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Category Archives: Nels J Tug

Several of my photos can be found in the 2014 Wisconsin’s Great Lakes calendar published by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The first photo shows dragon boat racers at the Superior Dragon Boat Festival. The Fairlawn Mansion is in the background. It was the family home of mining and lumber baron Martin Pattison. More photos from the Dragon Boat Festival can be found on my website

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The second photo shows the Heritage Marine Tugg Nels J clearing the way for the Baie Cameau to leave Duluth/Superior Harbor in late January. The Port of Superior is in the background.

Nels J

Nels J

 

 

 

 

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.

Last Tuesday we were in Superior, Wisconsin to watch the John G. Munson leave the Frasier Shipyards for its first trip of 2014. We arrived around 11:20am. Two Heritage Marine Tugs the Helen H and Nels J had been working most of the morning to break up the ice from the St. Louis River to the Munson. The Monson was at winter layup at Frasier Shipyards. It was anchored far into the bay next to N 5th street. The Munson was scheduled to head for Two Harbors several days earlier but had some frozen pipes that had to be fixed.

When we arrived the Helen J was just starting to break the ice along the bay side of the ship. The Kaye E. Barker , and John J. Boland can be seen behind the Munson. In the background the Nels J can be seen breaking ice at the entrance to the dock.Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_1927

The Helen H worked its way along the side of the Munson. The ice was very thick and it was slow going. It would take a run at the ice and the front of the tug would slide on top of the ice before the weight of the tug collapsed the ice. It would then repeat the process. It broke the ice about half way up the length of the Munson before retiring.Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_1942a

The Munson’s captain then tried to free the ship by reversing engines. When that failed the captain tried to go forward. This went on for a while but the Monson remained firmly suck in the ice. It was quite a racket when the propellers were working because they sucked in large chunks of broken ice which were chopped up and thrown into the air.John-G.-Munson-14-3-_1959

The Helen H they repositioned itself to the dock side of the ship and attempted to push the Munson away from the dock. At one point the Helen H was pushing and the Munson was going in reverse but the result was the same the Munson was firmly stuck in the ice.Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_1975a

They next attached a tow line and the Helen H attempted to pull the Munson out into the channel. After a number of tries this too failed.Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_1987

The next step was to break more ice along the bay side of the ship. This time the Helen H broke ice along three quarters of the ship. It then went back and broke ice along the dock side of the ship. The Helen H was then able to push the Munson free from the ice. At this point it was around 3pm and the Munson was still not able to exit the port at on its own.Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_2001

The Nels J came up from the St. Louis River where it had been breaking ice. The Helen H positioned itself on the dock side of the Munson and the Nels J attached a tow rope to the Munson. The Nels J tried to pull the Munson away from the docks toward the St. Louis River but it was slow going.Nels-J,-Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_2043

The Nels J Would move the Munson about fifteen feet before it would become stuck in the ice. The Munson would then start its engines and move forward about twenty feet and the process would be repeated. When we finally stopped watching about 4:30pm the Munson had moved about thirty yards in an hour and a half.Nels-j-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_2030

I checked around 8pm and the Munson was finally in position to move out onto the St. Louis River on its own power and about 10pm I noticed it had just gone under the Blatnik Bridge on its way to Two Harbors. The next morning it was loading taconite at two harbors when the convey of ice breakers and ships left for the Soo Locks.

 

When the Baie Comeau exited the Duluth Harbor last week the Heritage Martine Tugs helped it get through the ice. They broke up the ice around the dock and then assisted it as it turned down the St. Louis River toward the Harbor.

Nels J

Nels J

The Helen H and the Nels J raced up and down the river to break up the ice. The Ice Breaker Alder was in port so the tugs had to undertake the ice breaking operation.

Helen H and Nels J

Helen H and Nels J

As the Baie Comeau reached the Harbor it had to make a left turn toward Duluth. The two Tugs spent considerable time breaking the ice prior to the turn. In a couple of cases they seemed awfully close to the Baie Comeau.

Helen H

Helen H

After the ship turned the two Tugs spent time breaking up the Ice in the harbor before the Baie Comeau exited through an ice free ship canal.

Helen H

Helen H

Helen H

Helen H