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Category Archives: Two Harbors

It was mid afternoon when we finished doing some shopping. As we were driving down toward the harbor in Duluth we noticed that a ship had just gone under the Aerial Lift Bridge. It was the Kaye E. Barker which we had seen over in Frasier Shipyards earlier in the day. It was the first ship to leave Duluth for the season. Since it didn’t have any cargo I was wondering where it was going. I checked Marine Tracker and saw that it was headed for Two Harbors to pick up a load of taconite.  I also noticed that it was being escorted to Two Harbors by the Mackinaw. It was a beautiful day so we decided to drive up to Two Harbors and catch the action.

On the way up we took photos of the two ships.

The Mackinaw arrived first and promptly sailed into the harbor to start breaking ice.

I’m always amazed at the number of people who come down to the harbor to watch the ships come in.

When the Mackinaw was finished breaking ice it sailed out into Lake Superior to break a trail to the Soo Locks. The next day the ice shifted and a couple of ships were caught in the ice. The Alder had to sail up from Duluth to free them. The Kaye E. Barker had been waiting out in the lake. When the Mackinaw finished it slowly sailed into the harbor and worked its way into the docks. There was a tug in the harbor but it made it without any assistance.




After a brief stop at Stoney Point we continued our drive up the North Shore for a brief stop in Two Harbors. We always drive out to the Harbor area to check things out. The sea fog was also hanging around Two Harbors.


The Presque Isle was at the docks loading iron ore pellets. This would be one of the last ships in the harbor until the 2017 shipping season starts in March.


Before leaving I took a shot of the lighthouse.


On a recent trip up the North Shore to Split Rock Lighthouse we stopped in Two Harbors to see if there were any ships in the harbor. As it turned out the Tug Donald L. Billmaier and Crane Barge Howard J. Schwartz were just coming into the harbor. The Billmaier is an Army Corps Of Engineers tug. It along with a smaller tug were bringing the crane barge and several barges loaded with rocks to Two Harbors. It looked like they were going to be repairing the breakwater. We watch for a while then continued on to Split Rock.

Tug Donald L. Billmaier and Crane Barge Howard J. Schwartz

Tug Donald L. Billmaier and Crane Barge Howard J. Schwartz

Tug Donald L -Billmaier

Tug Donald L -Billmaier

Tug- Hammond Bay and Tug-Donald L. Billmaier

Tug Hammond Bay and Tug Donald L. Billmaier

The next day we returned to Two Harbors hoping to see the Howard J. Schwartz in action. Unfortunately the crane and the two tugs were docked in the inner harbor. However, there were two ships loading taconite. We watched for a while before heading to Gooseberry Falls for some hiking.

Tugs-Donald-L. Billmaier and Hammond Bay with Crane Barge Howard J. Schwartz

Tugs-Donald-L. Billmaier and Hammond Bay with Crane Barge Howard J. Schwartz

Spruceglen and Philip R. Clarke

Spruceglen and Philip R. Clarke

When we returned later in the day we found the Philip R. Clarke just pulling away from the loading docks before heading out on its Journey through the locks and down to Gary, Indiana.

Philip R. Clarke-

Philip R. Clarke


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 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.

Every time we drive up the Minnesota North Shore we stop at Two Harbors to see if there is any ship activity. A couple of weeks ago we lucked out. It was a foggy morning and just as we pulled into the harbor parking lot we saw the Edger B. Speer backing out of the docks.

Edgar B. Speer

Edgar B. Speer

The first time I saw ships coming into Two Harbors I thought tug boats would be required to move them into and out of the harbor. I was wrong. Even the thousand foot ships are able to maneuver into and out of the docks without assistance. It does take them quite a while but they are routinely able to do it without problems.

Edgar B. Speer

Edgar B. Speer

We watched the Speer exit the harbor into the fog. The Speer kept blowing its fog horn and we could hear an answering response from out in the lake but, because of the fog, could not see another ship.

Edgar B. Speer

Edgar B. Speer

We waited a while hoping the other ship would come into the harbor before deciding to drive back to where the Edna G tugboat was docked and photographed the Army Corps of Engineers dredging the docs.

Edna G

Edna G

We decided to drive back to the harbor and see if the ship that was waiting outside the harbor was going to come in. Just as we drove past the fog cleared enough so we could see the Indiana Harbor steaming into the harbor.

Indiana Harbor

Indiana Harbor

We walked down to the water’s edge and watched it maneuver into the dock area. It is a slow process for one of these large ships to work its way into the docks. A lone kayaker was out in the harbor watching the ship come in.

Indiana Harbor

Indiana Harbor

Indiana Harbor

Indiana Harbor


I was looking at the Duluth Shipping News to determine which ships would be entering the harbor during my visit to Duluth. I happen to notice a ship listed that I had not seen before. It wasn’t coming to Duluth but would be docking in Two Harbors on Thursday and was scheduled to leave the port early in the morning on Friday. On Friday we were driving up to Gooseberry Falls to catch the spring melt on the Gooseberry River. We decided to stop at the harbor in Two Harbors to see what was going on.


There was a barge with a crane loaded on it dredging muck next to one of the docks. We watched that for a while before driving around to the parking lot by the lighthouse. I happened to notice a ship parked at one of the docks but we couldn’t get a clear view from the parking lot. We walked out to the lighthouse and discovered that the Kuber/Victory was still in port.


This combination of ships is a strange design which is what attracted me to it in the first place. The Kuber was formerly the great lakes steamer Reserve. In the fall of 2007 it was converted into a barge. The power plant and some of the superstructure was removed. A notch was added to the back so a tug boat could be attached.  Apparently this was done because the original ship required a crew of 25 and the new configuration could be run by a crew of 14. Since the conversion it has only been to Duluth a couple of times.

James L. Kuber-Tug Victory two Harbors 13-4-_2383

I wanted to see it head out into the lake but it stayed in the dock while I was at the harbor. Apparently it left the dock about 15 minutes after I drove up to Gooseberry Falls.

Moonrise Crex Meadows

One of the things I like to do is try and plan my photography trips so that the sunset and moonrise are in close proximity. This allows me to get great shots of the sunset and turnaround and get a shot of the moonrise. The first time this happened was an accident. I had been photographing the sunset at Crex Meadows and was packing up to leave when I turned around and notice a full moon over Phantom Lake. After this experience I started checking the sunset/moonrise tables to plan my trips.


Moonrise over Crex Meadows

On a later trip to Crex Meadows I had planned to photograph the sunset and moonrise and had picked a great day to capture both. I picked a new location to photograph the sunset. Unfortunately I picked a bad location and didn’t get any sunset photos and almost missed the moonrise because I was in the wrong location. That was when I started to use The Photographers Ephemeris to plan my trips. This program not only shows the times for the sunset and moonrise but also shows the direction of the sunset and moonrise from any location. This program allows me to determine the best location to get the shots I want.  I reviewed this program in an earlier post and highly recommend it to anyone doing landscape photography.

Moonrise Two Harbors

Moonset Two Harbors

Sometimes I just get lucky. Earlier this fall I was photographing at Two Harbors, Minnesota and had planned to photograph the moonrise. I got engrossed in photographing a piece of ice and almost forgot about the moonrise until my wife mentioned it and when I looked up it was already fairly high in the sky. The next morning we went down to photograph the sunrise and I noticed that the moon was setting over the ore docks in the harbor.

Moonrise Duluth Harbor

If you plan a bit you can also get some interesting shots. This was taken in Duluth Harbor and shows the moon rising out of the chimney of the Outer South Lighthouse. I knew the moon would be coming up over the harbor so I waited around for it to get to right location. Fortunately the breakwater allowed me to position myself to get the photo.

Union Bay Moonset

Other times planning doesn’t enter into things. Last fall I was planning to photograph the sunrise at Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Wilderness State Park. As I left the motel I noticed there was considerable cloud cover in the east so it didn’t look good for a  sunrise shot. However, as we were driving into the park I noticed the moon setting over Union Bay and quickly decided that the moonset was going to provide a better opportunity on this particular morning.

More photos of moonrise/moonset photo can be found on my website. Just click on search and enter moonrise or moonset.

When we travel to the Minnesota North Shore we sometimes stop at Two Harbors for the evening. I like to photograph in the harbor at sunset. On this trip we were having problems deciding where the trip would take us. We finally decided that our destination would be Two Harbors. As a result we managed to get a late start so we didn’t arrive in Two Harbors until late in the afternoon. Our first stop was the harbor to check out conditions. The lake had some nice waves and a little ice. The Duluth Shipping Schedule indicated that an ore carrier would dock about the time we arrived but it had already arrived. I took a few shots of the waves and ice before heading for the hotel.

We changed into some warm clothing and drove back to the harbor to photograph the sunset. We were a little late and missed the early part of the color but I was able to get some interesting shots of the ice and rocks with the sunset reflecting on the rocks.

There were not a lot of clouds out but the alpenglow produced some stunning silhouette shots of the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater. The color was just spectacular.

One of the things I hopped to accomplish was to photograph the sunset and the moon rise. I usually try and plan a trip to a location where I can shoot the sunset then turn around and capture the moonrise. On this particular night I apparently had what the kids call a brain f—. I was so interested in trying to capture this small ice shot that I totally forgot about the moonrise until my wife commented that the moon was up. I was able to get a shot but not the one I wanted.

 I also managed a few shots of the ore loading docks. Although we missed the ore boat that was supposed to dock earlier in the afternoon we were able to see two ore carriers loading at the docks. Late in the evening the ore docks and ships were all lit up.

 In the morning we returned to photograph the sunrise. I’ve never been a big fan of the sunrise at Two Harbors but since we were in town I decided to give it another try. On this particular day the temperature was not that cold but the wind was really howling. It was almost difficult to stand up. The strong winds off the lake made for an unpleasant photography experience. I did manage a shot of a memorial bench located above the beach with the color on the horizon in the  background. It made for an interesting silhouette shot.

 There was also a shot of the moonset that was taking place behind the ore docks. It was still a little high in the sky but I managed to capture it.

Most of the time was spend shooting ice formations along the water. There was an Eagle wind surfing in the harbor most of the time we were there. The plan was to drive over and try and get a shot of it but it disappeared just as we were leaving.

More Two Harbors photos can be found on my website.