Archives for March 2009

James R. Barker ‘first out’ for season

The cement carrier Alpena was the first cargo boat to go under the Lift Bridge in the 2009 shipping season. Coming in just after 3 on Monday afternoon, it was also the first boat from beyond the Soo Locks. A little more than an hour later, the James R. Barker made the turn from the St. Louis River and came up the Duluth harbor (above) with about 58,000 tons of coal for Marquette. It spent the winter layup at Midwest Energy Resources in Superior and was ready when they started to load coal around 8am on Monday morning. Now we wait for the last first of the season, the first vessel to make a full transit of the St. Lawrence Seaway System. That is usually a salt water ship but occasionally it will be a Canadian flagged boat that started in Montreal at the other end of the Seaway. Photo taken on March 30, 2009
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-31-2009

Alder out breaking ice

I had a chance to take a ride of the Alder this morning, but I had to tell them I was too busy taking pictures of them. Here, she is coming right at me with the Walter J. McCarthy, Jr. on her right and the Edwin H. Gott on her left. The McCarthy is due to depart with coal on Tuesday; the Gott may leave with iron ore pellets on Thursday.
alder ken

Alpena arrives Duluth with cement

Twelve boats spent the winter layup in the port; two of them plan to depart today; the James R. Barker with coal for Marquette, and the Lee A. Tregurtha light to Two Harbors to load iron ore pellets. A surprising late addition to the Monday schedule is the Alpena. It usually makes its first appearance here around the middle of April but will be here about noon with a cargo of cement for the Lafarge dock in Superior. The early arrival is a bit surprising since, according to the Alpena News, Lafarge is in the process of laying off 130 employees at their cement plant in Alpena, Michigan, also the home port of the Alpena. It is seen above in the Duluth ship canal in August 2006.
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 03-30-2009

The Alpena hugs the North Shore on her way to Duluth

March 29th, 2009
MODIS data acquired by direct broadcast and processed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

The season may actually begin on Monday. The Alpena became a new entry in the ‘race’ for first. She was expected around 8:30 Monday morning but may be delayed since she is taking a longer route along the North Shore. A look at the satellite image here shows why. The open water closer the shore beats the ice in the center of the Lake.
The Lee A. Tregurtha may get away from her moorings at Fraser Shipyards and go up to Two Harbors to load iron ore pellets in the middle of the day. The James R. Barker, once thought to be the first boat to move in the harbor, has slipped to third place (not that anyone but me cares), leaving sometime in the afternoon, probably later.

Indiana Harbor at left; Walter J. McCarthy, Jr. right, layup at Port Terminal. March 29, 2009


The tug Edward H. is getting ready to work

The tug Edward H. spent the winter behind the DECC. Mike Ojard and his son Patrick were down there installing some new pumps for their engines today. That’s Patrick waving to the camera. Mike’s other son, Vince, is the third member of the family partnership. They are open for business and waiting for the season to start like everybody else. They may go to Two Harbors shortly to break up the ice. That will take them by their home port of Knife River.

Back to normal, almost maybe

I have been trying to combine the web page at and the blog at for several days now. Each day, I make some progress. I hope you will be patient with me; I think the blog is very usable now; the web page may take a day or more. The blog will now be located at and will  have the schedule of arrivals and departures



No boats, little sun, not much snow and the only ice

On Sunday, March 22, 2009, the wind was blowing at 32 mph with gusts up to 45 mph. No boats, little sun, not much snow and the only ice to be seen was along the shore fronting the lineup of hotels in Canal Park, that the result of the stiff wind from the east. The temperature was 34 degrees. Maybe next Sunday the American Mariner will make it to Duluth and be the first boat under the bridge. The Alder is back after a trip to Thunder Bay to break ice. The Canadian Enterprise is there now.

Coast Guard vessels Alder and Mackinaw out breaking ice

The Alder went out for a quick trip through the harbor and out into the Lake on Monday, March 16th. With no traffic set until the 29th, there was not a lot that could be done. Tuesday afternoon, she left for Thunder Bay. They will see traffic before we will. In the picture, we were headed out into Lake Superior on Monday after just going under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge. We returned about 20 minutes later.
The Alder goes into Lake Superior for a quick check on ice conditions. We found a lot of water.
Elsewhere in the Great Lakes: I received the picture below from the Mackinaw on Tuesday afternoon. It is their picture and caption. Click picture below for more pictures of the Mackinaw breaking ice.
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw breaks ice in Whitefish Bay, Mich., In support of Operation Spring Breakout, March 16, 2009. Spring Breakout encompasses northern Lake Michigan, northern Lake Huron, the St. Marys River and helps facilitate the spring shipping season in the Great lakes. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Petty Officer 3rd Class George Degener)

Going out on the Alder to check on ice conditions in the Duluth harbor.

I will be going out on the Alder on Monday morning (March 16th). They will be checking the ice thickness in the shipping channels in the harbor; I will try to get some good pictures and video. Keeping the shipping lanes open in the harbor is the direct responsibility of the Alder. Local tugs handle the work closer to the docks; the Alder only goes in there on request, when needed.
This is the last ice breaking season here for LCDR Kevin Wirth, commanding officer on the Alder for the last 3-years. He has been a great leader, on his ship and within the community. He will be missed by many. Wirth and many of the officers and crew will be replaced in June, rotating off the usual 3-year tour of duty with our local cutter. That’s him at the right on the bridge of the Alder as she went under the Lift Bridge this past January 16th. This will not be a major ice-breaking trip since the first ship movement in the port is not expected to get under way until March 29th when the James R. Barker should be leaving with coal and the American Mariner is expected in to load iron ore pellets.

New shipping season problems in Duluth, Great Lakes

The Alder left her dock at 8:30 on Tuesday morning (see picture). That was the  first ship movement of the new season. An expected blizzard later today will bring the Alder back to the dock this afternoon rather than making a one-day training run to Lake Superior, as originally planned.
alder 3-10-09
The beginning of the shipping season has been delayed from an expected departure of the James R. Barker on March 17th to her departure date now set for March 29th. That delay was caused in large part by the bad economy that is seeing steel mills closing on the Lower Great Lakes and because of that, taconite mines on the Iron Range laying off workers on what seems like a regular basis for the past several weeks.

The dramatic drop in automobile sales has a great deal to do with the downturn, although the recession is so widespread that it is hard any more to pinpoint any given cause. However, the Barker was and will load coal, much of which is taken to Detroit Edison, the home of the declining automobile marker in the US. Steel plants are heavy users of electricity, two good reasons for a ship owner to hurry getting their boats out of winter layup only to wait around for cargos. As mentioned below, most do not expect all 12 boats that spent the winter here to leave, even by early April, if at all this season.

Season to begin with the Alder on March 10th and the James R. Barker on the 18th.

The Alder announced their initial plans for the new season. See just below, dated March 5, 2009

The U.S. Coast Guard will be commencing icebreaking operations in and around Duluth/Superior Harbor on 10 March 2009. Areas of operation include Superior Entry, Superior Front Channel in vicinity of Barker’s Island, St. Louis Bay between Richard Bong Memorial Bridge and John A. Blatnik Bridge, and approaches to Duluth and Superior Harbor Entries.

The Coast Guard would like to remind all recreational users to plan their activities carefully, use caution on the ice, and stay away from shipping channels. Attempting to approach or cross over areas of ice broken by the Coast Guard could result in dangerous or life-threatening situations. Also, operations outside the port will disrupt the ice offshore in Lake Superior making it more susceptible to drifting.

Commander Kevin Wirth expects to break out from the Alder’s winter moorings at their dock on Park Point at 8:30 on the morning of March 10th.  They will also scout the offshore ice to determine thickness and coverage. They should return the next day, probably using the Superior entry again.
They will likely return to their moorings sometime later on Tuesday, March 10th. The first commercial shipping activity for the Twin Ports is expected to be the departure of the James R. Barker on March 29th.