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Category Archives: Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin

Boat Nerds call it a twofer when they are able to photograph two shops on the same visit to the harbor. On this particular day the Mesabi Miner was leaving the harbor and the Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin was arriving.

While I was waiting for the Miner to reach the harbor entrance I took a few photos of the Tug Donald L. Billmaier. It had just returned to the Core of Engineers Docks with the Crane Barge Howard J. Schwartz and tug Hammond Bay. They had been working over in Superior earlier in the day. The Miner can be seen in the background.

Tug Donald L. Billmaier 16-5-_3486

The Miner was belching a lot of smoke as it made its way out of the harbor.

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The Martin was supposed to come in as soon as the Miner exited the harbor but it took a long time for it to arrive. I don’t ever recall a ship moving so slowly. The folks who were “bridged” were probably not happy because the bridge was up for a long time.

Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin 16-5-_3637

While I was waiting I took a photo of a Ringed-bill Gull.

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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.

CSL Laurentine

CSL Laurentine

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.

Indiana Harbor

Indiana Harbor

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.

Edgar B. Speer

Edgar B. Speer

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.

Cason J. Callaway

Cason J. Callaway

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.

Biscayne Bay

Biscayne Bay

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.

US-Coast-Guard-cutter-Mackinaw-

US Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw

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.

Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin

Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin

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.

Arthur M. Anderson

Arthur M. Anderson

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.

Tug/barge Spartan and Spartan II

Tug/barge Spartan and Spartan II

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.

Mesabi Miner

Mesabi Miner

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.

U.S. Brig Niagara

U.S. Brig Niagara

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.

Mesabi Miner

Mesabi Miner

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.

Federal Kumano

Federal Kumano

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.

James R. Barker

James R. Barker

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.

My wife and I happened to be in Duluth during the last week of the shipping season on Lake Superior. There were still a few ships out on the lake. I had been down to Canal Park earlier in the morning to photograph the sunrise but there was no ship activity. When I returned to the condo I checked the AIS/Marine Information from Thunder Bay and notice a ship heading toward Duluth.

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The ship was the Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin. It was still quite a ways out in the lake so I kept an eye on its progress. As it approached Duluth my wife and I walked down to watch the ship enter the harbor.

Paul J. Martin 2013-1-_0758

When we arrived at the entrance to the harbor the Martin was still a ways out in the lake. It was a sunny but cold day but we decided to wait until it came through the shipping canal. I was hoping to catch a photo of a ship covered with ice but the weather had been so warm that there was no ice to be found in the ship or in the harbor.

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We watched it go under the Aerial Lift Bridge and turn make the left hand turn towards its destination dock. 

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Shipping usually ends in mid January when the  close the Soo Locks close. The official start of the shipping season will start on March 25th when the Soo Locks reopen although intra-lake shipping can begin before the Soo Locks open. In 1979 the shipping season remained open all season when ice breakers were used to keep the shipping lanes open. This was just a test to see if it could be done. It was successful but at a high cost to keep the lanes free of ice. With the warm weather of recent years Lake Superior has not frozen solid and consideration is being given to extending the shipping season.