The Suitcase Lady


January 17, 2012, 8:41 pm

What’s 1,000 feet long and takes a 3 month winter nap?

The answer would be a “laker”, the gigantic vessels that are unique to the Great Lakes.

We moved to the lakeshore 16 years ago, and the view of these big iron ore, coal and cargo freighters slowly moving north and south along the shore has been part of our lives ever since.

This Fall my interest in the humongous vessels piqued. Looking out the window one day, I did a double take. A huge boat was much closer to shore than any I had previously seen. It was reminiscent of the surreal day that I looked out of our daughter’s high rise apartment window in Manhattan and found myself at eye level with the Goodyear Blimp floating by.

In a flash, I realized that my knowledge of Great Lakes shipping was virtually nil. Since information is one thing our age does in super abundance, I headed to the computer to become better acquainted with the action in my own front yard.

A bit of searching came up with a site that tracks round the clock locations of the largest commercial vessels on the Lakes. Now, every morning, I check to find out who the day’s visitors will be.

Researching further, I came across some amazing facts:

  • Unlike saltwater vessels, lakers are long lived with life expectations of 40 to 50 years…..some keep working even longer. The Wilfred Sykes is 60 and still going strong.
  • A laker can undergo a series of name changes in its lifetime. The American Integrity, for example, was christened as the Lewis Wilson Foy which was later changed to the Oglebay Norton before getting its current name.
  • A single Great Lakes freighter can carry enough iron ore to produce the steel to build 87,000 automobiles.
  • A 1,000 foot long laker can carry 70,000 tons of cargo. 3,000 semis would be required to carry the same cargo.
  • Self unloaders enable only one man at the controls to unload an entire vessel.

Yesterday, my ship tracker site showed few boats. The locks at Sault Ste.Marie (the Soo) closed for the winter. I will miss the daily parade. At 16 miles per hour, the lakers are one thing in life that is not hurrying by.

If you have a moment, check out this well narrated video of how to park a 1,000 foot long vessel.

3 Comments for this entry

  • LoieJ

    When I’m in Hika, (aka Cleveland) I’m not at the shore, but inland, 1/2 block, so I don’t notice the boats much. I’m trying to remember if I noticed them when I was a child and at the beach more. Don’t remember. Do you know if you see them better at your place because you are up higher?

    I want to pass on a URL for you
    This woman is an artist and photographer. Much of her work is about the lakers. Recently she published a calendar with many of the large old ships on it. She is in Duluth, but these would mostly be the same boats.

  • evie

    Mary–Interesting! Perhaps the captain of that Italian cruise ship needs to see this . . .

  • Flora

    I miss the lake. I used to live on Prospect Ave and could see the lake, the boats and hear the horn. Loved it. Love to you and Russ.