Breaking ice for the start of Duluth harbor spring

The Erie Trader-Clyde S. VanEnkevort will be the first vessel to leave the Port of Duluth-Superior today.

Today is the spring equinox. Here in Northern Minnesota, this event signifies something about daylight but little about weather. We’ve been having arguments with one of our boys about how the “first day of spring” doesn’t legally absolve you from wearing a jacket.

But there’s another sure sign of spring on display in the Port of Duluth-Superior. Today marks the beginning of the 2018 shipping season on Lake Superior. Cargo ships docked for the winter will rumble to life and smash their way out of the icy harbor toward the mills and factories of the Lower Great Lakes.

From the Duluth-Superior Port Authority:

DULUTH, Minn., USA (March 19, 2018) — The anticipated departure of six vessels this week signals a strong start to the 2018 commercial shipping season for the Port of Duluth-Superior and the entire region. All will be leaving their winter berths to load iron ore for delivery to steel mills on the Lower Great Lakes—this nation’s industrial heartland.

U.S. Coast Guard cutter Alder made several passes through the ice in the shipping channels last week, and, starting today, Heritage Marine tugs will be assisting with breakout operations in the harbor.

Exact departure times are difficult to pinpoint during start-up, especially with strong winds and shifting ice conditions plus final onboard inspections in progress. At this point, it appears that the first commercial vessel to leave will be the tug/barge that wintered at the Clure Public Marine Terminal. The crew of the Erie Trader/Clyde S. VanEnkevort hopes to get underway by noon Tuesday, March 20, heading to the CN dock in Two Harbors to load iron ore.

The Edwin H. Gott is set to follow suit Thursday morning, while the Kaye E. Barker, which wintered at Fraser Shipyards, is also set to leave light that day as she heads to Marquette, Mich., to load iron ore.

In the meantime, two 1,000-footers are scheduled to load iron ore pellets Thursday here in the Twin Ports. The James R. Barker will be moving from its berth at the Midwest Energy Terminal across St. Louis Bay to the CN Duluth Dock. Similarly, the Burns Harbor will make its way from Elevator M to the BNSF Railway Dock in Superior and, once loaded, will likely depart via the Superior entry sometime Friday. Last in the line-up is the Lee A. Tregurtha, scheduled to leave Fraser Shipyards next Tuesday to load ore in Two Harbors.

Once loaded, those first five vessels will proceed across Lake Superior toward Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., to await the opening of the Soo Locks at 12:01 a.m. on Sun., March 25. That means, the Port of Duluth-Superior could begin seeing its first inbound lakers arriving a day or two later, depending on ice conditions.

While the Soo Locks open Sunday, the Welland Canal and St. Lawrence Seaway locks are not scheduled to open until March 29. For updates on all vessel traffic, check the schedule posted on To follow transits in real-time, visit or or check mobile apps like Marine Traffic or Ship Finder.

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