Wilfred Sykes

 Walter J. McCarthy Jr.

Wilfred Sykes was built in 1949, is 678 feet long and flies a U.S. flag

William A. Irvin
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The Wilfred Sykes was built by Inland Steel in 1949 in Lorain, Ohio. At 678 feet long, she was, when launched, the longest boat on the Great Lakes, setting many cargo records in her first year of operation. She received a new paint job just before the 2016 season, hopefully a good sign for her continued work on the Great Lakes.
Picture above taken Monday, December 22, 1997 while she departed Duluth. All pictures below taken by Kari Ann David in Sturgeon Bay.
The Sykes, along with the Edward L. Ryerson and the Joseph L. Block were all initially a part of the Inland Steel fleet, which was founded in 1893 when Philip Block bought the Chicago Steel Works. Joseph L. Block held many high offices in Inland Steel. He was chairman of the board from 1959 until he retired in 1967.

Wilfred Sykes was president of Inland Steel from 1941 until he retired in 1949. Edward Ryerson was president of Joseph T. Ryerson and Sons when it was merged with Inland Steel in 1935. From 1940 until he retired in 1953, he was chairman of the board of Inland Steel.

As for Inland Steel, they were bought in 1998 by Ispat International, a company based in the Netherlands. Another foreign company, Mittal Steel, bought them a couple years later. The Jones Act does not allow foreign companies to operate US flagged vessels and these three boats came along with the rest of Inland Steel when they bought the company.
Like all laws, there are ways to get around the Jones act but it makes figuring out who owns a boat a lot more difficult than it already is. When Ispat bought Inland Steel, the three boats were sold, or loaned or leased to an American Company, Indiana Harbor Steamship Company. Another US company Central Marine Logistics operates the fleet. Apparently, that satisfies the requirements of the Jones Act. (Both companies share the same address in Griffith, Indiana, a port located on the southern end of Lake Michigan, just east of Chicago.)
In 1953, she rescued crew members when the Henry Steinbrenner sank, and she was one of the boats that went out searching for the Edmund Fitzgerald when she sank in 1975.
thenightthefitzwentdown201110-100Captain Dudley Paquette was the skipper on the Sykes on that fateful November day in 1975 when the Edmund Fitzgerald went down in Whitefish Bay.  The Skyes loaded just opposite the Fitzgerald at the Burlington Northern terminal. Captain Paquette trailed the Fitz but, noticing that his weather charts indicated a ferocious storm on the way, took refuge from the storm at Thunder Bay, and lived to tell his very interesting and provocative story 25 years later. The book,“The Night the Fitz Went Down,” written by Hugh Bishop in 2000,  is a very interesting read that was written with the active cooperation of Paquette and details his theories why the Fitz went down.
The Sykes was the first American-built Great Lakes vessel to be built after the Second World War. Her cruising range is 4,500 miles. She has 18 hatches which feed into 6 compartments and can hold 21,500 tons of cargo, the first Great Lakes vessel with that much capacity. She has dual bow anchors of 12,000 pounds each and a stern anchor of 10,000 pounds. She still carries mostly iron ore pellets

Many consider the Sykes to be the first of the modern lakers. She was converted to a self-unloader in 1975 at Fraser Shipyards in Superior and was the first vessel to have it mounted on the stern. Since then, all vessels have the self-unloading equipment mounted on the stern.

Wilfred Sykes was president of Inland Steel; he retired in 1949 and they names this boat after himWilfred Sykes was president of Inland Steel. He  retired in 1949 and they named this boat after him. Sykes was president of Inland Steel Company from 1941 to 1949. He was born in New Zealand and educated in Australia. After working on engineering projects in South Africa and Germany, he came to the US in 1909, working first at Westinghouse Electric Company. He joined Inland Steel in 1923 and supervised the electrification of their steel mills, getting many patents for the inventions he developed to complete that job. He became an authority on industrial electrification and specifically electric welding and wrote many books on the subject


  1. Wow! It looks like the Sykes is coming in this Sunday for Blast Furnace Trim. First trip back here since 2006, such an elusive ship to see on the big lake.

  2. Christian B. says:

    How come she doesn’t come to Duluth anymore?

    • Eric Treece says:

      Hey Christian…….as she is configured right now it is not cost effective to send her to Lake Superior ports unless there is nothing else to haul. Every year once or twice we get word there is a “chance” to go up to Duluth or Two Harbors, but her niche is carrying stone. She hauls stone to 3 mills on the south end of Lake Michigan and the demand is enough to keep her plenty busy keeping up with the supply demand. If she ever gets converted to a diesel it would help with the cost effective side of it, but she’s so firmly planted in the stone trade that even then I think it would be a long shot to get up there. And if anyone wants a trip to Duluth, it’s me. ?

      Best Regards,
      Capt Eric Treece

  3. Fellow sailor here. I race yachts across Huron and Lake Michigan. I am trying to get a lead as to how I can just serve one trip on a freighter such as this one. I am curious about the different ways to travel these wicked lakes. I have been inspired by ‘the living great lakes’ the book. My yacht is Gauntlet in chapter 4. Thanks for any help!

    • The reply is a bit late but your best bet would be to contact Central Marine Logistics out of Burns Harbor Indiana. They own and crew the Sykes and Block.

  4. dan, do you know what year we should be looking for?

    • Hello, I am Dan’s Sister. George Bollum was also my Step Father. I believe he retired in 1981? Prior to that, he was on the boat for years.

  5. I found this site very interesting as I have been trying to find information about my Step Fathers different Boats.My Father worked for the company Inland Steel and I believe he served on the Wilfred Sykes as First Mate his name was George Bollum. Was wondering if you could help me out.Thanks very much.

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