Seven Lakers Scheduled to Sleep Away Winter in Twin Ports Harbor

By KBJR News 1

January 10, 2013 Updated Jan 10, 2013 at 10:12 PM CST

Superior, WI (NNCNOW.com) - Just like the Soo Locks need to close during the December ice–over for regular maintenance, every laker needs a little TLC to ensure that the next shipping season goes off without a hitch.

"These vessels operate like anything mechanical—they need periodic and continuous maintenance. What the winter lay–up does is afford them the opportunity where they don't have to lose any time plying the lakes, and they can come in, do the repairs, and then go back out fresh in the spring," said Fraser Shipyards Director of Operations and Chief Naval Architect Tom Curelli.

It's no small task, but in the shipping business nothing is tiny, starting with the size of the shipyard crew. During lay up season, anywhere from 150–250 employees are needed to get these ships "ship–shape" in a two–month period.

Even the dry dock storage unit comes on an epic scale. What type of dimensions are we talking? How about 880 feet long by 88 feet wide and 20 feet below lake level, and even that is still a comfy fit for a laker.

"The water will be coming in, then we're going to take it out [and] drop her down nice and gently on these blocks," said Curelli, motioning to the rows of four feet high cement and wood blocks at the bottom of the dry dock. The wooden blocks act like puzzle pieces, and are uniquely stacked to match the keel of whichever ship will soon be put to bed, in this case the John. G. Munson.

On Thursday shipyard workers, some whose lineage has a 70 year legacy with Fraser, were busy prepping the dock for its arrival. And, while Curelli says Fraser makes a point of hiring and buying materials in the Northland, officials with the Duluth Seaway Port Authority say that's only part of the regional economic impact. After all, maintenance on these sleeping giants comes at no small cost to the companies that own them.

"It's going to range anywhere from a dry docking of a million and a half or more, to an average spending of $800,000 per vessel," said Duluth Seaway Port Authority Executive Director Adolph Ojard.

All seven lakers making their way to the Twin Ports harbor are expected by January 16th.

Officials say it's imperative that all vessel maintenance is completed for the shipping season opener in mid–March, as the lakers are not only expected to be ready for the water, but fully–loaded and waiting by the Soo Locks on opening day.

- Posted to the Web by Billy Wagness