Mackinaw and 2 friends

Three Coast Guard cutters arrive Duluth on March 25, 2014 (from my window)


  1. Presque Isle has reappeared north of Isle Royale. She is heading south down the coast back towards Duluth, making close to 13 knots.

    I’m not quite sure what Alder, Biscayne, and Morro are up to. They are nearly stopped about 10 miles from Duluth. This seems strange to me because presumably one could even tow if necessary.

    Algoma Equinox has cleared the 7th lock. So, the first transit is complete. However, none of the other ships seem eager to go through.

    • Given the ice conditions in Lake Erie, there are no ships expected downbound at the moment. The Top Hat ceremony held by the Town of Port Colborne at Lock 8 has been postponed until ship a ship is available. They are talking next week, but I have to wonder if that is too soon.

      There are no upbound ships from Hamilton because they can’t get into Lake Erie, so they might as well stay where they are. Companies can save a few bucks by further delaying crew call up.

      There is some ice around Lock 7 but it didn’t look too bad yesterday and today. The local forecast has highs above freezing till April 11 (of course that will change), so I doubt the situation will get worse. Highs of 48F are expected Mon-Tues.

      I believe that the rest of the canal is just fine for traffic.

      • I’m confused. There are several ships already in the canal so going downstream should be fairly easy. And why wouldn’t Algoma Equinox be available? They’ve already left the 7th lock and only have to go up the canal to the tidal lock.

        • The ships in Port Colborne wintered there, and don’t want to go downstream, they want to enter Lake Erie. Equinox also wants to go into Erie. However Erie seems to be an iceberg, especially at the east end. Equinox is staying just above Lock7 because there is no room in Port Colborne.

          You’ve been tracking the problems on Lake Superior, but Lake Erie is just as bad.

        • Brent,
          After all the information u have provided us, i certainly hope i get a good answer to your question.

        • Two of the ships that were in Port Colborne have now turned around and are downbound in the Welland Canal. One (the Whitefish Bay) shows a destination in their AIS of Quebec for April 2. Both had turned around on Thursday in order to be ready to enter Lake Erie.

  2. Apparently they did indeed have the top hat ceremony at lock 3 earlier today.

    Algoma Equinox is now in the seventh lock. They’ve been there about 40 minutes show I assume they will be moving out soon. The first transit is nearly complete and the Welland Canal is open.

    Radisson did break out Risley and Algoeast. However, it looks like Laurentien made it into Conneaut with only help from Neah Bay. Neah is now heading to port in Cleveland.

    The Joyce has turned around and is heading back up the Detroit River. The Cort was heading east over by the Gott but is now heading back west. That makes the third ship lately to make a loop and go back. Is this infectious?

    It looks like two private tugs, Undaunted and Spartan, are breaking out Pere Marquette Lake by Ludington MI.

    I picked up Alder and the two Bays about 30 miles out from Duluth. They are now about 15 miles out. They are only moving 6-7 knots. Normal speed would be around 12 knots; so something is clearly amiss.

    There is still no sign of the convoy.

    • While at the Lock 3 Top Hat ceremony, I was told that Algoma Equinox will tie up above Lock 7 for three days.

      Three of the ships in Port Colborne travelled through Lock 8 to Port Robinson where they turned around using the old Welland Canal to provide the space required. All three returned to Port Colborne and presumably are waiting for the Pierre Radisson to come back and bust them out. These are all CSL ships namely, Frontenac, Baie Comeau, and Whitefish Bay.

      There are three Algoma ships in Port Colborne, and I don’t know when they will be ready to go. They are Algoma Enterprise, John D Leitch, and John B Aird.

  3. Ice apparently not such a problem at Welland. Algoma Equinox left lock #3 after the ceremony at St. Catharines about 11:36 eastern time. She is now at lock #4 on the western side at the Twin Flight locks. Meanwhile, Griffon is at lock #6 on the eastern side. So, these two will pass each other going in opposite directions. This is the only dual lane lock in the Welland where you can do that; the rest are single lane locks. Griffon may be headed over to the St Lawrence Seaway. I was at the Welland once and saw a ship pass through a lock. If memory serves, it takes about 40 minutes to pass one ship through. So, this triple lock is probably a minimum of two hours. Equinox arrived at about 12:21 eastern so they might be through around 2:30 eastern. I see that Equinox moved into the 5th lock at 1pm and Griffon is now moving into the 4th lock. Of course, that technically still leaves the top hat ceremony at the 7th lock. We’ll see. At this point it looks like the Welland is open but I would feel more comfortable saying that if there were movement on the south end. I see five freighters and two tugs with their radios on; it’s like they are all waiting. The tug, Seahound, now seems to be moving so perhaps things will get started.

    I see the Joyce L Van Enkevort leaving the Detroit River, heading for Cleveland. Perhaps Dorothy’s loop yesterday was to check out the ice conditions for the Joyce. I see that Everlast is still crossing Lake St. Clair easily with only the tug, Rebecca Lynn, as escort. So it appears that the conditions there are quite good for larger vessels but still probably impossible for smaller boats.

    Alpena must have been making good time following Mobile Bay because Biscayne Bay still has not caught up even though they are steaming at 12 knots. Mobile Bay is at Roger Blough right now and it appears that they are working to get the Roger free.

    I have lost the track for Alder and the two Bays near Two Harbors which is where I always lose them. The convoy still has not come into radio range. I would guess that Escanaba must be running near capacity with all the ships going there. I guess that’s why we need Superior open.

  4. Algoma Equinox has been listed in the Seaway System as upbound at Welland since yesterday. At 6:13am eastern time this morning, she headed out of lock #2, arriving at lock #3 at 7:21am. This was in plenty of time for the St. Catherine’s Welland Canal ceremony at lock #3 at 10am (which should be right now). Presumably, after the ceremony, Equinox will continue. They are suggesting that the actual opening ceremony (which involves a top hat) won’t occur until Equinox reaches lock #7. I guess they are thinking that the ice might cause a delay. Meanwhile, Griffon is steaming north up the canal, perhaps to clear ice from locks 4-7. Also, I now see five radios on from freighters at the south end.

    Samuel Risley still seems to be struggling with Algoeast west of Erie. And, Neah Bay has not left port at Conneau yet this morning to assist Laurentien. Radisson is heading that way so perhaps both need some heavier assistance.

    It looks like the Cort is heading over to wait with the Gott near the St. Marys entrance. Alpena and Roger Blough have hardly moved and Arthur Anderson has only moved up closer to Blough. So, the ice must be a problem. Mobile Bay steamed out of St. Ignace earlier and has been making good time at better than 13 knots. They will reach Alpena in an hour with Biscayne arriving probably an hour after that.

    Alder, Morro and Katmai Bay are only moving about 7 knots. They are near Silver Bay right now it will still take them four or five hours to get back to Duluth.

  5. it was reported that the morrow bay had a mechanical problem,she and the katmai bay are heading back to Duluth. the alder is suppose to come to thunder bay this weekend to continue ice breaking in thunder some parts of thunder bay there is 3-4 feet of ice which may have caused the problem with the morrow bay. brent your reports are excellent.

  6. The big news at the moment is the Welland Canal. This is a system of 7 locks (not counting the lake-level, guard lock). Officially, it is supposed to open at 8am on the 28th. The freighter, Algoma Equinox, was setting at the northern end (Port Weller) in the St. Catherines Marina. However, after being there for 10 hours, she began moving south through the canal at 5:41pm eastern time on the 27th. Almost 2 hours later at 7:30pm eastern time, Algoma Equinox had passed through the first lock and entered the second lock. But, more than 4 hours later, she had not left the second lock. So, the Welland Canal is probably testing things out by allowing Equinox to move up or maybe they are just trying to get a jump on tomorrow. There are now four freighters at the southern end (Port Colborne) with their radios on, so it would be my guess that the Welland is going to be busy tomorrow. Keep in mind that the ice flows downstream towards the northern end (Lake Ontario), so coming south (towards Lake Erie) is the hard part because you are moving upstream against the ice (like Equinox is doing now). It should be much easier for the freighters on the southern end to go downstream with the ice. Griffon appears to be docked in the canal, but Radisson is still working out in the lake.

    Algoeast is being escorted by Samuel Risley. This ship is probably the weakest ice-breaker in the area but presumably if they have any difficulty, Neah Bay is not far away in the harbor at Conneaut. It looks like Neah has been trying to break a track for Laurentien which is still outside the harbor.

    Also, nearby is Dorothy Ann which did something puzzling today. I’ve been watching them running up and down the twisty Cuyahoga River, taking iron ore from the harbor pile upstream to the steel mills. However, today she took off out of the harbor and began steaming ENE which should have kept her below the ice. She went out about 10 miles, looped around and came back. If Dorothy were a person, I’d say she was just bored working in the harbor and decided to go for a walk. But, as a working freighter, I don’t know what that was about. It took 2 1/2 hours and those 7,000 HP engines go through a lot of diesel so I assume there must have been a purpose.

    Alder did indeed head into Taconite Harbor and spent about an hour breaking ice. Mesabi Miner then pulled into port and is still there. Alder continued up the coast and met up with Morro Bay and Katmai Bay near Grand Banks. The three are now heading back down the coast away from Thunder Bay. I’m not sure what they are doing unless they are working a trackway for Mesabi Miner. Those crews are certainly earning their pay.

    I would have loved to see what the ice coverage in Lake Superior looked like today but unfortunately the satellite photos only showed clouds. Hopefully, the convoy will show up on the radio track tomorrow northwest of Whitefish Bay.

    Alpena has stopped above Garden Island. They were still making 5 knots before they quit. Arthur Anderson and Roger Blough are about 15 miles west. Roger Blough was making 8 knots before they stopped. So, probably it wasn’t because of ice. If they did need assistance, it would take awhile because both Biscayne and Mobile Bay are in port at St. Ignace and would have to steam west for a good 80 miles to reach them.

    • I should have said that Alder met the Bays near Grand Portage, not Grand Banks. They are now past Chicago Bay and in another hour and a half, should be near Grand Marais.

  7. Just before dusk, about 19:00, I believe I saw the Alder headed eastbound. This was near Lutsen and the only vessel that I know to be moving near here was the Alder. It was definetly USCG.

    I noticed that the radio tracks don’t often show up near the N Shore. The Alder is silent, as are the 2 USCG vessels near Thunder Bay, as well as the Munson in Taconite Harbor. Anyone know the reason why there are “skips” in radio tracking? I am a novice at this.

    • The track shows Alder near Lutsen at 23:56 Greenwich time which is just before 8pm eastern time or 7pm central. So, that was Alder. Mesabi Miner is in Taconite Harbor. Munson is way up at the northern end of Lake Superior.

      I can see Mesabi, Alder, and the Bays here:
      The map has gaps at Escanaba and Erie.

      This map:
      does show Escanaba but has gaps along the eastern Superior coast; it does not show Mesabi Miner. It has the same gap for Erie.

      This map:
      does show Erie. However, it has gaps at Escanaba, Chicago, and western Superior.

      I have not found a map that covers the northern end of Lake Superior.

    • towwatcher says:

      The system is VHF and limited in range. Also, it is dependent on a receiving station to “hear”them. Receivers are largely voluntary and don’t necessarily blanket an area. If you are in a good position, you could put a receiver on. Check out Automatic Identification System (AIS).

    • My original comment is still awaiting moderation because I included three links. Apparently this is to weed out spam advertising.

      At marinetraffic, I can see the AIS radio tracking down the west coast of Superior most of the length. There is a gap near Two Harbors. However, this website has gaps at Escanaba and near Erie.

      There’s another one at ais.boatnerd that does show Escanaba.

      vesselfinder will show the ships near Erie.

      I have not found any site that shows northern Superior.

  8. Thank you to anyone who likes my comments. I’ve been waiting for more of Ken’s excellent videos or pictures, but it seems like the ships either left during the middle of the night or when visibility was poor. Maybe American Spirit or Walter J. McCarthy will be more cooperative and leave in the daytime in clear weather. We can always hope.

    The Pierre Radisson made it all the way through the Welland Canal and is now working the ice in front of Port Colborne. You would think that the freighters could get through now with a little help from a tug. I see three freighters waiting at the south end of the canal and one waiting at the north end. The tug, Seahound, is there; but perhaps they want to wait for some reason.

    The freighter, Laurentien, had been stuck north of Erie. Both Griffon and Neah Bay were working on it this morning. It looks like Griffon may be heading back north to escort Algocanada which is waiting near Port Dover. Neah Bay seems to be escorting Laurentien westward now.

    Alpena has been tearing through the Straits westward since they got moving this morning. They could be clear of the heavy ice in just another couple of hours making for just six hours total transit from east of Round Island. I’m thinking the trackway in the ice must still be open from the eastward passage of the two Bays escorting the freighters earlier today.

    Mesabi Miner is near Taconite Harbor. They approached the western entrance and then backed up. Alder is heading that way too so perhaps the harbor needs some ice-breaking.

    Morro Bay and Katmai Bay seem to be heading out of Thunder Bay. They spent 8 hours breaking ice and only made it about 4 miles in. It’s possible that they need Mackinaw to break the ice, or perhaps Munson is stuck.

    Mackinaw and the convoy along with Munson are still out or radio track range so I can’t tell exactly where they are. It looks like Mobile Bay and Biscayne Bay have gone to port after a tough day of busting ice. The one I don’t know about is Bristol Bay; I haven’t seen her radio track since the 21st when she was in Whitefish Bay. So, maybe she is still breaking ice in Whitefish.

  9. towwatcher says:

    I would like to comment how much I enjoy Brent R’s commentary. It certainly adds to my interest.

  10. Morro Bay and Katmai Bay halted for about 8 hours and then started breaking ice at about 7:30am eastern time. In two and a half hours, they’ve moved about 1 1/2 miles. The ice must be thick. I don’t see any other radio tracks in Thunder Bay and there is no visibility on the webcam there.

    I see that Mesabi Miner left Duluth at about 3am eastern time and are now abreast of Two Harbors. John Munson has passed the entrance to Thunder Bay and is still steaming north at about 9 knots. I’m not sure what they are going to do without escort. I assume the convoy is now working its way south from Marathon towards Michipicoten Island.

    It looks like Joyce Enkevort has made it through the Straits and has passed between Mackinac and Round Islands. Stewart Cort isn’t too far behind having just passed the Mackinac Bridge. I assume Alpena must be waiting for assistance in the thick ice above Bois Blanc Island. If that’s the case, then help is near since Mobile Bay is now only 3 miles from them. It looks like Edwin Gott is ready to leave Huron and head up to the Soo locks.

    The other big news is that I can see the freighter, Baie Comeau heading north in the Welland Canal followed by the tug, Sea Hound. The Canadian Coast Guard ship Pierre Radisson began heading south through the Welland locks four hours ago and only has one left to go. This could suggest that the Welland may be open today instead of tomorrow.

  11. Mackinaw, with Presque Isle and Cason J Callaway following behind, has passed Thunder Bay. They are now northeast of the top of Isle Royale, nearly abreast of Spar Island. I’ve just lost the radio track for the two freighters. Mackinaw has now started to swing eastward toward the Slate Islands. Mackinaw is moving at about 10 knots and, judging by the current ice map, they probably would not have to slow down much until they reach the coast below Marathon. Looking at the satellite map, there could be a stretch of thinner ice running down to Michipicoten Island. But, they will have to break heavy ice to get around the western side of the island. I see a bit of open water to the east of Caribou Island but that still leaves 50 miles of breaking to reach Whitefish Point.

    I had read that the US Coast Guard was going to give Canada a hand with Thunder Bay. That was apparently correct because the two tugs, Morro Bay and Katmai Bay, have left the convoy and are now northeast of Pie Island at the entrance to Thunder Bay. This must be welcome news to the Capt Henry Jackman and Tadoussac, 730′ freighters of about 30,000 tons, layed-up at Thunder Bay. Presumably, the two tugs will wait until tomorrow morning when they can see to begin breaking ice. By the map, it looks like they’ll have 15-20 miles of ice to get through to reach the farthest section of the port. They might have to make passes inside the breakwater to allow the local tugs to start working the ice. The public notice for this states:

    “The United States Coast Guard Cutters KATMAI BAY and MORRO BAY will assist with harbour breakout in Thunder Bay this Thursday and Friday, March 27th and 28th. The USCG Cutter Alder will arrive on Saturday, March 29th to provide additional icebreaking capacity in the area.”

    The local tugs are:
    Robert W: 56′, 800 HP
    Miseford: 90′, 900 HP
    Glenada: 73.5′, 1100 HP
    Point Valour: 98′, 1900 HP

    Of these, Point Valour seems capable of breaking fairly thick ice. Maybe we’ll see them working tomorrow if they have tracking radios. There seems to be only one webcam at Marina Park so it might be hard to catch a glimpse there.

    • The John G Munson came out of Two Harbors about 3 1/2 hours ago and is heading up the coast towards Thunder Bay. They should be close to Thunder Bay by morning.

      I lost the radio track on Mackinaw about an hour ago which should put them abreast of St. Ignace Island. If they keep running, they could be below Marathon by morning.

      Cort and Enkevort are still struggling in the Straits even though both Biscayne Bay and Mobile Bay are helping. The Gott is steaming north at good speed in Huron.

  12. Donna Lunke says:

    Which ship is in the ice since yesterday on the horizon east of Grand Marais. Been visible since yesterday. Going nowhere.

    • That’s where the Presque Isle is located now.

      • The convoy should reach the Presque in about 2 hours. So, there will be more ships if you are able to view it.

        • Donna Lunke says:


          • Can you confirm how many ships? I’m seeing radio tracks for the three Coast Guard ships: Mackinaw, Morro Bay, and Katmai Bay; and the two freighters: Presque Isle and Cason J Callaway. I don’t see a track for Munson.

            Mackinaw is currently about 5 miles from Presque Isle. I don’t know if you can see the two tugs but they are in between Mackinaw and Callaway.

  13. I just watched Mackinaw, Morro Bay, and Katmai Bay leave the harbor on the harbor webcam leaving a trail of steam from the deeper, warmer water they stirred up. I saw Munson get out of the slip and into the harbor last night but didn’t see it leave. Apparently, in the next couple of hours, they’ll be forming up a convoy out of Two Harbors. Things are finally moving.

    Looks like the Paul Tregurtha is heading for Escanaba. And, I see that the Stewart Cort is still struggling in the Straits. But, they have an escort now from Mobile Bay and it looks like Joyce Enkevort is also following their track.

  14. Diane Hilden says:

    Thanks Ken!

Leave a Comment