As I saw the port on April 13, 2013

20130411_8226For 18 years, I have been watching the East wind blow ice into the funnel at the western end of Lake Superior known as Duluth. My office is next to the Lift Bridge. So I know. Or rather, even now, I still don’t know. A week ago, I thought I knew Lake Superior was clear of ice and I did know there was only a small amount of ice left in the harbor.
20130412_8264The Paul R. Tregurtha came into port Thursday morning, April 11th at 37 minutes after midnight and stopped for fuel at Calumet Fuel dock before moving over to Midwest Energy Resources in Superior to load coal. The Mesabi Miner came in about 2 hours later and stopped at the Fuel dock. She was scheduled to load iron ore at the CN dock and was waiting on the Arthur M. Anderson. She came in on Wednesday afternoon. The Kaye E. Barker came in on May 10 with coal to discharge before loading iron ore pellets.
mesabiminor20130411_8206The Mesabi Miner was the 60th vessel to use the Duluth ship canal since she opened the season on March 20th. By April 12, the season was well underway.On Thursday, the Tregurtha arrived, along with an east wind gusting up to 54 mph. On Friday when the Tregurtha would have been departing the port with coal, the East wind continued her attack, gusting up to 47 mph. Had you asked me, I would have told you that Lake Superior was clear of ice, and most others would have agreed. How wrong I was. I still have no idea where all the ice came from, but we do know where it ended up; going through our ice intake system at the Duluth ship canal and ice storage containment utility in the Duluth Superior Harbor.
While the Tregurtha was at the Midwest Energy Resources coal dock Friday night (April 12, 2013), they wanted a reading on the ice conditions especially in the Duluth ship canal, but elsewhere in the harbor as well. They called for tug assistance from the Great Lakes Towing Company on Friday and their tug North Carolina was out for many hours. She made it to the end of the piers but it was not easy. The Tregurtha called them off Friday evening, deciding to wait for first light on Saturday.For some time on Friday, it was unclear whether or when the Alder would be available. They were on standby duty; crewmembers had to be called back for duty. There was some feeling Friday evening they could be underway at 6 am but they did not get away from their moorings until 10 am.
Inside the harbor on Saturday morning, the Anderson, Tregurtha, Kaye E. Barker and Mesabi Miner were still waiting for good information about ice conditions in the Duluth ship canal. Meanwhile, 3 vessels, headed for Midwest Energy, had arrived off the Duluth piers: the American Integrity, CSL Laurentien and the American Century. The ice was not an immediate problem for them since the Tregurtha was at their dock; they would be waiting somewhere.
aisap1320132(As with all images on this page, click on AIS map at right for enlarged version) The CSL Assiniboine and CSL Tadoussac arrived off the Duluth piers and dropped anchor to wait for ice conditions to clear, but more importantly, for the Anderson to clear at CN. They too would have to wait somewhere. The Federal Welland was at anchor, but would not begin loading grain at CHS in Superior until Monday morning.
The Great Republic was on the way and entered into the conversation around 9 am Saturday morning. They had a unique situation. They were headed for Hallett #5 in West Duluth which was, I think, open for business if they could only get there.
The Stewart J. Cort and the Burns Harbor were waiting off the Superior piers.The problem in the ship canal, and with the harbor to a lesser extent, was the compression of the ice in an enclosed space such as the ship canal. When the Tregurtha moves through the ship canal, she takes up a lot of space that was previously used by water and/or on this day ice. If there is nowhere for the ice to go, the Tregurtha would not move. Lake Superior, it might be added, does not have this problem. She can blow her ice anywhere she wants since she has a lot of extra space, and convenient storage areas in places like the Duluth ship canal and harbor. In the time between 9 am and 10 am Saturday morning, the Great Republic arrived off the Duluth piers and sounded like she would be coming in (under the Lift Bridge). Around the same time, the Arthur M. Anderson was moving away from the dock at CN and seemed ready to depart under the bridge.
nelsj20130413_8312Earlier, around 8:30, the Heritage tug Nels J. had made it under the Lift Bridge and out to the Lake with some difficulty. They were called out to the Federal Welland, one of the boats at anchor off the Duluth piers. That allowed some reading of the ice in the ship canal; it was not packed solid but was still troublesome. The North Carolina on Friday night and the Nels J on Saturday morning helped to loosen the ice in the ship canal. It seemed to me that the two tugs might have eased conditions enough for traffic to finally resume on Saturday morning. But 12 hours is a long, long time when you are dealing with ice and wind on Lake Superior, and in this case more the wind. The Lake was probably not creating more ice, but no one had control of the wind.
Communication was a big challenge between 9 boats out in the Lake representing at least 4 shipping companies, 4 boats at docks inside, 2 tug companies and the US Coast Guard. As far as I could tell, it was pretty much a series of one to one discussions although others could listen in (that is what I was doing). Captains want to know about the ice conditions in the ship canal and the route they would take inside the harbor. Underneath that conversation was interest in what others might be doing. Who would go first?The working assumption was there would be no problem once you got to the Lake. I do not think any of the boats at anchor were stuck; they were in short term parking. We do not have a harbormaster to make decisions regarding vessel traffic. The Paul R. Tregurtha and the Arthur M. Anderson carried the biggest burden. They were sitting at docks waiting to leave with their cargo. If they didn’t leave, there was no reason for any of the other boats to try to come in since their dock would not be available. That is one reason why the Tregurtha hired the tug. They were at the Midwest Energy coal dock, loaded and ready to leave.
alder20130413_8323 Since the whole icy adventure came as a sudden surprise to everyone, no one had a good hold on how severe the problem was. No captain wanted to get their boat stuck, especially under the Lift Bridge. Among other things, that would have cut off the connection between Canal Park and Park Point.
And so, around 9 am on Saturday morning, it started to get interesting. A half hour earlier, the tug Nels J made it through the Duluth ship canal. The Great Republic was just off the Duluth piers and thinking about coming right in. The Arthur M. Anderson began to move. As it got close to 10, with the Anderson just about to make the turn into the harbor, the Alder finally began to move away from her dock. I was looking out my window and to my amazement, saw open water. It was almost as if the ice sensed pressure from all sides and decided to give up the fight. The Alder wanted to make a couple circles in the harbor to break up more ice, but with the Anderson on the way, she turned toward the bridge, and the open water under it. She did not have any problem; in fact, the problem itself seem to literally float away.
The Alder went under the Lift Bridge at 10:17 on Saturday morning, April 13, 2013.
And then … Arthur M. Anderson departed at 10:31
Kaye E. Barker left at 11:36
Paul R. Tregurtha left at 11:49
Stewart J. Cort came in Superior 11:53
Great Republic came in Duluth at 12:21
American Integrity in at 12:44
CLS Laurentien in at 1:07
Federal Welland at 3:53 American Century in at 7:43
With the Mesabi Miner departure at 9:57, the CSL Assiniboine came in Saturday night at 11:19 to take her place at the CN dock. For a while at least, we were back to normal.


  1. I’m only just catching up on this post now as we were sup-POSED to be in Duluth this rainy week but the weather looked too wet. I would have KILLED to see that kind of action at the Canal! Maybe we can make it up there from Rochester another time yet this summer.

  2. I have to add – we busted out laughing when we heard Capt’n Dayton’s salute when he went under the bridge that Saturday morning; one fairly short long, followed by a long pause, then two really short shorts. The comeback from the bridge was priceless, they copied the PRT’s salute to a tee, it was hilarious, especially given the relatively tense situation!

    • holly jorgenson says:

      it was priceless jay…captain dayton’s signature salute. i always wait anxiously to hear it. we can tell when he’s not at the helm!

      • Holly, I noticed it again last night when the PRT came in, same salute. I didn’t realize Captain Dayton did it that way every time, we’ll have to listen for that in the future! They should be going out in a couple hours.

  3. When I saw this situation starting to set itself up early Saturday morning, we almost jumped in the car & drove 3 1/2 hours to Duluth to watch! Thanks for the great play by play that morning, and a special thanks for letting the radio transmission between the boats be heard via the bridge cam sound transmission. That was a classic morning! It was like a pro sports game where the best seat in the house was actually at home watching the web cams & hearing the radio transmissions. I hooked my computer up to the TV in the living room that morning so the whole family could watch on the big screen!

  4. What an awesome sight that would have been! Thanks for the story, wish we had been there for the live version.

  5. thanks for the great writing
    really enjoyed the report

  6. Great reporting Mother wins again.

  7. Mary Ann says:

    Thanks for all the information – I was watching for part of the time but it’s great to have someone “in charge” of tracking things!

  8. Thanks for letting us know what all happened that day.

    Maybe more fun like this coming this weekend?

  9. Diane Hilden says:

    Had a “front row” seat through the Tregurtha departure. Excellent piece Ken! Thanks.

  10. What a day!

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