This morning, at about 0740 we cleared the Bluewater Bridge at Port Huron, MI and Lake Huron Cut buoys 11 & 12, (the beginning of the St. Clair River at the North end), on our way to Superior, Wisconsin. We are an “upbound” ship now that is “in ballast” condition. While I’m writing this we’re heading North up Lake Huron crossing the opening of the Saginaw Bay. If the Wind and Seas are coming from the West or Northwest it can get pretty rough if you’re heading North in this area. This is because there is a long “fetch” between the Lake and the shores of the Bay. That means there is a long expanse of open water in which the wind and seas can “build”.
On the Great Lakes, if you’re coming from a point that is more “seaward” (closer to the waterway that leads to the ocean), and heading to a point further from the ocean, your ship is considered to be “upbound”. Even if you’re heading South on Lake Michigan, bound for Chicago, you are still considered to be an upbound ship, since you are coming from somewhere closer to the Seaway that leads to the Sea, (Ocean). If you are heading from Southern Lake Michigan to Superior Wisconsin you are also an Upbound ship.
But, if you are coming from Southern Lake Michigan bound for Detroit you would be a downbound vessel. I think I have that right but it really doesn’t matter, at this particular moment the M/V Indiana Harbor is “upbound” for the Midwest Energy Terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Of course our orders could change and we could end up somewhere else, like Two Harbors, MN or the CN Ore Dock in Duluth, MN. But we are still headed “upbound”…. Just to let you know, lol.
The M/V Indiana Harbor Is Upbound In Ballast
When a Thousand Footer heads “Upbound” it almost always is “light”. When a Great Lakes Freighter is called “light” it means that the Freighter is “in-ballast” and does not have freight in her. A typical Great Lakes Freighter carries water ballast to keep her hull deeper in the water when it is light. The reason for this is logical to me but it might not be for other people. A Great Lakes Bulk Freighter needs to be deep enough in the water to be “seaworthy”. If you take ALL the cargo out of a ship, (A Thousand Footer carries 60 to 70 thousand Net Tons of cargo), then the ship will not be deep enough to be operated safely. The same principle is true for smaller ships too.
So there are huge tanks on the sides of the cargo holds between the cargo holds and the outer hull to facilitate carrying “water ballast”. The weight of the water ballast carried by ships amounts to thousands upon thousands of tons. Of course, when you load the ship with cargo you must pump the water ballast out of the ballast tanks. Otherwise the ship will be too deep in the water and the steel will be stressed causing a condition that is not seaworthy. Plus, the bottom of the ship would be too close to the bottom of the Harbors and Channels it will be transiting.
Most Thousand Footers Load At The Head Of The Lakes
While smaller Great Lakes Bulk Freighters load in many diverse places, Thousand Foot freighters on the Great Lakes only load at a handful of loading docks. There are a few different reasons for this, least of which is that they are too large to “fit” in most places that smaller ships load at.
But there are a couple of other reasons as well; Thousand footers on the Great Lakes are big money-makers because they carry big “tonnage”. Since they have an exceptionally larger carrying capacity compared to smaller ships it “behooves” the Shipping Companies to carry the most profitable cargo in them. Typically, there is more money in carrying Taconite Pellets and Western Coal than there is in carrying Limestone for instance. A Thousand Footer, (we call them “footers”), can carry almost twice as much as a 650 or 700 foot ship can carry. Also, it cost more money to operate a Thousand Footer so it just makes good sense to carry the more profitable cargo.
That is why most of the loads for a thousand foot Great Lakes freighter begins at the head of Lake Superior. It is there that the large Iron Ore mines are located and the Taconite Plants that produce Taconite Pellets. It is also where the Superior Midwest Energy Terminal is located and that loading dock is the fastest coal loading dock on the Great Lakes. They can load 65,000 tons of Western, (low sulfur coal), in about 8 hours. So those are the main reasons Thousand Footers are “almost” always either coming from or going to the “head” of Lake Superior… Not ALWAYS but most of the time.
So that’s where we’re headed and that’s WHY we’re headed there. Captain Bensman told me a while ago that we can expect some rough weather on our upbound journey to Superior, WI. He always has a good plan though for keeping us safe in rough weather. Captain Bensman is proving to be a good “weather” Captain. In other words; he keeps the ship and the crew out of dangerous situations involving weather, wind and seas. And, not JUST by dropping the anchor and hiding from the weather. He is proving that he knows how to keep a ship moving by keeping in the lee of land, protected from extremely heavy seas but still moving.
Now, I’ve got to go eat AGAIN! Talk to you later…