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This spring has been one of the most exciting in decades for following the opening of the shipping season on Lake Superior. The Soo Locks opened on April 25th but have yet to see a cargo ship going though the Locks. A number of Coast Guard Cutters have gone through as they attempt to open the ice on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

Normally intra-lake shipping starts before the locks open. This year was no exception. The first two ships to leave Duluth were the Presque Isle and the Cason J. Callaway. They sailed to Two Harbors to load Taconite. We watched the Callaway as it entered Two Harbors.Cason-J.-Callaway-Two-Harbors-14-3-_1907

A few days later we watched as the tugs in Superior Harbor attempted to break the John G. Munson out of the ice to get the season going. It was an all day Task.Nels-J,-Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_2043

Early on the morning of March 26th the U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Morro Bay, Katmai Bay and Mackinaw left Duluth to lead a convoy of ships to the Soo Locks.

The convoy picked up the Cason J. Callaway just outside of Two Harbors and it picked up the Presque Isle near Grand Portage. The John G. Munson was still loading in Two Harbors when the convoy went by. The Munson caught up to the slow moving convey several days later outside of Thunder Bay.

In the last few days the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw has been joined by the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Pierre Radisson to help break a path to the Soo Locks. As of this writing the convoy is off of Whitefish Point. Unfortunately they are encountering ice that is six feet thick with pressure ridges over twelve feet thick.

This spring I’ve watched the convey of ships mentioned above as they have attempted to reach the Soo Locks. They Left of March 26th and finally reached the locks on April 3rd. I’ve documented some of their problems in an earlier blog.

I have also been following a group of ships that are currently anchored in the Straits of Mackinac waiting to transit the Soo Locks for Lake Superior. They are waiting for the downbound convey to come through the Locks from Lake Superior. The Edwin H. Gott, Stewart J. Cort, Roger Blough have been waiting for about a week and they were joined a few days ago by the Sam Laud.

Unfortunately it is impossible to follow the ships, in person once, they are out on the lake. But, thanks to the internet, it is possible to follow their progress online as they move around the Great Lakes. In an earlier blog I described how I follow the ships so I can be on hand to photograph them as they exit or enter a port near me I’ve been using some of the same tools to watch as the ships attempt to transit the ice covered Great Lakes.

The first place I check is on MarineTraffic.com. This typically gives me the locations of the ships on the Great Lakes. This spring I’ve noticed that does not always show all of the ships. I’m not sure why but part of it may be dead areas in AIS (Automatic Identification System) coverage. Since the ships are taking a northerly route to and from the Soo Locks to Duluth they go up the North Shore of Minnesota to Thunder Bay then along the north shore of the Lake near the Canadian border. There seems to be a lack of AIS coverage near Michipicoten Island. I have also been checking the AIS/Marine Information from Thunder Bay. Sometimes this site is following a ship I can’t find on Marine Traffic. Recently I discovered BoatNerds and have been using the vessel passage link on BoatNerds as another source to see where the boats are located. BoatNerds also has a companion Facebook page.

One thing I’ve learned this spring when following ships on Marine Traffic is that you need to zoom in on the ship icons to show the ships in great detail. For example when you look at Lake Superior as a whole you may see an icon for a single ship. If you zoom in you may find that the one ship is a convey of ships. This problem occurs because the ships are very close together. This spring most ships, including the ice breakers, have part of a convoy.

In addition to following the ships in the AIS sites I also check several other sites for information on shipping. BoatNerds is a great place to follow what is happening with Lake Superior shipping. Just click on the news channel link. The news is updated daily and includes photos. I always check the Duluth Shipping News website. They have been covering the spring shipping problems with photos of activities in the Duluth Harbor.

This is definitely a fun activity while waiting for spring.

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