Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - One week ago, three lakers left the Duluth-Superior Port, loaded with cargo, heading downbound on Lake Superior toward the Soo Locks where the iron ore is needed at steel mills, and where coal is needed at power plants.
That, says Duluth Seaway Port Authority public relations manager, is the ultimate goal of any shipping season, even if sheets upon sheets of historic ice cover is making inter-lake passage all but impossible.
Currently, the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw is heading from Thunder Bay across Lake Superior to intercept the freighters John G Munson and Cason J. Callaway off Whitefish Point.
Meanwhile, the Canadian cutter Pierre Radisson is heading westward to clear the Straits of Mackinac so the vessels can make it to Lake Michigan.
The coordinated, international effort is all subject to wind, and weather.
"[There's] ice that's packed up on ice," says Yorde, "so she'll have to reestablish those tracks and safely escort those vessels down."
Meanwhile, the U.S. cutter Morro Bay is still sitting in the Duluth Harbor after her rudder was left hanging by a bolt while trying to clear a channel near Thunder Bay last week.
"The problem that we're having was definitely exacerbated by the ice conditions this year," said LT Kenny Pepper, Captain of the Morro Bay while crews inspected the rudder Saturday.
"[If] we get some warm weather-sustained warm weather, some rains-once those tracks are established to help some of those open up even further," said Yorde, remaining optimistic like so many in the shipping industry during these exceptional times, "that sunshine can be a great advantage."
One success story so far: the Mesabi Miner, who made the 80-mile trek from Duluth to Taconite Harbor in Schroeder to deliver coal to the power plant.
As of Monday it sits in the Duluth Harbor, waiting for a convoy of cutters to take her to her next location.
The Munson and the Callaway are hoping to reach their destinations by the end of the weekend.
By the middle of next week, Yorde says hopefully the Twin Ports will be greeting their first loaded, inbound lakers.