Walter J. McCarthy Jr.

 Vista  Star

… was built in 1977, is 1000 feet long and flies a U.S. flag

Wilfred Sykes
Previous names:
Belle River: 1977-1990
Walter J. McCarthy Jr: 1990-

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The Walter J. McCarthy, Jr. going under the Duluth Aerial Lift BridgeThe Walter J. McCarthy Jr. was built in 1977 by Bay Shipbuilding Company of Sturgeon Bay. She is owned by the American Steamship Company of Buffalo. The McCarthy comes to Duluth/Superior about once a week throughout the shipping season usually loading low-sulfur western coal at the Midwest Energy Resources coal dock in Superior. It takes her about 9 hours to load the boat with coal, which she usually takes to Detroit Edison.
There she unloads it and returns to Superior for more coal. It is about a 5-day round trip. Her original name was Belle River but it was changed to her present name in the spring of 1990 when Mr. McCarthy retired from his position as Chairman of the Board of Detroit Edison, the company that operates Midwest Energy Resources in Superior where the McCarthy usually loads. She made 32 trips to the Twin Ports in the 2012-13 shipping season.
The Walter J. McCarthy, Jr. arriving Duluth for another load of coal
On May 23rd, 2008 (above), the McCarthy goes under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge to load more coal for Detroit Edison.
The Walter J. McCarthy, Jr. alway attracts a crowd when she enters the Duluth ship canal
Thousand footers always attract a crowd, as the McCarthy in the photo above, taken on July31st, 2005.
The crew on the Walter J. McCarthy, Jr. test the lift boat
I took the picture above on May5th, 2007, arriving at the Midwest Energy Resources coal dock in Superior just in time to watch the crew performing a required safety drill with one of their lift boats.
The Walter J. McCarthy, Jr. at the 2004 Duluth Bayfront Blues festival
calendarportauthorityI took the picture above of the McCarthy on Saturday, August 14, during the 2004 Bayfront Blues Festival.  The McCarthy entered stage left as I was looking over the shoulder of New Orleans drummer Bernard “Bunche” Johnson. He was on drums for  John Mooney and his Bluesiana Band. Happily, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority saw it and put it on their calendar the next year. That calendar was in almost every place of business in Duluth. It was fun, for the year, to be able to make small talk anywhere in Duluth, oh, by the way, that is my picture up there. I don’t think I gained anything but it was fun.
The Walter J. McCarthy, Jr. approaching the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge
Two views of the boat, above departing Duluth on September 12, 2001 and below, bringing a load of ice into port on January 5th, 2005.
The Walter J. McCarthy, Jr. brings ice into the Port of Duluth
Above, she is departing Duluth on April 26, 2002. Below, she is loading coal at Midwest Energy Resources in Superior on April 26, 2002.
Below, she is waiting to load iron ore pellets at the BN on September 11, 2002.
Above and below, she is departing Duluth on September 12, 2001; above approaching the Lift Bridge, below, just passing under the bridge.


  1. Has the Walter J sustained some type of damage? Noticed it has been in lay up for quite awhile now. Hope all is well, and that she will be back sailing again soon. Best wishes to the Walter J, and all the ships on the Great Lakes. May they all have calm winds, and fair seas.

    • Blake Nelson says:

      She was in Two Harbors on Sat. 10.03.2015 loading pellets and looked just fine except for a little pait job needed here and there to fix some rust spots on the superstructure, etc.

  2. susan burry says:

    Has the Earl W Oglebay be renamed if so what is her name now?

  3. We were looking out over the water from our hotel room in Duluth, looked away for what seemed like a minute, and then she appeared about 100 yards from the gateway on her way in this morning! Amazing how 1000 footers can sneak up on you.

  4. I would like to be a passenger on one of these ships. Is this somehow possible?

    Thanks, Tom

  5. I know tht this ship normally comes in empty to load western coal, what do some of he other ships haul in and where and how is it used. I see loading iron ore pellet and / or taconite, what is the difference?

    • Gary Gilchrist says:

      Jwold, Taconite is a low grade iron ore simply put. Ships entering Duluth harbor usually come to Duluth empty; however, some carry wind turbine blades etc for distribution to the mid west. Those outgoing are carrying, iron ore(unusual), taconite, coal, timber and wheat from the U. S. and Canada. I lived in Duluth while attending the University of Minnesota Duluth (1963-1967) and vividly remember the very loud fog horns that blew a creepy sound about every 30 seconds that could be heard throughout the city. The horns are no longer heard.

  6. While I was crossing over the Mac. Bridge today, the McCarthy was passing below. An amazing and beautiful sight.

  7. Just saw the McCarthy enter the port from my computer and the webcam at the Inn on Lake Superior — awesome! Never tire of watching these silent beauties enter Duluth.

  8. Donnie Ray says:

    Saw the Walter J depart this afternoon from Duluth. Very impressive to see these 1000 footers up close! Enjoy the Captain’s salute between the Captain of the ship and tender of the aerial lift bridge. Really enjoyed when the captain of the Walter J performed a second salute after passing under the lift bridge. The kids there really enjoy it. Big thank you to my wife(who was born and raised in Cloquet) for putting up with me at Canal Park. We live in Iowa but will be back up there in July!

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