Archives for March 2008

James R. Barker gets back to work

Ice is not nice this season, although the James R. Barker was able to get back to work yesterday, leaving Duluth on Sunday afternoon (above) with coal for Detroit Edison. It came into port last week with ice damage. The Paul R. Tregurtha remains at the Port Terminal getting repairs to ice damage to the bow. There is a build up of traffic stuck in the St. Mary’s River just beyond the Soo. At the least, that has delayed the arrival here of the Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin, originally expected today. The Cason J. Callaway and the American Republic were involved in a collision, caused by the ice. The Callaway continued on but will need repairs; the American Republic headed to Sturgeon Bay for repairs, accompanied by the Coast Guard cutter Katmai Bay. The Biscayne Bay, here several weeks ago to break ice in the Twin Ports, is hard at work helping boats in the St. Mary’s River. Photo taken on March 30, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-31-2008

Peter R. Cresswell takes coal to Nanticoke

The Peter R. Cresswell arrived in the Twin Ports Saturday morning at 10 am to load 25,000 tons of coal. Above, it departed Duluth at 6:30 Saturday evening to take the cargo to Ontario Power Generation in Nanticoke. This is only its second trip to the Twin Ports since it was here 3 times in 2001. It was launched in 1982 as the Algowest. The American Century was expected to depart the port earlier this morning. The Mesabi Miner is expected this afternoon after taking its first cargo below the Soo. You may recall it ran 3 trips inside Lake Superior to start the season. It will load another cargo of coal for Detroit Edison today. Photo taken on March 29, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-30-2008

Paul R. Tregurtha gets repairs

Two thousand-foot long boats will be in the port today loading cargo. The American Integrity was expected last night, loading coal for Detroit Edison. It should depart this morning to be replaced by the American Century doing the same thing. Unfortunately, we already have 3 thousand footers in port in various stages of repair. The James R. Barker and the Paul R. Tregurtha both suffered ice damage to their hull on the way up to the Twin Ports, in each case their first trip of the year. The Walter J. McCarthy Jr. has been here since coming in for winter layup in January and hitting a cement block while backing into a slip. That obviously was its last trip of last season. Once we get by the beginning of the season, everything should be fine. Above, the Tregurtha is still at the Port Terminal for repairs. While it is under crane number 2, the crane is not involved in the repair work, much of which is being done inside the boat. The Barker is in the next slip toward downtown. Photo taken on March 28, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-29-2008

Paul R. crew hosts TV film crew

The Paul R. Tregurtha was the first 1,000 footer to arrive in the Twin Ports this season, coming in late Wednesday evening. It also brought a video crew from the Discovery Channel, Canada along. They were working on a program for the Discovery Channel about the world’s biggest boats. The Tregurtha has that title on the Great Lakes. They boarded the boat in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin where the boat spent the winter. The Tregurtha encountered very difficult ice conditions as they moved up Green Bay on their way to the Twin Ports. Emerging from the ice, they discovered damage to the bow area of the boat, caused by the ice. They were allowed to continue to the Twin Ports where they would undergo repairs. What originally was thought to be a 4 hour repair turned out to be more serious, lasting at least as long as the next 3 or 4 days. That gives the Twin Ports two 1,000 footers in port and unable to carry the coal south (the Walter J. McCarthy Jr. is the other damaged 1,000 footer). Captain Tim Dayton remained the genial host, even though a film crew has been getting the story of his wounded vessel. Last night, he was in the officer’s mess hosting, over dinner, a lively discussion about the boat, the Discovery Channel and politics. A group picture was called for. In the first row, from the left, from the Discovery Channel, Toban Mills, Geoffrey Lackner, Daniel Sekulich and Nick de Pencier. In the second row, from the left, Discovery photographer Chris Gargus, Captain Dayton, and from the Tregurtha, Tom Auer, Rich Laksonen, Loren Warczinsky and Dan Culligan. Photo taken on March 27,2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-28-2008

James R. Barker arrives Twin Ports

The first thousand footers from beyond the Soo Locks will be in port today. The Paul R. Tregurtha, at 1,013 feet the longest of the 13 working the Great Lakes, was expected last night. After a stop for fuel and then some repairs, it was expected to be loading coal at Midwest Energy Resources in Superior by first light. The James R. Barker is due late this evening. Both boats spent the winter layup in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin; both are owned by Interlake Steamship in Cleveland and both will be loading about 60,000 tons of coal to take to Detroit Edison power plants in St. Clair, Michigan. Above, the Barker is seen entering the harbor on January 2nd this year. Photo taken on January 02, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-27-2008

Ryerson even prettier now with new paint

After wintering at Fraser Shipyards (above), the Edward L. Ryerson was expected to depart the shipyard around 4 am this morning to go down the Superior channel to Burlington Northern to load iron ore pellets. After spending the winter layup in the dry dock at Fraser Shipyards, the Canadian flagged Frontenac is also expected to depart the shipyard and is also going to Burlington Northern. Both boats will bring a new coat of paint with them; the Frontenac was in for a 5-year checkup while the Ryerson only received routine maintenance over the winter layup. Photo taken on February 22, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-26-2008

Roger Blough departing for Conneaut

After 3 trips taking coal to Lake Superior ports, the Mesabi Miner was due here last night to load coal for Detroit Edison power plants at St. Clair, Michigan, beyond the Soo Locks. They will open today. Yesterday, both the John G. Munson and the Roger Blough started their season, the Munson going to Two Harbors to load iron ore pellets and the Blough taking iron ore pellets to Conneaut (above). The Blough was the last US built Great Lakes freighter with the pilot house and officers quarters at the bow of the boat and the engine room, crew quarters and galley in the stern. After that, everything was brought back to the stern of the boat as seen in most of the thousand footers and salt water ships we see here each season. Photo taken on March 24, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-25-2008

Algowood arrives Duluth from winter layup

The Soo Locks do not open until March 25th so Twin Ports boat movement is still pointed at ports within Lake Superior. The Edwin H. Gott left the port on Sunday morning to load taconite at Two Harbors. The Lee A. Tregurtha departed Duluth on Sunday afternoon to load taconite for Indiana Harbor at Silver Bay. The Algowood arrived on Sunday (above) from winter layup in Thunder Bay to load coal for Ontario Power Generation in Thunder Bay. Photo taken on March 23, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-24-2008

Alder is a hard worker

The Coast Guard cutter Alder was out Friday making sure shipping channels were open for the boat traffic expected this weekend. Shipping channels are not the only areas in the harbor where the ice must be broken up. Boats that come to port usually have to make a turn somewhere since they will be going back out. The Alder was paying particular attention to the turning basin in the harbor behind the Roger Blough. The Blough spent the winter at the Port Terminal but was expected to back away from that berth sometime Saturday and move over to the CN Dock in West Duluth to load iron ore pellets. Above, the Alder, finished for the day, was coming into its dock around 2:30 on Friday afternoon. You can see the stern of the Blough behind the Alder and to the left. Photo taken on March 21, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-23-2008

Indiana Harbor ready to start her new season

In yesterday’s Duluth Shipping News, there was a picture of the Aerial Bridge in the up position for the first time in two months but it was only practice; no vessels came through. Last night, the Mesabi Miner filled up the void when it came in at 7:00, the first boat traffic of the season to come under the Lift Bridge. Two more boats, the Indiana Harbor and the Roger Blough, are expected to depart under the bridge today. On Friday, the Alder gave some extra attention to the ice just behind the Blough to make sure the boat would have enough room to back out and then turn toward the Blatnik Bridge and the CN Dock on the Duluth side of the St. Louis River. Photo taken on March 22, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-22-2008

Aerial Lift Bridge showing off new paint job

Yesterday was the first day of Spring. The Aerial Lift Bridge celebrated by making a lift at noon (above), shortly after two-direction-at-the-same-time auto traffic was opened. With the paint job completed for this year, the bridge crew still has to do some maintenance on the bridge but it should be open to ship traffic by Saturday. The Mesabi Miner will depart Taconite Harbor around noon today, arriving in the Twin Ports in the evening to load coal for Marquette. It is expected to depart for Marquette sometime Saturday morning. For a change of pace from the Miner, on Saturday both the Roger Blough and the Indiana Harbor should also depart the port. Photo taken on March 20, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-21-2008

Midwest to Mesabi Miner to Marquette

The Mesabi Miner show continues. Above, it was loading coal at Midwest Energy Resources in Superior on Saturday before leaving the next day for Marquette. Note the ship loader in the bottom of the picture, extended over the boat’s cargo hold. The boat returned yesterday from that trip and spent the day at Midwest loading coal for Taconite Harbor. Meanwhile, the Biscayne Bay, after some ice breaking and a little R&R in Duluth, went back to work, leaving Duluth so they can break up the ice in Taconite Harbor before the Mesabi Miner gets there sometime today. It is about a 6 hour trip from here to Taconite Harbor and the Captain estimates it will take about 32 hours to discharge cargo before he will be able to return to Duluth to load more coal, this time for Marquette. Photo taken on March 15, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-20-2008

Mesabi Miner at Superior entry

With help from the cutter Alder and tug North Carolina, the Mesabi Miner cleared the lighthouse at the Superior entry on Sunday (above). It is expected back here today to load coal for Taconite Harbor. Last January, it was the last boat to arrive in port for winter layup, coming under the Bridge on January 21st at 6:30 in the morning. Just after that, it was stopped by the ice just behind the DECC. The tug Kentucky came over and opened up a seam in the ice that freed the Miner. The Alder was close by and after several hours, with help from both boats, the Miner made it to the dock at Midwest Energy Resources in Superior where it stayed until departing on Sunday. Soon after departing, it passed the cutter Biscayne Bay out in the lake, on its way to the port to help the Alder break ice. When the Miner returns, the Alder and the tugs will be available, and perhaps the Biscayne Bay although it is set to depart the Port on Thursday morning, perhaps again passing the Miner in the lake. Photo taken on March 16, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-19-2008

Biscayne Bay crewmembers get a break

Shortly after the Alder and the tug North Carolina got the Mesabi Miner out of the harbor on Sunday and on the way to Marquette to deliver coal, the Coast Guard cutter Biscayne Bay arrived after clearing out the ice at Marquette and spending Saturday night in the ice off the Apostle Islands. Yesterday, they broke up the ice near Fraser Shipyards where 4 boats spent the winter and will be coming out soon. After returning to their spot behind the DECC, Chief Engineer John Ellis decided to take his entire engineering department out to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with some pizza, leaving the boat, just behind them, in the capable hands of Captain Cary Godwin and 9 other crew members. The engineering department, left to right, are Branden Underwood, Ellis, James Taylor, David Massey, Chris Timm and Ricardo Villalba. Photo taken on March 17, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-18-2008

Tug North Carolina icebreaking

Captain George LaTour had the Great Lakes tug North Carolina out on Sunday morning (above) to help the Mesabi Miner get away from its berth at Midwest Energy Resources and down the Superior channel to the open water just beyond the Superior entry. The Miner is taking coal to Marquette and then returning to Superior to load coal for Taconite Harbor. As last year, the Miner was the first boat to depart the port and will be the first boat to arrive in port when it comes back, probably on Wednesday. It will then, as last year, become the second departure of the new season and the second arrival when it returns from Taconite Harbor to load more coal for Marquette. In the photo, the North Carolina is running along side the Alder breaking ice on the edge of the track made by the Coast Guard cutter Alder, making it a little wider for the 1,000 footer about to come down the channel. Photo taken on March 16, 2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-17-2008

Alder and Mesabi Miner conference

Alder Commander Kevin Wirth (left) invited Mesabi Miner captain Scott Briggs (right) and his first mate, and relief captain, Tom McMullen (middle), to join him aboard the Alder yesterday (above) while they broke ice in the harbor. Briggs was scheduled to take his 1,000-footer off the dock at Midwest Energy today at 8 am to head for Marquette with a load of coal. He was able, while on the Alder, to provide some excellent guidance to Wirth on exactly what he needed to make a successful departure through the ice today. Briggs also brought the Mesabi Miner into port in January, the last vessel to arrive in port last season. The Alder was out helping the Miner then also. It was a short vacation. Today, they will be the first vessel moving this season. Photo taken on March 15,2008
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-16-2008

Mesabi Miner trying to depart

It’s the time of year when our Coast Guard cutter Alder has no privacy. It has left a track wherever it went while breaking ice this past week. Until today, it was the only vessel in port that was moving. Eleven boats are positioned close to those tracks, getting ready to move out. Later today, the first of the 11 boats, the Mesabi Miner, should be departing Midwest Energy Resources in Superior with a load of coal for Marquette, Michigan. The Alder will be out in the harbor keeping the tracks open, available if help is needed. The cutter Biscayne Bay will be arriving in Marquette sometime today preparing that port for the arrival of the Mesabi Miner. That done, the Biscayne Bay will come to Duluth, probably on Sunday, to assist in the ice breaking. The Bay broke ice in front of the Mesabi Miner last spring as it departed Duluth under the bridge when the Miner was also the first vessel passage last season. Then, there was a 5-mile shelf of ice between the bridge and open water. The picture above was taken from the Biscayne Bay just after it cleared the 5 mile track for the Miner. It is waiting in the ice to make sure the Miner gets to open water. Shortly after the Miner cleared the ice shelf, the Biscayne Bay returned to port, using the track that it and the Miner had just cleared. That was on March 16th, 2007. Yesterday, the 14th of March, it was all open water.Photo taken on March 16, 2007
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-15-2008

Duluth Shipping News Monthly #100

Published originally in March, 2008

The travels and travails of the Mesabi Miner

For over a year, I have been following the multiple threads of a story starring the Mesabi Miner, two Coast Guard cutters, the Biscayne Bay and the Alder, and the tugs North Carolina and Kentucky. For two years, the Mesabi Miner has spent the win­ter at the Midwest Energy


Captain Marty Lightner was at the helm of the tug Kentucky when he helped the Mesabi Miner first get free from the ice just after passing under the Aerial Lift Bridge and then assisted the boat while she slowly made her way to her winter layup dock at Midwest Energy Resources in Superior. This all on January 21st, 2008.

Resources coal dock in Superior. The boat at that dock traditionally moves the first cargo of a new shipping season. With the Soo Locks not opening until March 25, any shipping traffic out of the port before that time is confined to Lake Superior. Almost all our taconite and grain go to ports below the Soo, but coal is regularly taken from Midwest to power plants in Marquette, Silver Bay, and Taconite Harbor. The name of the game is hauling cargo, the more the better, and the earlier your boats get out, the more they can haul in a season. Interlake Steamship is an ardent believer in that principle, and they usually have one of their boats at the Midwest Dock each winter.

Interlake’s Mesabi Miner has spent the last two winters there. Last year, she de­parted Midwest for Lake Superior ports four times in March. This year it will be the same. It is not until around the 23rd that the rest of the port wakes up. Ore boats leave then, timed to load at Two Harbors and then get to the Soo right after the Soo opens, while the other boats, all downbound beyond the Soo leave around the 24th so they will be in line at the Soo when it opens. Before all that, this year and last, the Mesabi Miner has been the only show in town.


Here the Mesabi Miner has just cleared the Superior entry, marking the first departure of the season for the port. She had to negotiate ice most of the way, but with the Alder and the North Carolina around to help, it did not take too much time. The water here is as blue as can be, but shortly after, the boat encountered ice and it stayed with her all the way to Marquette, Michigan.


Above, you see the reason that the first boat of the season departed the Superior entry. After the Mesabi Miner came home to finish off the shipping season, the bridge went down and stayed there for about 2 months while a $2 million project to complete the painting of the bridge was started up again. The painting actually began as a part of the major upgrade to the bridge done in the winter of 1999-2000. A lack of funds delayed the completion until this year, when it was restarted. The tent you see in the picture was moved around as the painting progressed. It provided a triple benefit, catching the paint as it is blasted off the surface, speeding the drying of the new paint, and last but not least, keeping the workers warm during some very cold and windy days. The project will start up again next winter, just after the end of the shipping season. They hope to complete it by June next year.

This year, Interlake’s Lee A. Tregurtha departed the port from her winter layup at Fraser Shipyards and went up to Silver Bay to load taconite pel­lets for Indiana Har­bor. She had to wait there for the Indiana Harbor. It had de­parted Duluth a day before to go up to Silver Bay to load pellets. The Indiana Har­bor should be at the Soo just about when it opens with the Tregurtha close behind.

Since Midwest Energy works hard in January, the boat that will spend the winter there is always the last boat of the season. Midwest wants the dock open as long as possible before turning it into a two-month motel. So the Miner closes the port, spends the winter here, and then opens the port in the Spring. The only other boats that work that schedule are Coast Guard icebreak­ers and tugs. Moving boats through ice can be exciting, and thus, over the last couple years, the Biscayne Bay, the Alder, the Min­er and the two tugs have shared both the early and late season drama in the port.

Last March, the Biscayne Bay came to Duluth in March to relieve the Alder when the Alder encountered mechanical prob­lems. That matched the Biscayne Bay with the Miner. On March 16th, the Biscayne Bay led the Miner under the Lift Bridge and through a five-mile sheet of ice. Tom Mc­Mullen, relief captain on the Miner, was at the helm and called Biscayne Bay captain Cary Godwin as soon as he reached open water to thank him for the help.

Shortly after that, the Biscayne Bay was called away, and the Alder departed. The Mesabi Miner kept to her appointed rounds within Lake Superior without much trouble. On April 1st, with McMullen still in charge and at Midwest Energy ready to depart, he was contacted by two boats that were now stuck in the ice just inside the ice that the Miner had been breaking through in her earlier trips. They had a great idea for him. Why doesn’t he just leave the dock as planned, come under the bridge, and move between them in the hope that he would break the ice between them so they could get under way?

It was not an easy call for McMullen be­cause he had no Coast Guard backup, and there were already two boats stuck in the ice. He did not want to be number three. He called the home office in Cleveland, telling them he thought his chances were about 50-50. They left the decision up to him. He was going to wait until the Assiniboine came in but in that effort, the Assiniboine failed and had to join the Quebecois in the ice, both stuck tight.

McMullen told me, “Then I had to think about it.”

The worst that could happen; he would be stuck in the ice outside the bridge. If he didn’t try it, he would be stranded at the dock until the wind or warm weather would break open the ice. Either way, he would be waiting for weather; so he decided he had little to lose.

He left the dock at Midwest, called his chief engineer and told him to give it all they had as soon as they made the turn to­ward the Lift Bridge. He estimates he was going about 12 mph as he went under the bridge, twice as fast as he would normally go. By the time he reached the outer edge of the ice, he was down to 2 mph and would not have been able to go much further. I was watching and didn’t think he would even come close to making it—but what do I know?

In talking to McMullen, he reminded me about a concept I learned a long time ago in physics class: momentum. He hit the ice at twelve mph bringing with him about 60,000 tons of coal and 1,000 feet of Great Lakes freight­er. It takes a while to stop that, and hap­pily it got him to the edge. As I noted in issue 89, he made it through the ice, and the two boats were freed. Mother Nature soon took care of the ice sheet and the season progressed nicely.

Fast forward to this past January. The Mesabi Miner is again the last boat in, coming under the Lift Bridge at 6:30 in the morning of Janu­ary 21st. Just after clearing the bridge, the Miner was stopped (or stuck) in (or by) the ice, just behind the DECC. I looked back to find the issue in which I’d written about this and found to my dismay that I had neglected to include this most interesting event. Herewith, it is included.

I was down on the south pier after using the South Pier Inn as a warming house. I ran out to get a picture of the Miner com­ing in, and then ran back into my warming house. The night nurse at the Inn told me that the boat was not moving. Being the Duluth Shipping News, I told him that it was moving, having just cleared the bridge. He again told me it wasn’t moving. Finally, I looked up and darned if it wasn’t moving. It was still dark as you can see in the picture. I was watching what I thought would be the biggest event of the year, a thousand-footer stuck in the ice behind the DECC.

With Duluth just waking up, it would not be long until the whole town would be down to take a look. I first thought of CNN but quickly realized I had neglected to keep my video camera on after the Miner cleared the Bridge. And a picture of a boat sitting quietly in the water is not a great action shot. This was a story for radio where one could paint a picture of the event and per­haps add a little color to the story—not that I would ever do such a thing.

Elsewhere in the harbor the Alder was preparing to leave her dock in case she would be needed to help the Miner. The tug Kentucky had just left her dock when it happened. Captain Marty Lightner, on the tug, was also out to help the Miner this day but did not think his help would be needed quite so soon. Meanwhile, I had been invit­ed to ride with the Alder, but I had to decide quickly what to do. Should I call the newspaper or a TV station; perhaps prepare my comments for my news conference be­cause I was one of the few people to be there—even though I had to be dragged to the window by the night staff at South Pier Inn.

I decided to get on the Alder. If the Miner was in real trouble, the Alder would be out there in the action. I quickly drove 6 blocks further south on Park Point, to the Coast Guard station. Up on the bridge of the Alder, they were following the prog­ress of the Kentucky and the Miner. They quickly found they had their own problems getting away from the pier. They were also stopped by the ice. So while the Kentucky was freeing the Miner, the Alder’s crew, near by, was trying to break their ship free of the ice. I am sure they wanted to get that job done themselves rather than calling the Kentucky. They finally succeeded, without extra help. The Kentucky made it to the Miner and opened a track in the ice in front of the Miner. That was enough to free the Miner.

I am sure that Briggs was happy to be free and on his way to the end of the sea­son rather than being the lead story in the local news. Of course, I have done my part to make the story well known although I sometimes wondered if it really happened. It did happen, but like the tree falling in the woods, if no one, or almost no one, knew about it, maybe it didn’t really happen. My pictures didn’t prove anything.

Of course, it did happen, but I must have fooled myself when I neglected to mention it in a previous issue. Of course. It did happen.

Now it’s mid-March and the same ac­tors returned for a new show on the same stage. This year, the Alder was ready to break ice, the Biscayne Bay was on her way, and the Mesabi Miner, still here, was about to make 3 trips to Lake Superior ports before anyone else got going

Mesabi Miner captain Scott Briggs was at the helm when both cutters provided assistance to his 1,000-footer in the past year. On Sunday, March 16, he was scheduled to depart Superior with coal for Marquette, the first cargo pas­sage of the season. He needed help to get through the ice.

Captain Kevin Wirth on the Alder had been breaking ice the week before and would be out both Saturday and Sun­day preparing a track for the Mesabi Miner to use when he departed. On Saturday, Wirth invited Briggs to go with him on the Alder while they broke open the route the Miner would take the next day. Specifi­cally, Midwest Energy was set to load the Miner with coal for Marquette on Saturday. Initially, the boat was scheduled to depart Saturday evening but Briggs moved the de­parture to first light the next morning.

Later I asked him why he did that. He preferred to see the ice he would be pass­ing through. I will be thinking of better ques­tions to ask in the future.

I asked to go aboard the Alder on Sat­urday morning before they departed so I could get a picture of Briggs and Wirth. I was excited to talk to Briggs to get his angle on the story of his final arrival in January. To my surprise, he brought along his relief captain, Tom McMullen, our hero mentioned earlier. Somehow, I was allowed to join them in the wardroom of the Alder while they talked.

It was interesting to listen to 3 people involved in the same activity but from oppo­site sides. The Mesabi Miner has received help in the ice from many icebreakers over the years, and Briggs was very experi­enced in directing that help from his larger vessel. Now he had a chance to indicate exactly what he needed to be done to have a successful departure the next day.

The crew on the Alder, and particularly Wirth, were very experienced at breaking ice for the big commercial vessels that work on the Great Lakes, but they don’t drive thousand footers around all day as Briggs does. The three men talked about the turns the Miner would have to make on the way from Midwest Energy to the Supe­rior entry.

The turns are not always what they might seem to be from shore. The real tracks the big boats follow are the ship­ping channels dredged 25 to 30 deep. All boats have up-to-date charts on board so they know exactly where the channels are. The Superior channel is especially narrow, and Briggs took this opportunity to share his first-hand knowledge of making a slight change of course on a 1,000-foot vessel to stay within a narrow channel. He was able to show a couple of places where he wanted the track in the ice to be particu­larly wide. The next morning, he was able to take advantage of his precisely laid-out route to the Superior entry.

A Mesabi Miner DVD?

I have been collecting pictures and video of all this excitement with the Mesabi Miner and have thought about doing a DVD about the various adventures I have wit­nessed and photographed. When the Du­luth Rotary asked me to give a talk on the start of the new shipping season, I decided to put together a DVD that I could use for the talk. Rather than talk just about the new season, my new Mesabi Miner DVD would be a good illustration of the problems as­sociated with a new season.

I am more aware than ever that a ship­ping season in Duluth runs very well during the vast middle part of it, but a little less so at the start and end. I think they liked it, and since it came a week before the Mesa­bi Miner started a new season of ice, cold, and coal, it would be a good introduction. Now that I have talked to a lot of the princi­pal players in the drama, I hope to augment the DVD and maybe even sell it. We shall see.

More Mesabi Miner

I figure if I have to follow the progress of one boat while she makes 3 trips before any other boats even get started, then you should have to suffer along with me. Be­sides, it’s interesting. I mentioned above that Miner captain Scott Briggs took a ride on the Alder the day before he was to depart Duluth. Of course, they went over to Midwest Energy where the Miner was docked, and broke some ice around the boat.

I usually have the marine radio on when there is ship traffic moving around. I listen, as do a lot of other people, as captains talk to one another, letting each other know what they will be doing and more often, call­ing the Bridge when they need a lift. While Briggs was on the Alder and the Alder was over by the Miner, I heard an unusual ex­change between the Briggs and his mate on the boat. Unusual because Briggs was on the Alder watching his mate handle his boat and giving him some instruction. A mate might often have a captain just be­hind him, watching closely while he navi­gates the boat, but rarely is the Captain on another boat, giving instructions on the radio.

Even more Mesabi Miner

And while I am on the subject of the Mesabi Miner, I found out some interest­ing information about the boat, and, I am told, all 1,000-footers on the Great Lakes. I have always been amazed how they are “on” for about 10 months straight, either traveling on the water or sitting by a dock while something or someone either loads stuff into their cargo holds, or unloads it. Every winter, they receive a set of pistons to replace half of those in their engines. The Miner has 32 cylinders in its two die­sel engines. She departed the dock with 16 brand new pistons running in half of those cylinders.

That added a small impediment to the job of getting through the ice she found at the Midwest and Marquette Dock and that she encountered for most of the trip to Mar­quette. Just like a brand new car, you are not supposed to run it at full tilt until you have broken it in. Briggs had a ‘time and distance’ table telling him how fast he could increase the engine’s RPMs. And periodi­cally, the chief engineer had to power down one of the engines while they were under way to check for unusual wear, usually evi­denced by metal shavings in the cylinders. Thus, he was not able to use all his power to break through the ice, but it didn’t make that much of a difference. By the time he returned to the Twin Ports, he was running every one of his RPMs.

Taconite and iron ore pel­lets

If you thought that iron ore and taconite pellets were the same thing, you are sadly mistaken. And over the years, I may have been responsible for some of your misun­derstanding about the terms. It turns out, I am confused, and sadly still am. I have been bothered maybe 5 times a year since I got started doing this by people who in­sist on correcting me when I say that boats leaving Duluth carry taconite. They say the boats are carrying iron ore pellets. Taconite is a material that is taken out of the earth in the Iron Range. It is low grade iron ore that was useless for steel-making until some University of Min­nesota professors in the 60s developed a process that separat­ed out the iron mag­netically and baked the resulting material into high-grade pel­lets.

Others tell me that iron ore is also taken out of the ground; it is not a pellet. I think maybe there is no good answer but since I write about this stuff a lot, I fig­ure I at least should be consistent. I am working on this prob­lem, but I must tell you, the more I work on it, the harder it is to figure out.


You may notice that this is the 100th issue of the monthly Duluth Shipping News. I still have 2 readers who have re­ceived all 100 issues and 3 readers who have received the last 99 issues. You know who you are and I am counting on you to be here for the next 100 issues. In fact, if you ever don’t renew, expect to find me crying on your doorstep, you mean that much to me. As for the rest of you, thank you to all for your support. A special thank you to all the 8 year olds who read this (yes I know, you are all older now, but in my heart, you are still 8 years old; I don’t have real children so you are my dear, but fake, children. Just remember, I myself am a fake reporter). All of you can be found in 3 countries and 41 different states. I will be unable to cry on all your door steps if you don’t renew, but please, don’t tempt me, I still have some frequent flyer miles. To all, I appreciate you support.


Captain Marty Lightner was at the helm of the tug Kentucky when he helped the Mesabi Miner first get free from the ice just after passing under the Aerial Lift Bridge and then assisted the boat while she slowly made her way to her winter layup dock at Midwest Energy Resources in Superior. This all on January 21st, 2008.

Here the Mesabi Miner has just cleared the Superior entry, marking the first departure of the season for the port. She had to negotiate ice most of the way, but with the Alder and the North Carolina around to help, it did not take too much time. The water here is as blue as can be, but shortly after, the boat encountered ice and it stayed with her all the way to Marquette, Michigan. At the right, you see the reason that the first boat of the season departed the Superior entry. After the Mesabi Miner came home to finish off the shipping season, the bridge went down and stayed there for about 2 months while a $2 million project to complete the painting of the bridge was started up again. The painting actually began as a part of the major upgrade to the bridge done in the winter of 1999-2000. A lack of funds delayed the completion until this year, when it was restarted. The tent you see in the picture was moved around as the painting progressed. It provided a triple benefit, catching the paint as it is blasted off the surface, speeding the drying of the new paint, and last but not least, keeping the workers warm during some very cold and windy days. The project will start up again next winter, just after the end of the shipping season. They hope to complete it by June next year.

Ice is nice as long as you are cruising through it on a Coast Guard ice breaker which I was when I took this picture over the side. Ac­tually, the Alder is a buoy tender but in the winter, I like to call her an ice breaker.

Alder commander Kevin Wirth (left) invited Captain Scott Briggs (right), captain on the Mesabi Miner and his first mate and relief captain Tom McMullen (middle) to go out with them on Saturday, March 15th while they broke ice in the harbor. They worked the track the Miner would take when she departed the next day. Above, they are comparing notes on the ice in the Alder’s wardroom.

Mesabi Miner captain Scott Briggs is quite a photographer. He of­ten takes pictures from his boat as people like us take pictures of his boat. I have been working on a DVD that details the Mesabi Miner’s tribulations and triumphs with ice and the Coast Guard, and Briggs will be able to supply me with pictures from the other side. Above, he stepped out from the bridge to take pictures of us (on the Alder) while we were taking pictures of him during his first departure of the new season moving out the Superior entry. (Actu­ally, I was taking pictures, the Coast Guard was breaking the ice.)

The Mesabi Miner was the last boat to come under the Lift Bridge in the Twin Ports 2007-08 shipping season. It was 6:30 in the morning of January 21st. About 2 minutes after this picture was taken, the boat was stopped in the ice behind the DECC.

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