Cason J. Callaway Leaving the Duluth Harbor late in the evening. The photographs were taken from Observation Park in Duluth.
I noticed on the Marine Tracker that the American Century was going to be arriving in Duluth late in the day so my wife and I walked down Canal Park to watch it come in.
It was a beautiful evening so we hung around the waterfront. As we were about to leave we heard the alarm sound indicating the bridge was going up. This time the Cason J. Callaway was coming out of the harbor. As we walked over to watch the ship come through the harbor we had a beautiful view of the sun setting over the western Hills.
We were just leaving after watching the Callaway go under the Duluth Lift Bridge when we noticed another ship heading for the Ship Canal. The third ship was the US Coast Guard Cutter Alder which is based in Duluth. It was starting to get dark but I managed a few shots of the Alder as it sailed through the Ship Canal.
I spent the better part of an afternoon watching the ships enter and leave the Duluth Harbor. The Cason J Gallaway came in fighting heavy waves.
While wafting for the next ship I spent my time watching the Gulls flying around in front of the Maritime Museum.
When the James R. Barker exited the harbor the waves were almost breaking over the bow
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.
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.
These photos were taken last week. Tugs were breaking out several ships in the Duluth area prior to the start of the shipping season. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Morro Bay, Katmai Bay and Mackinaw had broken a path to Duluth, Minnesota from the Soo Locks. On Wednesday morning they left Duluth to Lead a convoy of ships back 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 left Two Harbors. The convoy slowed as it neared Thunder Bay and the Munson was able to catch up.
Things started going south after that. The Morro Bay and Katmai Bay stayed behind in Thunder Bay to break ice. The Morro Bay was damaged while breaking ice. The Katmai Bay had to tow the Morro Bay back to Duluth with assistance from the Alder. On Friday all three Cutters returned to Duluth with the Morrow under tow. Divers discovered that most of the bolts holding the Morro’s rudder were broken.
About the same time the Presque Isle was damaged by ice east of Thunder Bay and had to be escorted back to Thunder Bay by the Mackinaw. The Presque Isle has since returned to Duluth for Repairs. The Mackinaw spent Saturday in Thunder Bay breaking ice before departing late Saturday to finish leading the convoy to the Soo Locks.
The John G. Munson and the Cason J. Callaway are stranded in the northeastern part of Lake Superior waiting for ice breakers to assist them in getting to the Soo Locks.
The Locks opened on the 25th but at this point no ships have been able to get to the locks either from Lake Superior or Lake Michigan. The ice is five feet thick in places and some of the pressure ridges are eight feet thick. Three ships are currently waiting east of St. Ignace for ice breakers to assist them to the Locks.
The 2014 Shipping season started on Lake Superior last Saturday. Early in the morning two Heritage Marine Tugs, the Helen H and Nels J, Helped free the Cason J. Callaway from the ice so it could exit Duluth Harbor.
Later in the morning we drove over to Port Terminal 1 in Duluth where the Presque Isle spent the winter in layup. The Helen H was breaking ice around the Presque Isle so it leave the harbor to load taconite in Two Harbors.
After watching the Helen H work for a while we decided to drive down to Canal Park and see if there were any ducks under the Lift Bridge. As we drove up my wife noticed that the Lift Bridge was up. The Coast Guard Cutter Alder was heading out into Lake Superior. I was so busy watching the Helen H I failed to notice the Alder leave port. We were too late to see it go under the bridge but I managed a shot as it hit the ice just outside the harbor. The Ship Canal was free of ice and it was clear for about a hundred yards out into the lake. There was thick ice out into the lake beyond Brighton Beach.
After Lunch I noticed the Cason J. Callaway was getting ready to depart for Two Harbors. We drove down to Canal Park only to find that it was already out into the lake. Apparently my Marine Traffic App was not working correctly. In fact, I had problems with it the rest of the day. You can see the Alder out in the lake in the background between the anchor and the North Breakwater Light. The Cason J. Callaway was the first ship to leave port for the 2014 season.
We then decided to drive up to Brighton Beach and watch the Callaway make its way through the ice. It was a surreal scene at Brighton Beach with about a hundred fisherman and cross country skiers out on the ice with the Callaway in the background.
Just as we were about to leave Brighton Beach we noticed that the Helen H was also heading for Two Harbors. We decided to drive up to Two Harbors to watch the Alder and Helen H break ice before the Callaway docked.
When we arrived in Two Harbors there were already cars in the parking lot with more arriving every minute. Apparently we were not the only ones who thought it would be a good idea to watch the ships come in. It was bitterly cold out with the air temperature about fifteen degrees and a thirty five mile per hour wind.
The Alder was the first to arrive. It sailed around the harbor a couple of times breaking up the ice. I found it strange that the Alder didn’t break up the ice next to the loading docks but it didn’t.
The Callaway was the next ship to enter the harbor. Just as it entered the harbor the Helen H arrived to break up the ice around the docks. I always thought that tug boats would be used to help the ships into the docks but they are not required.
The Cason J. Callaway, Presque Isle and the John G. Munson are all scheduled to load taconite at Two Harbors this week. When the loading is complete they will form a convoy with several Coast Guard Cutters and head for the Soo Locks. This is the first time since the 70’s that Coast Guard Cutters have been required to escort ships from Duluth to the Soo Locks.
I walked down to Canal Park to photograph the sunrise. While I was out on the North Breakwater Pier the Cason J. Callaway came into the harbor. I managed a few shots as it entered the harbor.
The next morning I was out photographing the sunrise. I noticed the Duluth Lift Bridge was going up and the Cason J. Callaway was on its way out.
The Cason J. Callaway was built in 1952 and it’s life has been extended when it was lengthened 120 feet in 1974 to its current length of 767 feet. In 2002 it underwent extensive renovations at Fraser Shipyards in Superior making it one of the most advanced steam powered ships on the Great Lakes. More information on the Callaway can be found on the Duluth Shipping News website.
One of the main activities in Duluth, Minnesota is ship watching in Canal Park. Duluth is the cargo capital of the great lakes with over 1,000 ship visits every year. Ship watching usually starts the end of March and runs through January of the next year. Peak times are in the summer months when Canal Park is loaded with tourists. Unfortunately there are not always ships entering or leaving the harbor so without good planning you may not see many ships.
The first place I always check when planning a trip to Duluth is the Duluth Shipping News website. This provides a ship schedule which lists ships that are expected to arrive and depart from Duluth and Superior harbors as well as the harbors along the north shore. It also provides an approximate time when the ships will arrive and depart and a hot link to additional information on the ship. Unfortunately the times given are in “ship time” which means they may or may not depart around the times given or even on the day given. Never the less you can get a good idea of expected ship activity for a given time period.
The Shipping News also provides information on any special activities that are taking place. This includes the arrival or departure of a special ship or maybe ice breaking activities taking place in the harbor. It also provides historical information on all of the ships that enter the harbor.
As I mentioned this is always the first place I check when planning a trip. Unfortunately the times given for the ships are not always accurate so once I arrive in Duluth I then start following ships on MarineTraffic.com. This website uses AIS (Automatic Identification System) data to track ships around the world. This is the first shipping season that it has tracked ships in the Duluth Superior area.
When you initially connect to the site you will encounter a world map of shipping. All you need to do is to zoom into Lake Superior. Once you start watching shipping in the Duluth area you are ready to go. The next time you enter the site it will automatically open to the last location you were looking at.
The ships are identified by various types and colors of icons. The icons differ depending on whether or not the ship is moving. When you click on the icon a window will pop up that provides you with the flag of the ship, photo of the ship, ship type, its status, speed, destination and estimated time of arrival in UTC time.
You can also click on a link that shows the vessel’s track. This link shows where the ship has been over a given period of time. When you are finished looking at the track just right click and the track will disappear. Usually what I’m interested in is where the ship is going and how long it will take it to arrive. To do this click on the distance too.. link. A waypoint balloon will appear on the map. Click on the destination and a second balloon will appear. For example if you were tracking the American Spirit and wanted to know how long before it arrived in Duluth click on the distance too… link and then click a second time on Duluth. When the second balloon appears it will tell you approximately how long will take the ship to arrive in Duluth at its current speed. A right click will clear the map.
If you really get into things you can add ships to your fleet and track you fleet. You can also get notification of vessel arrival and departures etc.
In addition to the web base site Marine Traffic also has an app for phones that allows you to track the status of ships. It provides much of the same information that the web site does. It is very useful if you are out and about and want to track ships.
Up until this year the only site that tracked marine traffic in the Duluth/Superior area was AIS/Marine Information from Thunder Bay. I still use this site occasionally. Sometimes I know a ship is in a particular location and the Marine Traffic website is not picking it up and it shows up on the Thunder Bay site. The Thunder Bay site does not provide as much information particularly it does not display the destination and the ETA. I end up using the Duluth Shipping News to see where the ship is headed and then follow its progress on the Thunder Bay site.
Following the ships will be even more interesting this year because the tall ships will be coming to Duluth the end of July. All of the tall ships have tracking devices on them so you will be able to follow them as they arrive, sail and depart from Duluth. This photo of the Niagara was taken a few years ago when it visited Duluth.
Even with the AIS tracking available things don’t always go according to plan. When shipping season opened this year I was tracking the Mesabi Miner as it steamed toward Duluth. It was supposed to be the first ship to arrive for the season. There were a number of photographers in Canal Park to observe the arrival. As the ship neared the canal entrance it moved off to the south. Word spread that it was heading for the Superior entrance and they all jumped in their cars and took off. A little while later I heard it drop anchor. It turned out that another ship was already docked where it was going to dock so it had to anchor until that ship departed. In retrospect I could have probably figured this out if I had looked a little more closely at the ships that were already in the harbor and check the Duluth Shipping News to see which dock the Mesabi Miner was going to use.
A little later in the season I observed the Federal Kamano which arrived around the end of April and anchored out in the harbor. Apparently there were some problems with its papers and it wasn’t until a month later entered port to pick up grain. I happened to be in Duluth when it arrived and again when it was going to depart. I normally check the Marine Traffic site the first thing in the morning to see if any ships are arriving or departing. Fortunately I live close enough to Canal Park so I can just walk down to the ship canal if I see activity. On this day I noticed that the Kamano had departed from the dock and was heading out to Lake Superior. There was a lot of fog that morning and when I arrived at the ship canal the tracker indicated the ship was steaming down the harbor toward the ship canal. It never showed up. the next time I looked at the tracker the ship was anchored out in the harbor. Apparently the fog was too thick for it to leave the harbor.
Late in the spring I was tracking a ship as it came under the Blatnik Bridge heading for the ship canal. I grabbed my camera gear and headed down to Canal Park. The ship never came out. I noticed a ship at the fueling docks but could see the name. I later checked the Duluth Shipping News which noted the ship intended to leave the docks and then stop for fuel before leaving Duluth. If I had checked the Duluth Shipping News I would have know that. A couple of hours later the ship finally went out of the harbor.
It is also possible to listen into the Duluth Harbor Marine broadcasts. I’ve not had a lot of success with this probably because there is not that much marine traffic. A complete listing of radio channels can be found at this link. the information was provided by the Duluth Marine Museum. Probably the biggest day for marine radio traffic was April 13 of this year. Because of a big storm there were fourteen ships either in port of anchored outside the harbor. When the storm finally lifted all of the ships were jockeying for position to either leave the harbor or get into the harbor. There was a lot of marine broadcast traffic during that time and some of the captains were a little upset. There is no harbor master in Duluth so the ships had to work out who was going to go first etc. between themselves.