a net, scanning the Cuyahoga River for debris.

He’s standing at the bow of Flotsam, part of a pair of 26-foot boats owned by the Port of Cleveland and staffed by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance. They’ve been cruising the Cleveland Harbor and the Cuyahoga River since 2012, removing trash, debris and thousands of logs from the water.

Franklin darts down and scoops up a broken Corona bucket.

“Ha! There it is,” the driver, Zach Reynolds, says from his perch in the pilot house. “I knew we’d see it again.”

Franklin uses his net to drop the bucket on the boat deck.

“Thank you, sir,” said Reynolds.

Franklin, who used to be scared of the water, is nonchalant. This is his first season on the boats, which generally work together, making their rounds from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from May through October.

“I love it,” Franklin said. “You can go to work and do something that really makes a difference. These logs, they can really tear a boat up.”

The boats are named from the phrase “flotsam and jetsam,” which generally refers to floating discarded objects. Flotsam originally meant the wreckage of a ship that sunk, while jetsam referred to stuff thrown overboard from ships in distress. (Those were also the name of the villainous eels in the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, in case you were wondering.)

The boats are a partnership of the port, the downtown alliance and the Cleveland Metroparks, which disposes of the logs. The boats collected 400 logs in June alone. Since October 2012, when the boats launched just before Superstorm Sandy, the’ve collected 1.2 million pounds of small debris.

“The debris is a lot, what we allow to go down our sewers,” said the port’s vice president of external affairs, Jade Davis.

On the Wednesday morning I went out with the boats, the river was clean, despite rain the previous day. The freighter Sam Allard was making its way to the steel mill; the Metroparks’ water taxi, the ElCee 2, was giving a river tour; a dad was kayaking with his son; and the Nautica Queen took off for a lunch cruise. The chatter on the marine radio was steady. And Jetsam’s crane picked up about a half-dozen logs.

“I like that we have a tangible result,” said Reynolds, who has worked on the boat for five seasons. “At the end of the day you can really see the work you’ve done.”

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