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Category Archives: US Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw

The USCGC Mackinaw was docked in Duluth over the 4th of July. I was hoping that it would be open for tours but it wasn’t. The crew did have a great view of the fireworks from where it was docked.

USCGC-Mackinaw-Duluth-Minnesota-16-7-_1426

USCGC-Mackinaw-Duluth-Minnesota-16-7-_1423

 

I happened to be down watching the Walter J. McCarthy Jr. enter the harbor when I took this photo. About 15 minutes later I looked out the window of the condo and noticed the Mackinaw was leaving the harbor. Too bad I miss it.

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The United States Coast Guard Cutter Morro Bay was in Duluth, Minnesota, along with the Katmai Bay, on an ice breaking mission. It had just returned to serviced after being disabled in ice breaking operations. Most of the bolts holding the rudder had been broken off and it was towed from Thunder Bay to Duluth for repairs. After being repaired is spent several days breaking ice in the Duluth area before heading back to Whitefish Point to resume ice breaking operations.USCGC-Morro-Bay-14-4_0597

On the return home from watching the Morro Bay arrive in port we were able to get a close-up view of a Peregrine Falcon. I flew right at us as we walked over the I-35 overpass. It would have made a great photo, unfortunately by camera was packed away. We watched as it joined its mate and flew around the Canal Park Steam Plant before heading for the Lift Bridge. We had passed the nesting area on the Greysalon earlier in the day and wondered if they were back.USCGC-Morro-Bay-14-4_0609a

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.

Mackinaw

Mackinaw

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.

Cason Ju Callaway

Cason J Callaway

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.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay

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.

Presque Isla

Presque Isle

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.

John G. Munson

John G. Munson

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.

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.