Great Lakes Shipping Business

That is what we do.  Bottom line;  We’re in the business of moving freight. We move a lot of it.  A smaller Great Lakes Ship moves about the same amount of cargo in a “season” as a Thousand-Footer.  They make more docks is all and haul more loads a shorter distance. The Big Indy, (thousand-foot M/V Indiana Harbor), hauls about 2 million tons per season – but so does the 635 foot M/V Sam Laud.  I would venture to say that each and every Great Lakes Self-Unloading Bulk Freighter carries about 2 million tons per shipping season.

The point I’m making; Is that you can’t haul that much cargo every Great Lakes Shipping Season by hiding from weather continually.  You’ve got to remember that we are not on an “Adventure Cruise” – we’re running a business.  If we don’t make a profit it won’t be long and we’ll be out of business.

So we do what must be done.  We keep these things moving, (throughout the season), as much as humanly possible. Night and day we’re “on the run”, or we’re loading or unloading.  Just like a “business”, lol.

Great Lakes Captains Keep An Eye On The Weather

Sunset On The Lake
Sunset On The Lake

The Captain is “The One”.  S/he and s/he alone makes the decisions whether to hide or run when the weather turns bad. It is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.  On the one hand the “livelihood” of each and every crewmember is at stake; If we don’t stay in business we’ll ALL go broke. But, on the other hand; the safety and well-being of the crew and Ship is also of paramount importance.

So when the weather goes bad, the Captain is a lonely person. S/he watches the Weather forecasts and keeps track of the wind and barametric pressure – trying to make the right decisions – whether to find a place to anchor or plot a course that will offer options in case weather takes an unexpected turn. Weather Forecasters are usually correct only about 50% of the time.  If you anchor every time a Gale is forecasted you could waste enough valuable time to lose lots of money in freight.

M/V Indiana Harbor Rides Comfortably Through The Gales

On our last “turn-around” the Big Indy unloaded more than 63,000 Net Tons of Taconite Pellets in Ashtabula, OH. From there we had orders to go back to Two Harbors and load more Taconite.  By the time we had cleared the Bluewater Bridge at Port Huron, MI the wind was already blowing strong (and getting stronger), out of the West/Northwest.  By the time we cleared the Poe Lock at Sault Ste. Marie we all new we were in for nasty weather and wind on Lake Superior.

The Master of our good ship – Captain Patrick J. Nelson, (I like to call him “Master-Mind”), was watching the weather continually, long before we left Ashtabula. Not only would we have strong West/Northwest Gales to contend with on our transit – we also were facing below freezing weather forecasted in the Great Lakes Region.

When we left the Soo Locks Captain Pat, (Master-Mind), Nelson knew exactly what to do. Rather than head for the Northshore of Lake Superior or waste precious time anchoring in Whitefish Bay –

Sunset In Windsor/Detroit
Sunset In Windsor/Detroit

Captain Pat made the decision to run directly into the Northwest Gale from Whitefish Point to Manitou Island and the Keweenaw Peninsula.

I asked him about his decision AFTER I realized that his decision was a good one.  Here’s what he told me; He said that he believed the Wind and Seas had ALREADY built strong enough that if he headed for the Northshore we would be wasting time heading into the same conditions as we would be experiencing if we headed Northwest toward the Keweenaw Peninsula – (which is the direction we needed to go anyway to get to Two Harbors, MN). In other words; Why go “out of our way” to be in the SAME weather we would be in if we took the “normal” route to Two Harbors?

Either way, we would need to “check down” our speed to keep from taking too much freezing spray over our bow – as well as keeping our ship’s structure from experiencing too much stress from the heavy seas.

Experience Is The Best Teacher On A Great Lakes Ship

So that is EXACTLY what we did. We ran directly into the Heavy Northwest wind and Seas at reduced speed. We took only a moderate amount of freezing spray over our bow, (which makes ice on deck), and we didn’t over-stress our good ship’s hull and structure. PLUS the “ride” was “comfortable” because a ship doesn’t “roll” much when you’re running into the wind and seas. I’m sure you can see that was indeed the BEST decision considering the prevailing weather conditions?

To make a LONG story shorter; We had a fairly pleasent trip to Two Harbors, MN in what was a considerably heavy November Gale, (with freezing spray warnings), on Lake Superior. We didn’t waste time getting our ship to the loading dock and we stayed safe in the process!

And our shipboard “Master-Mind” Captain Pat Nelson proved that you can’t beat years of “hands-on” experience when you’re running a business like he is running here on the “good ship and true” – M/V Indiana Harbor.

Talk to you later, Doug

PS: The pictures in this post was provided by Rick Knutson and his lovely wife Mary Kay. The “one-liner” – “You call – We Haul – That’s all” was “provided” by my good friend and “accomplice” Captain Jeff, (J.J.), Johnson – the King of “one-liners”.


    2 replies to "You Call, We Haul, That’s All"

    • Callie

      Knew I heard that line before.

    • Beverly La Londe

      The Big Indy will always have a place in my heart because for 6 yrs I took 5-day trips on her every summer back in the day when Pete Gronwall was Captain. She’s a beautiful ship!
      Keep the interesting messages coming….please. Bev La Londe

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