Alder breaks ice & sweeps & shovels it too

All hands on deck aboard the Alder on December 14, 2016, breaking ice on their deck as they moved across Lake Superior. All of this while US Coast Guard Sector Soo began Operation Taconite, their annual push to clear shipping channels of ice so lakers can get another 2 or 3 weeks before the season ends. For now, the Alder was assigned the western end of Lake Superior for their ice breaking operations. That seems logical but in others years, they were breaking ice in Lake Michigan and cutters like the Biscayne Bay came here to break up our ice. All pictures here courtesy of the Alder.
Alder approaches the Portage Lake Lift Bridge in Houghton, Mich., Dec. 16, 2016.
Alder breaks a path through the ice in the Keweenaw Waterway near Houghton, Michigan on Dec. 16, 2016.

First sign of Spring on Monday

The first sign of spring in Duluth is usually our Coast Guard cutter Alder’s first venture into the Duluth harbor in early March. I go over there to get ‘dramatic’ pictures as she gets the new season started breaking away from the ice that surrounded her since arriving at her dock in late January 2004-12-14-14h27m17after assisting all the vessel traffic to their winter berths. She has always made it out; some years with a little more work than others. This year, she marks the first sign of Spring on Monday, March 7, 2016. Actually, on February 22, she took a quick trip stern first to the middle of the harbor, turned around and backed her way back to her moorings at her dock on Park Point. 240207-2--077February is too early to see a sign of spring. That short trip was taken to position her bow for her eventual appearance as the first sign of spring a week or more away. Her pointed bow, as most bows, is curved to a point (ok, a rounded point) to ease the vessel through the water, and especially ice. Her stern was built to be and look like a stern, never the best face to put forward when breaking into ice.Above, left the Alder bow on December 14, 2004 while at her dock; right her stern just before she was launched in February, 2004.

Click here to see 58 other posts we have made about the Alder

The temperature today (Saturday, March 5, 2016) and tomorrow will be above freezing. That will make that trip on Monday, the 7th not as challenging as other years. The high temperature on Monday will be in the 40’s; she might be able to leave sideways with no trouble.

She will however have important cargo on board: 25 members of LSMMA (Lake Superior Marine Museum Association) will be guests of Commander Tschirgi as he heads out for his first first-sign-of-spring trip since he came on board last July 10th. As if to warn the new Commander about his coming task, Coast Guard dignitaries told the new Commander, his crew and invited guests at the ceremony last July that the last two winters were the toughest in Great Lakes history.

This is Commander Tschirgi’s first tour on the Great Lakes but lest you think he is a rookie, he also served tours in Antarctica and the Arctic. And, it has not been a bad winter, to say the least.

Below is a Coast Guard release from last Friday:


U.S. Coast Guard Cutter ALDER will commence spring break out operations in the Duluth-Superior area Monday March 07, 2016. These operations will continue periodically over the next few days and weeks to prepare regional waterways for the start of the Great Lakes commercial navigation season.

Initially, ice breaking operations will occur inside the Duluth and Superior Harbors. The ice breaking work will expand in coming weeks to prepare Two Harbors, MN, Taconite Harbor, MN, Silver Bay, MN, and Thunder Bay, Ontario for commercial ship movements.

Unlike the past two winters, this year was unseasonably warm. Regional ice cover is not as expansive nor did it reach traditional thicknesses. The forecast for the next seven to ten days calls for temperatures conducive to rapid deterioration of ice. All snowmobile, All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) operators, ice fishermen, and other recreational users of the ice should recognize the instability of the ice, plan their activities carefully, and use caution near the ice, especially in proximity to charted navigation areas.

Duluth ice through the years

The Duluth Shipping News has over 5,000 web pages in it and more than 5,000 pictures. Most pages are assigned a category; the list of categories can be seen in the left column. Ice is one of the categories and since there does not seem to be much ice around, I thought I would highlight all the pages through the years about ice. You can click on the category pull down and see all 93 (94 now with this page) pages with lots of ice on them or see the list by clicking here.

Still working at the other end …

… of the St. Lawrence Seaway system. René Beauchamp took this photo of the Bluebill and Federal Leda on February 15, 2016 while they were anchored off Sorel-Tracy, about 50 miles from Montreal, on the St Lawrence River. Bluebill (left) has waited to go up the river to load grain at Elevator 4 in Montreal since January 23. Federal Leda (right) has a cargo of sugar and will eventually go to section 46  to unload. Her fleetmate Federal Sutton is there now. The Seaway is closed now, but will reopen on March 23. Thank you René for sharing the pictures and information with us at this end.

Whitefish Bay ice stops shipping on Lake Superior

Check out this slideshow from Reuters

Great Lakes Ice Coverage slipping away

from (Petoskey is a town on the north east shore of Lake Michigan)

Posted: Monday, March 16, 2015 1:19 pm

Mark Johnson (989)

NORTHERN MICHIGAN — It appears spring is finally here and with the end to another brutal winter comes the end of another year of extensive Great Lakes ice coverage.

According to George Leshkevich, physical scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, total Great Lakes ice coverage peaked Feb. 28 at approximately 88.7 percent combined among the five lakes.

Though some of the lakes — Erie, Huron and Superior — approached almost complete ice cover, the total of 88.7 percent fell short of the ice coverage mark set last year on March 6, and approximately 6 percent short of the record set in 1979 at 94.7 percent.

“The way things are going now, we are looking at an earlier breakup and an earlier ice-off date (compared to 2014),” Leshkevich said. “Last year was extreme.”

According to statistics compiled by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, out of all of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie reached the highest ice coverage percent at 98.09 percent on Feb. 18.

Lake Ontario also experienced its peak ice coverage Feb. 18, when 82.6 percent of the lake was covered in ice.

Coming in at No. 2 for highest total ice coverage was Lake Huron, recording an ice coverage of 96.28 percent on March 6.

Lakes Superior and Michigan both reached their maximum ice coverage Feb. 28, with Lake Michigan recording 72.8 percent ice coverage and Lake Superior 95.5 percent.

Since reaching those numbers, warmer temperatures and larger amounts of sunlight among other factors have began to break up the large quantities of ice.

“It is going down now,” Leshkevich said in regard to the melting ice. “Even if we get another cold snap, it would have to be really cold for really long to turn things around.”

Leshkevich said the ice coverage patterns this year are about normal, as the lower Great Lakes — Erie and Ontario — typically reach maximum ice coverage between the middle and end of February, while the upper Great Lakes — Michigan, Superior and Huron — usually reach peak ice coverage sometime during the first half of March.

Unless there is another cold spell, the ice cover should continue to melt as spring approaches, unlike 2014 when Leshkevich said some amount of ice cover remained on Lake Superior until June 6.

But with the unpredictable Michigan weather patterns, Leshkevich said anything is possible.

“Things could still turn around,” he said. “Cold weather could prolong (the ice cover).”

Follow @Mark_JohnsonGHT on Twitter.

Last trip for the Tregurtha this year

Sometimes in the winter, the hardest thing for a boat to do is make a dock; even if the course thru the ice is not much of a problem. A 1,000 footer weighs a lot and can brush aside a lot of loose ice as it goes thru the harbor. Moving all 1,013 feet up against a dock is another story. Loose ice, easy to go thru in open water, compresses as the vessel moves closer to the dock; a tug is often needed to not only break up the ice but also flush the ice away from the dock, leaving room for the boat to move up against the dock and tie up. If the ice is not cleared, the vessel does not make the dock. Here, after coming under the Lift Bridge and moving up the harbor, the Paul R. Tregurtha points her bow to the dock, allowing a deck hand to drop down to the dock to secure the bow. The rest of the boat slowly closes toward the dock, carefully, and often with the help of a tug, pushing the loose ice out of the way. You can see the tug at the far right, moving out of the way after breaking up the ice. That was at 1 pm on Sunday, January 11, 2015. After taking on fuel at Calumet, she then moved over to Midwest Energy to load her last cargo of coal of the season. She left at 4:56 the next morning with 66,000 tons of coal for Detroit Edison. Another trip here was planned but has apparently been canceled, making this her last and 41st visit this season. Last year, without a late start due to ice, the Tregurtha was here 49 times.

American Integrity in for winter layup

The American Integrity was the first of 6 vessels coming here for winter layup. She arrived this morning, January 7, 2015 around 11:30.

Winter layup, Duluth Superior, January, 2015

Location Vessel Arrival Date Carrier
Port Terminal Berth 1 Edwin H. Gott Canceled for Twin Ports GLF/ Key Lakes
Port Terminal Berth 6 American Integrity 1/7/2015 American Steamship
Midwest Energy Mesabi Miner 1/19/2015 Interlake Steamship
Fraser Shipyards Kaye E. Barker 1/12/2015 Interlake Steamship
Fraser Shipyards John G. Munson due 1/20/2015 GLF/ Key Lakes
Enbridge Dock Indiana Harbor 1/17/2015 American Steamship

Federal Mattawa, why so long!

The Federal Mattawa has been at anchor off the Duluth piers since May 19th. With all other salt water vessels at the start of the season, she was delayed by ice and a pilot shortage when the season first began. She arrived in Montreal at the beginning of the St. Lawrence Seaway system on April 21. She made it to Hamilton to discharge some cargo on April 26. She left there on May 7, likely delayed there by ice. She arrived in Thunder Bay anchorage on May 8 and finally arrived to the Duluth anchorage on May 19. Several ships have joined her from time to time. They left and she stayed. Above, the Vancouverborg, is in front, then the Apollon, and the Federal Mattawa. Below still with the Apollon and below, she shines bright, alone in the sun and ice.
Why the delay? In part, this is still catching up from the delays caused by ice in the seaway. She is waiting for grain to arrive in port by train, and rail cars are in short supply. This is her 3rd trip to the Twin Ports. On her first trip, in August, 2007, she loaded bentonite and the second trip, in May, 2008, she loaded grain, as she will this trip whenever the grain arrives.

Have some ice with your salt water ships

We didn’t have a lot of ship traffic today (Memorial Day, May 26, 2014) but we had 2 salt water vessels sitting in the ice field just beyond the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge. In back, the Federal Mattawa has been at anchor for over a week. In front, the Apollon had been at anchor for sometime. Then last Friday evening, she came in from the anchorage to load durum wheat for Ravenna, Italy, a port on the north eastern coast of Italy, on the Adriatic Sea. They finished that and went back to the anchorage to wait for a pilot be become available, probably early this evening. We send a lot of wheat to Italy, and not surprisingly, it will eventually be used for pasta. The next time you are eating pasta in Italy, it might have come from Minnesota. The Apollon was built in 1996 as the Spring Laker. This is her 3rd trip to the Twin Ports. Last November, she was here to load bentonite. Her home port is in Athens, Greece where the ship’s officers live. The crew is from the Philippines.

Happy Memorial Day from Duluth

Top, the Federal Mattawa waits in the ice to load grain. Likewise, just below her (in the picture) is the Greek owned Apollon (the officers are  Greek; the crew is from the Philippines). The Vancouverborg, below them, is getting the hell out, with a cargo of beet pulp pellets for Greenore, Ireland, a deep water port on the Irish Sea. The port is privately owned, the town has a population of 898 people (in 2002) and it is famous for whiskey with the same name. There must be animals somewhere since beet pulp pellets are normally used for animal feed,  and are not known to be an ingredient in whiskey. Click any picture to see the ice better or the Google Earth map which locates Greenore.

Boland back in service today

The John J. Boland departing today (May 17, 2014) is one happy result of the delayed start to the shipping season. The Boland came in for winter layup on January 12th, 2013 and has been sitting at Fraser Shipyards in Superior until today when she was called back into service to help with the backlog of cargo. She left under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge this afternoon, on her way to Silver Bay to load iron ore pellets for hungry steel mills on the lower lakes.  She will discharge the pellets at the Cleveland Bulk Terminal at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. Those pellets will be loaded into smaller, river boats and carried to steel mills up river.
The saltwater vessel Apollon sits at anchor just beyond the Lift Bridge surrounded by the ice that refuses to melt.

Convoy here, three at a time

Above, the Hon James L. Oberstar came in at 12:20, April 30, 2014. Right behind her was the Cason J. Callaway, and then the Thunder Bay

A season like no other

Click on any picture to see a larger version

katmaibay20140409-080This is what I think, but don’t bet on it. The Presque Isle left here on March 22th with a partial load of pellets and I think loaded pellets at Two Harbors and then tried to get to the other end of Lake Superior but had ice trouble and came back here for repairs, arriving on March 29th still with her pellets. Some of those pellets were off loaded into the American Spirit, which had not yet left Duluth. She offloaded pellets to make repairs easier. The American Spirit left here on April 7th with pellets loaded from the Presque Isle. She went to Two Harbors to load pellets and then came back this morning (above) with both loads of pellets. To wait, I presume.
Back on March 24th the Mackinaw, Katmai Bay and Morro Bay arrived Duluth and left here on March 26th. Two days later, on March 28th, the Alder arrived Duluth with an ice-wounded Morro Bay lashed to her side with the Katmai Bay leading them under the Lift Bridge.
convoy Several days later, the Katmai Bay departed to return to ice breaking duties while the Morro Bay stayed here for repairs to her rudder. That happened early this week and she left but did not go very far away. The Katmai Bay returned to Duluth this morning, April 9th  (above), and the Morro Bay was back at the DECC with the Katmai Bay by late this afternoon.
Meanwhile at the other end of the Lake, late this afternoon, the Canadian ice breaker Pierre Radisson left the Soo leading a convoy of boats trying to get to Duluth (Click on the the map above). The Mackinaw was going to be with the convoy but as I write this, she was still at the Soo.
t1140981646LakeSuperior143250m-ps So here is my guess. When the convoy arrives here, perhaps on Thursday or Friday, we will have 5 ice breakers here, counting the Alder. All of a sudden, we will/may have a bunch of boats here to load cargo and then go back out to the lake, I would guess with the help of some of our flotilla of ice breakers. And presumably the American Spirit came back and is waiting to be a part of that convey. Or Not!
You can find the satellite images here: Just click on MODIS Imagery; Great Lakes MODIS True Color; and then select the lake you want, such as Superior

Morro Bay gets local help

The US Coast Guard cutter Alder brought her sister ship, Morro Bay, into port last night with damage to her rudder. They docked at the DECC and this morning (March 29, 2014), divers from a local company, J. Norick & Sons, were there to assess the damage. Actually, the rudder itself was apparently not damaged, but all but one of the bolts holding it to the ship were broken off while breaking ice. Today, they were checking the damage. Probably later today, the ship will be towed to Fraser Shipyard to complete repairs. New, 2 inch bolts are being made locally and will probably be ready for use early next week. The Katmai Bay is also here; my guess is she will tow the Morro Bay to Fraser but I am not sure of that.

Ice is not nice to ships

The US Coast Guard cutter Morro Bay left here a week ago and today (March 28, 2014), she was towed back to port by the Alder after sustaining damage to her rudder while breaking ice. Outside the Duluth piers, they lashed the Morro Bay to the side of the Alder for the trip through the ship canal. The Katmai Bay, also here a week ago, led them in to port. The Presque Isle is also coming back to Duluth to repair damage to her hull caused by the ice.

Callaway, first departure for 2014


NBC News comes to Duluth to see ice

samira03122014222The long, cold, snowy, icy winter has attracted a lot of attention this ‘spring.’ We humans may have seen the worst of it but March brings out the next victims, the big ships that start every season in the Great Lakes battling ice. For better or worse, at this time every year, Duluth gets her fair share of attention, sitting as we do, at the western end of the lakes and just south of our border with Canada. It attracted the attention of NBC News, that is, NBC News with Brian Williams. nbcnewsNot long after, Samira Puska, NBC News producer working out of Chicago (above, right), found herself heading up a team to come to Duluth to ‘get the story.’ After days and days of below zero temperatures, she and her team arrived in Duluth on a bright sunny day with the temperature in the 50’s. Photographically speaking, this is not Duluth at her best; big piles of dirty snow, water water everywhere as the high temps started kicking down winter’s leftovers and sending the whole mess into the sewers.Samira and her team talked to some ice fishermen and they then found their way into my office. Of course, the ice fishermen filled them in with most of the story since they sit on a chair on the ice, and drop a line into the water. Water and ice and something to eat; what else did they need.
The Alder took them out to see the ice on Wednesday morning, March 12, 2014. After a turn or two in front of the Lift Bridge (above), they went down the Superior channel and out into Lake Superior.
I told them anything else they needed to know about ice on Lake Superior, then suggested they go home write the story and send it to my old friend Brian in New York. Brian could introduce the story, move next to the fisherman for a minute or so and then maybe 5 or 10 minutes with me to finish it off. nbcnews03122014212
They had other plans. Turns out they were talking to a lot of other people around town. I talked to them on Tuesday afternoon, March 11, when the temperature was over 50 degrees. Happily for them, it dropped into the single digits when they boarded the Alder for their trip out into the lake the next morning. As you can see here, I went over to welcome Samira and her 3 team members just behind her, when they walked off the Alder.

Alder turns ice into water!

This  video was taken March 10, 2014, and is a little less polished than others but I wanted to get it posted quickly.

Ice? How about blue water!

I took the pictures in the post below this post with my phone on the Alder and then emailed them to Holly in Arizona. She posted them here. Just below are pictures I took aboard the Alder today (Monday, March 10. 2014. (Click a pic for a larger version)
The Alder performed well making the first trip of the season under the Lift Bridge and into Lake Superior. Only once in the 7.5 mile trip into the lake was she stopped in the ice. Above, the V-shaped mark in the ice is where the bow of the ship was stopped. We are now backing and getting to ram the ice again. Called backing and ramming, after a couple of those, we were back on track.
Above, we return from the land of sky blue waters to the cold cruel northland. The Alder returns from Lake Superior after finding blue water 7.5 miles out, as far as the eye could see.

Going home

Dan Rau took this picture on Wednesday (March 5, 2014), as the Alder was returning from a long day breaking ice. While following the path she opened on the way out,  you can notice the ship has moved to the right so she can widen the original  path for the next trip. (click pic to enlarge)

Ice is not nice and it is everywhere

In 18 years,  I fear I have been wrong every time I made any predictions about ice on Lake Superior. But I don’t let things like that stop me. Here are some pictures I took on Sunday, March 2, 2014. The temperature last night was –14, it is 5 this afternoon and it will be –15 tonight, about average for the last 3 weeks!! I see no open water, first time this winter; even below the Bridge. On Lake Michigan, the Traverse City Record reported that in a matter of days at the end of February, ice coverage on Lake Michigan shrank from about 60 percent of the lake to 30 percent!! So don’t predict the ice, predict the wind. I understand the Alder will break out of its winter moorings and break some ice in the harbor and maybe in the lake on Tuesday. As a favor to the crew on the Alder, I predict they will have problems even getting away from their dock. I base  my prediction not on the wind, but on the obvious observation that if it has been this cold for so long, water freezes. We shall see.
The Cason J. Callaway has not moved since she took up residence at the Port Terminal on January 22nd, just as I predicted.

Lake Superior Ice, not 100% covered

Water and Ice

We are still looking for all ice at this end of the Lake. Below, top to bottom, the Cason J. Callaway, the Presque Isle and the St. Clair seem happy enough.

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.

The ice is bad now; check out the fun in 2003

March, 2003 seemed like the beginning of a normal Duluth spring, just like this past spring also seemed pretty normal. Above, the Sundew broke away from her winter moorings on March 12th, 2003. Below, the Mackinaw arrived on the 20th.
Above, the Frontenac arrived on March 29, the first boat to transit the entire Seaway on her way to Duluth. There was ice but it was pretty loose.The shipping season was well under way with 8 boats going under the bridge in March, an average number.  On April 1, 2003, the Walter J. McCarthy Jr. departed.The next day, we had an east wind of 33 mph with gusts to 40 mph. The next day, the wind was up to 40 mph with gusts to 52, all still from the east.
On April 3, the Indiana Harbor started to depart the port, but could not get her bow to the end of the piers. She made several attempts but eventually backed away.
Later that day, you could still see where the bow of the Indiana Harbor was stopped (above).
A full scale assault was planned for Saturday, April 5th. The best ice breaker on the Great Lakes, the Canadian Coast Guard’s Samuel Risley arrived. The goal was to get the Indiana Harbor (below left center) and the Arthur M. Anderson (center right) on their way. The Risley would attack the Duluth ice field while the Sundew would work on the Superior entry.
We (I was on the Sundew) went over to do our part and open up the Superior channel. We arrived (below) and went out into the lake to meet up with the Risley. Earlier, the Risley had reported that they took one charge at the ice pack in front of the Duluth ship canal and could not budge it a bit. They announced to us that we would have to wait for either the wind or spring to move or melt the ice. Meanwhile, as the Risley was coming over to our side, the Sundew became stopped in the ice; she couldn’t move. I still can’t get over our good fortune; to get stopped in the ice just as the Great Lakes best ice breaker was arriving. The Risley did a couple circles around the Sundew and we were good to go.
Sundew Commander, Beverly Havlik then called the Captains of the Anderson and the Indiana Harbor and invited them to come with us and check out the Superior entry before they decided to use it.
They pronounced the Superior entry ready to go and we returned them to their boats and waited for them to depart. It was decided that the Anderson, because of her more angled bow, would go first and the Indiana Harbor would follow her out. (This past weekend, the Anderson was also discussed as a better candidate to break open the Duluth ship channel; the Tregurtha’s bow is noticeably rounded, making her not a great icebreaker.)
Above, the Anderson departs, and below we see the Indiana Harbor, with an assist form the tug North Dakota, departing.
The next day (April 6th), the Risley and the Sundew met in the Duluth Harbor and exchanged crews so each could learn a little bit about the other ship.
Three days later, the Duluth ship canal was still blocked up and the imprint of the Indiana Harbor bow from 6 days earlier was still there. Below, life still went on, with all traffic using the Superior entry. Below, the Menominee arrived with wood pulp to discharge at the Port Terminal.
No one can really predict what ice and wind can do together. The Duluth ship channel opened for the Morro Bay on April 14th but closed back up shortly after her arrival.
We had two ice breakers docked at the DECC on April 21st, waiting for the biggest ice breaker of them all, Spring, to arrive.
And behold, later that day, the Walter J. McCarthy Jr. the last boat to depart Duluth before the big wind closed us up, became the first boat to depart once spring, or who knows what, opened up the canal, and for good. (I am writing this on April 15, 2013. On that day in 2003, we were still 6 days away from the 21st.

Still moving, very slowly

Note: this post is in chronological order, earliest pictures first
With help from the Great Lakes tug North Carolina, the CSL Tadoussac departed Duluth this morning (April 15, 2013) around 8:25.
Next, the North Carolina was off to help the Indiana Harbor.
A little later, the Birchglen arrived and slowly made her way under the Lift Bridge on her way to load coal at Midwest Energy Resources in Superior.


Click picture above to see boat names better

Where did this come from?

4:45: the Tregurtha called the tug North Carolina in for the day. It appears that all boats will wait until morning when they hope the Alder will be able to open up a wider track.
The Paul R. Tregurtha asked the tug North Carolina to check the ice between the piers. The tug is able to move through it but not easily. (2:38 pm)
2:45: The Tregurtha has asked the North Carolina to check the Superior channel; the Duluth entry does not look promising. The Alder may be called.
2:48: tug is having trouble in the Superior channel also, but still trying
Pictures taken at 1 pm, Friday, April 12, 2013.

Watch the Mackinaw azipods in action

The Mackinaw has a unique method to break open large ice fields

Mackinaw breaks ice in Duluth

The US Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw left her moorings at the DECC at 9 am this morning (March 17, 2013) to break ice in the Duluth Superior harbor. She returned to the DECC around 11:30, dropped some folks off, and then went under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge on her way to Whitefish Point at the other end of Lake Superior.

Alder goes out in the lake

The Coast Guard cutter Alder covered all the bases today (March 13, 2013), first going under the Lift Bridge and to the edge of the ice sheet, about 5 1/2 miles out. The ship made quick work of the ice, easily breaking open a track and then coming back in to break up more ice in the Superior channel to the BN dock and then up the St. Louis River just beyond the winter moorings of the Mesabi Miner at Midwest Energy. We then went into Howard’s Pocket, approaching the Roger Blough. Video probably tomorrow.
To the edge and now back in, following the track laid on the way out.
The American Spirit (above) is spending the winter at Elevator M in Superior. (Seen as we went out the Superior channel)
Above, the Indiana Harbor was just a bit further down the channel. Below, we turned around after getting to the BNSF dock.
We then moved up the St. Louis River, passing by the Mesabi Miner, wintering at Midwest Energy Resources.
We then turned into Howard’s Pocket, the back door to Fraser Shipyards in Superior. Above, we will approach the Roger Blough, just to the left of center above. She is seen again as we get closer below.
We left an Alder bow print in the ice, as we backed out. Distances are deceiving in these pictures, we were closer than the picture above seems to indicate. Below, we are backing away, about to go under the Blatnik Bridge.

Spring has sprung

… and the Alder didn’t seem to have any trouble breaking the ice around her this morning (March 11, 2013) when she pulled away from her moorings, the first vessel to move in the port this new season.

Winter in Duluth: Is it fun?


Click to see new video looking back at the winter (spring?) of 2007

More ice breaking videos:
March 9, 2011; watch the Alder break ice in Duluth
January 9, 2008: Alder out breaking ice as last boats come in for layup
January 6, 2008: The ice breaker Biscayne Bay in DuluthNote: the Biscayne Bay will NOT be here to help the Alder break ice on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Alder will be breaking ice in the harbor and perhaps out in the Lake on Monday.

That was then …


and this is now: For immediate release: Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Duluth, MN. —U.S. Coast Guard Station Duluth is issuing a warning that the unusually warm temperatures observed this year have greatly increased the possibility of weakened ice.
"Ice conditions are deteriorating rapidly, major wet cracks and ice breaks have been recognized the last few days, with forecasted temps climbing to the high 30’s, this will only accelerate weakening ice " said Boatswains Mate Third Class Matthew Murphy, Coast Guard Station Duluth, MN.
The combination of warmer temperatures and shifting winds has caused extremely hazardous ice conditions in the St Louis River. The Coast Guard cautions those ice fishing and transiting on the ice due to the unpredictability of the ice breaking apart. (Picture taken on February 17th, 2007.)

First ice and a breaker!

That is the Coast Guard cutter Biscayne Bay docked behind the DECC. Coincidently (??), the first ice of the season is just in front of her. I am entertaining captions for the picture. She has been here many times to help us fight the ice. Go to the Biscayne Bay page to see more pictures of her life and times while in Duluth Superior and a video from some years back.

The Snowless blizzard

Take a look at our latest variation in weather in Duluth; always something different.

Barker starts off the new season

The James R. Barker departed Duluth on Thursday afternoon, March 17, 2011, with 58,000 tons of coal for Presque Isle, Michigan. As you can see below, she wasted no time making her right turn to Michigan. The video follows the Barker as she appeared in the harbor after going under the Blatnik Bridge and around the John G. Munson, docked at the Port Terminal on winter layup (the Barker was docked at the Midwest Energy Resources dock in Superior, where she loaded her cargo of coal). The video then shows her passing both the Roger Blough and the American Century on her way to the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge. After blowing her whistle, she moved under the bridge and out into Lake Superior. Spring has sprung! (although note the large amount of ice blown up against the shore just to the left of the North Pier Light.)

Watch the CG cutter Alder break the ice in Duluth

If this is what they call snow in Alabama

what do they call football? I presume that Jill shoveled off 5 or 6 inches of the snow so we could see her beautiful sidewalk.

A sure sign of winter:

When the Coast Guard starts Operation Taconite, their effort through out the Great Lakes to keep the shipping channels free of ice. The project started today (Monday, December 6, 2010). In an announcement made today, they said:
Initially, only one Coast Guard icebreaker will be assigned to Operation Taconite.  Coast Guard Cutter Katmai Bay, homeported in Sault Sainte Marie, has been ordered to make its way west towards Duluth, Minn., to provide ice breaking services while Coast Guard Cutter Alder is underway working aids to navigation.  Additional Coast Guard ice breakers will join the operation in the coming days and weeks.
The Katmai Bay is a 140 foot Bay-class Icebreaking Tug. In the picture above, the Katmai Bay is seen entering the Duluth Ship Canal on October 21st, 2005.

Click here for more information about the Alder

Lee A. Tregurtha still fighting ice

Seven boats are expected to arrive in the Twin Ports today. The Lee A. Tregurtha, arriving earlier this morning to load coal, will be the only departure, probably later this morning. The last time the Tregurtha departed Duluth, on April 1st, it got stopped in the ice sheet just off the Duluth piers. The Alder was out to help but a west wind, late in the day, blew the ice away and the boat continued on its way. The Tregurtha was built in 1942 as an ocean tanker and was used in the Atlantic to refuel allied boats in the Second World War. Battle ribbons from the war are displayed on the side of the pilot house.
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 04-27-2009

Moving the Mackinaw along

mackinawpodsbeforelaunch250401-124The Mackinaw is propelled through the water by two Finnish azipods at the stern of the ship. An azipod is a propeller mounted on a pod that can be rotated 360 degrees to control the movement and direction of the ship. I took the photo at the right just before the ship was launched. You can see the two azipods in the picture turned toward each other, something I don’ think would happen under normal circumstances. Both pods are independently controlled from the pilot house; each of the two handles with the red stripes in the picture below controls one of the pods. In normal conditions, the pods are computer controlled. Manual control is use in tighter situations perhaps near a dock, or another ship, or breaking ice in a river. These along with bow thrusters at the other end of the ship, give the ship exceptional maneuverability. The pods can be turned toward the ship allowing the ship to go in reverse as easily and as fast as going forward. That is sometimes used when breaking ice.

mackinawpodcontrols20090403_4393They can also “walk the ship sideways” using both pods and the thrusters. They have received some strange looks when seen from the shore moving sideways in a channel. This is often done to give them a wider berth when they are trying to clear out broken ice.

Lots of ice, lots of boats

Thursday April 2: The Walter J. McCarthy Jr., the Edwin H. Gott and the Edward L. Ryerson were set to depart on Wednesday evening. If they did not make it, they will probably try today.  The Lee A. Tregurtha made it to Two Harbors last night, the Gott should be there some time today. Both are there to load iron ore pellets.Very cold temperatures in December suggested we could have a tough spring fighting thick ice to get the season moving. The ice never seemed to be as bad as those cold temperatures suggested. Turns out the other end of the deal, when the ice starts to break up in the spring, might cause more problems. The severe east winds on Tuesday pushed a lot of ice, much of it broken up, right to the Duluth shore line, although not into the ship canal. The Lee A. Tregurtha was the first to find out about the problem, departing Duluth around 9:15 am and getting stopped in the ice not long after that. The Alder went out to help. Around 11 am, the Alpena was approaching the bridge and pulled up, deciding to wait. The picture shows the Alpena waiting in the water. It is not very often one sees a boat at that spot and not moving. The boat should have stayed. It decided to go out around 2:30 in the afternoon and not much beyond the piers; it too was stopped in the ice. Late in the afternoon, a west wind eased the ice jam. The Lee A. Tregurtha did get to Two Harbors, the Alpena was on the way home, and there was open water in front of the Duluth piers at 7 pm last night. The Alder left for Lake Michigan and an expected trip to Duluth by the Mackinaw was canceled. However, the Biscayne Bay left for Duluth last night from Thunder Bay. It will be here later today after a stop in Two Harbors to break a little ice.
*submitted to the Duluth News Tribune for publication on 04-02-2009

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)

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

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

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

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