SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — The 2021 Great Lakes shipping season gets underway Wednesday with an early start as the Soo Locks open.
The locks, which are the only way to get from Lake Superior to the other Great Lakes, will open at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, March 24, about 12 hours ahead of normal opening. They have been closed since late January for yearly maintenance.
The Lake Carriers' Association requested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open the locks early last month in an effort to give ships a safer timeframe to go through Whitefish Bay and the St. Mary's River. The main reason, according to the association, was for icebreaking for first transits to be more efficient.
"We believe a noon opening last spring could have resulted in more efficient icebreaking and a smoother transit to the loading dock. We hope to avoid a similar situation this spring," Lake Carriers' Association President James Weakley said in a letter.
The Interlake Steamship company, the largest privately-held U.S.-flag fleet on the Great Lakes, will run all nine of its ships. The M/V Herbert C. Jackson is starting her early-season heading to Cleveland Shuttles along the Cuyahoga River, and is making the first delivery of iron ore on Tuesday afternoon.
"The opening of the Soo Locks 12 hours earlier is to facilitate daylight hour transit for the first vessels. This will allow for a safer transit as well as allow vessels to get underway slightly ahead of normal," Interlake President Mark W. Barker added. "We see a strong demand for iron ore and look forward to getting the fleet underway."
With three 1,000-foot ships, including the Queen of the Great Lakes, the M/V Paul R. Tregurtha, Interlake carries around 20 million tons of cargo each year.
The Soo Locks park and viewing platform will be open this year with social distancing measures, so fans of ships will be able to get an up-close look as they go through the locks.