Every now and then it makes good sense to chart a course across Lake Superior near the North shoreline.  If you’re leaving Duluth, MN or Superior, WI on a Great Lakes Bulk Freighter you’ll generally take the most direct route from the Duluth/Superior Harbor to the Soo Locks.

In fact, taking the most direct route means it is the shortest, fastest way to get there. But what if you have a forecast of strong winds coming out of the North? Then you might be smart to make your trip across Lake Superior on a route that takes you near the North Shore.

Head Of Lake Superior

You need to go over 300 miles in an Easterly direction across Lake Superior to get to Whitefish Point and down to the St. Mary’s River and the Soo Locks.  If you’re half-way across and a strong Northerly wind comes up you could find yourself in trouble.  You would be in a position where there is a wide expanse, (fetch), of open water and the wind could build heavy seas. Obviously it is NOT advantageous to have your ship in heavy seas if you can avoid it. But, if you stay “up” near the North shoreline of Lake Superior as you’re making your way East you’ll be in the “lee”, (protection), of land and the wind won’t have such a wide expanse of open water to build heavy seas in.

A smart Captain, (and most of them are), will keep a close eye on the weather. That’s one of her main jobs! When s/he finds out there is a strong possibility of a storm or gale in the area s/he plans on taking the ship into s/he has decisions to make. Her decisions will be based on the direction the prevailing wind will come from, how strong it will be, how long it will last and where s/he is taking the ship.

Thunder Bay, Ontario - behind Isle Royal
Thunder Bay, Ontario – behind Isle Royal

S/he might simply find a place to “hide”, somewhere safe where they can drop the anchor and wait till the weather gets better. The problem with “crossing” Lake Superior West to East when bad weather is in the forecast, is that;  Once you’ve gone too far there IS nowhere to hide.  There is nowhere safe to drop the anchor and wait for the weather to subside. So what does a Mother (excuse me I meant Captain 🙂 ), do? It’s really quite simple. If the wind is forecasted to come out of a Northerly, (North, Northeast or Northwest), direction you may simply head for the North shore of Lake Superior and cross the Lake to Whitefish Bay using the land for protection!

Anchorage Areas On Lake Superior

If the Captain decides it’s best to anchor and the ship is still close to Duluth/Superior s/he might decide to anchor right outside the Duluth Piers.  But only if the wind is out of the North or Northwest. If it is Northeast the seas could build because there is no protection from that direction. Or s/he might be able to stay right at the dock the ship loaded or unloaded at. Then the ship and crew would be safely snugged to the dock inside the harbor, protected from heavy seas.

"Piloting" on the open Lake is where I shine!
“Piloting” on the open Lake is where I shine!

The Captain might decide to take a “weather route” along the North shore of Lake Superior and for various reasons decide to anchor in Thunder Bay, Ontario. This is a very popular anchorage area when there is heavy weather in the forecast.  This is often done when there are very strong Northwest winds and seas that will make running South from the North shore down to Whitefish Bay dangerous. Because even if you safely cross Lake Superior on the North shoreline, you will still need eventually to head South for Whitefish Bay.  There are a few other places to anchor but Thunder Bay is probably the best.

So, the Captain has to take a lot of things into consideration when there are Gales and Storms forecasted for Lakes Superior or anywhere for that matter. The Captain has to be thinking “ahead” all the time. The safety of her crew and ship depend on her decisions.

    4 replies to "Crossing Lake Superior On The North Shore"

    • Beverly La Londe

      It’s during rough weather you can find Moms, Wives,….and probably some Captains….praying for “their boat!” I still do………. Bev

    • Linda

      Yep, have done a lot of praying. 🙂

    • Gene Ely

      Nice clear description of navigating in rough waters for a non-oriented lake boat guy like me. I find it interesting that this is what the Edmund Fitzgerald was attempting to do so long ago.

    • John

      Great insight and knowledge share of great lakes shipping.

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