Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Singularly Unique Adventure

One of the blogging groups to which I belong recently suggested that its members write posts about where they live.  I had a very unique day, which perfectly highlights the area in which I live.  Welcome to Lake Superior and the port of Duluth, Minnesota!

We live in the state that is known as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes", and one particularly Superior lake is right next door.  Because of that, things nautical often get us excited around here.  This particularly Superior lake happens to end at the busiest inland port in the United States.  Our weather gets a bit dicey in the winter, and the harbor at this inland port often freezes over for three months in the winter.  HubBub and I received an interesting invitation last night. We were invited to spend the day on a decommissioned Coast Guard ice breaker.  This is an opportunity to have an experience that most people don't receive.  We couldn't pass it up.
As we were approaching, we could see a plume of smoke coming from the stack on our vessel.  The temperature was 41 degrees F.  The weather was wonderful for a day on the lake; sunny, slightly breezy, and seasonably cool.

A bit of history about this vessel and some of the things that make her so special:  We are going aboard the Coast Guard cutter Sundew. Sundew is a local girl, she was built in Duluth.  Her hull was layed in 1943 and she was launched in 1944.  She was designed to be in service for six years.  Instead of six years, she served for SIXTY years; breaking ice and tending bouys.  She is 180 feet long and is powered by two diesel / electric locomotive engines.  When she became decommissioned, the city of Duluth tried to make her a tourist attraction.  A year ago, the city made the decision that they could no longer keep her.  She was offered up for sale rather than just sending her to the scrap yard.  She was beloved by many people in the Duluth area, and the city offered her up for a very reasonable price, hoping someone would take her.

She was purchased by a private citizen, who happens to own the company where HubBub works.  He invited a group of people (including us) to join him today while he was putting in hours and practicing maneuvers to secure his pilot's license for a vessel of this size. He was being coached by a retired captain from the Edwin H. Gott, a 1000 foot Great Lakes vessel.
Sundew's bow, as we are approaching her.

Her gangway was down and waiting for guests as we arrived.  It takes her crew 4 hours to get her ready to sail, so they had been there since 6 a.m. for our 10 a.m. departure.

Somebody said it takes a crew of at least 10 people to operate the Sundew.  I don't think we had quite that many today, but it does take quite a few people to just get her in and out of the dock.  Here we are casting off.  We were warned to be on the other side of the vessel when we were docking or leaving.  We were told that if the ropes which are under tension were to break, it could snap back and take a limb off.  In this case, HubBub and I were up by the pilot house.

As we were preparing to back out of the slip, a 1000 footer passed behind our slip.  For those who are not locals, the 1000 foot ships can only travel on the Great Lakes.  They are too large to pass through the Welland Canal which was built to bypass Niagra Falls on the St. Lawrence Seaway.  The ocean-going vessels must be smaller to come through the locks.  Both "salties" and "lakers" visit the Port of Duluth daily, for nine months every year.
This is our host, Jeff Foster, and his wife, Toni.  The Sundew is equipped with bow thrusters, which makes her highly maneuverable.  Prior to ships having bow thrusters, they required tugboats to push them into and tow them out of docks.  Jeff was practicing docking and leaving the docks today, and we docked many times.  He requires a "wheelman" in the pilot house to control the rudder while he is operating the throttle and bow thrusters.  He was calling out orders to the wheelsman such as "30 degrees left rudder" while he was operating the throttles. When Sundew is throttling up, her locomotive engines sound much as you would expect a train to sound, "Chug, chug, chug..." Once she is underway, she is very quiet, due to her electric engines.
This is how the bow thruster controls look, up close.  There are controls on both sides of the ship, to permit docking on either side.  When docking, the captain looks over the side of the ship to gauge the angle and amount of power required to bring her in to a safe stop.  We also had crew members stationed along the deck on walkies, letting the captain know how close he was to the dock.
We slowly left our berth next to old cement elevators.

Looking back past the pilot house as we head out into the harbor.
Here I am in the pilot house. That is the retired captain of the Gott next to me at the wheel.

Me at the bow thruster controls.  It was breezy and chilly.

We passed the tugs.  They were all docked today.  Those are grain elevators in the background. Grain is one of the commodities that leave through Duluth.
There are three bridges that connect Duluth, Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin.  They are called the Twin Ports because they are so close together.  This is the John A. Blatnik High Bridge. John Blatnik was a US Congressman from Minnesota who served from 1947 to 1975.  It is one of two of the bridges we went under today.
Passing under the High Bridge.
This is the Aerial Lift Bridge.  It is perhaps the most notable landmark in Duluth, Minnesota.  It is one of only two bridges of its type ever built in the United States.  Originally built in 1905, it had a gondola type car that traveled across the upper span.  It was rebuilt in 1929 into its current form.  The lower span lifts in one piece when a ship needs to come beneath it.  Two huge counterweights on each vertical side come down and pull the horizontal roadway up.  The bridge operator is in the small cabin on the lower roadway span. This piece of waterway is known as the Ship Canal, and the surrounding area is called Canal Park.  It is a very important tourist destination for the City of Duluth.
The bridge is up and we are heading through! There is a marine museum on the left, and there were quite a few tourists out waving at us.  We could hear the commentator in the museum giving the description of the Sundew as we went by.
The City of Duluth is pictured behind the lighthouse.  The city follows the lake shore. The city is approx. 25 miles long and only about 10 miles wide as it follows the hillside.  It is similar to San Fransisco, CA in geography; with steep, hilly roads that become "interesting" in our snowy winters.

That's the Aerial Lift Bridge in the distance behind me.

We had a great time!  I think I'll just close with a few pictures of this great old gal, the Sundew.

Zodiak, like Jacques Cousteau used to have!
Dishes are held on counter by bungee cords in the galley.

Ladder to crow's nest.
Our reflection in the brass of the pilot house door.

All told, we were aboard the Sundew for five hours. 
We greatly appreciated the opportunity to get to know the Sundew,

and we hope you enjoyed our little pictorial tour!

Be grateful and see the beauty in each day!

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