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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20090511_5577The 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.
Above, she arrives under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge on May 11, 2009
The Walter J. McCarthy, Jr. departs under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge on December 20, 2016 on her way to deliver coal she just loaded at Midwest Energy Resources to Presque Isle, Michigan.
Above, the McCarthy departed Duluth on September 19, 2015; below on September 27, 2015
Above, she arrived Duluth on July 29, 2013
Above and below, she departed Duluth on August 5, 2013
Above, she is at her winter layup berth in Superior, on February 13, 2012; below, she is arriving Duluth April 10, 2012 on her first trip back to the Twin Ports after layup,  coming in to load coal at Midwest Energy.
Above, she is loading iron ore pellets at the Two Harbors dock while the John J. Boland waits her turn to do the same thing. Nick Stenstrup took both pictures.
The tug North Carolina is pulling the McCarthy away from her winter layup dock at Hallet #8 in Superior on April 8, 2008. The tug Kentucky worker her stern. Upon arriving for layup on January 14th, she hit a submerged object, receiving significant damage.
I took the picture above on May 5, 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. Below, seagulls signal her arrival at the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge on May 15.
Above, she is loading coal at Midwest Energy Resources on October 22, 2006; below, she departs Duluth on December 9.
Above, she brings some ice to Duluth on January 5th; below she departs July 1 in much better weather
Thousand footers always attract a crowd, as the McCarthy in the photo, above, taken  July 31st, 2005. Below she was the first boat to come under the Lift Bridge after the Vlieborg crashed into the side of the pier just in front of our office on August 24th, 2005.
Above, she loads coal at her usual place at Midwest Energy Resources in Superior. She will take the coal to Detroit Edison power plants. Detroit Edison owns Midwest Energy. Below, a couple hours later, she left Duluth to take her cargo to Detroit.
2005calendarportauthorityI 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.
Above, she arrives Duluth on August 1; below, she arrives under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge on November 3.
The McCarthy is closely watched as she departed the Duluth ship canal on April 21, 2003
Above, she sits at her winter layup  berth at the Port Terminal
Above, she is loading coal at Midwest Energy Resources in Superior on April 26, 2002; a little later, she is departing Duluth with coal for Detroit Edison.
Above, she made a rare trip to the Burlington Northern dock in Superior to load iron ore pellets on May 3, 2001; below, she leads the Vista King out the Duluth ship canal on July 4, 2001
Above and below, she is departing Duluth on September 12, 2001; above approaching the Lift Bridge, below, just passing under the bridge.
The children in the 4th grades at Homecroft School made a visit to the Walter J. McCarthy Jr. on May 2, 2000 while she was loading coal at Midwest Energy in Superior. Here two of them hear all about the ship from First Mate Bill Stirton. In the back, Third mate Alan Flood looks on. In the right of the picture, you can see Channel 4 Photojournalist Dave Stokes getting tape for the evening news.
Above, the McCarthy arrives Duluth on June 17, 1999; below, she is turning the corner to move up the Duluth harbor after coming under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge on November 2, 1999.


  1. Denny Dushane says:

    To Kenneth Newhams and anyone else that reads and follows this. As of yesterday June 12, 2016 the Walter J. McCarthy Jr. “no longer has the familiar blue unloading rig or whatever it is referred to as or called anymore.” In viewing and looking at the images from the Soo Locks web cameras, that blue thing that the McCarthy has had below its pilothouse since its construction as the Belle River in 1977 has now been completely painted over and is all white! So, the next time that anyone sees or views the Walter J. McCarthy Jr. you may want to take note of that change that below its pilothouse, it is no longer painted blue as it used to be for many seasons. Also below its pilothouse it would have the logo for ASC or American Steamship Co. similar to the logo flown on their house flag with a big A. Well, those logos have also since been removed as well on its pilothouse. Just thought that I’d let folks know on the changes!

  2. 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.

  3. susan burry says:

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

  4. 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.

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

    Thanks, Tom

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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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