Sunday, July 17, 2011

It's All Happening at the Soo

We moved on to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and stayed at the Elks Lodge on the St. Marys River in Sault Ste. Marie. It is a great place to watch the boats and ships traveling between Lake Superior and Lake Huron prepare to enter and exit the Soo Locks. We visited a couple of local museums with exhibits about shipping on the Great Lakes. We discovered a new brewery, Soo Brewing Company, that has only been open since March. This brewery was different from others we have stopped at because they have tables and pews for patrons but they do not serve food. They have menus from several local restaurants so we chose Chinese take out to go with "our" (yes even Nanc had a beer) brews. It is also a place where the locals come to relax and have a cold brew which was quite obvious by the growlers they were returning for refills. They even have a great variety of games to pass the time. If you are in the Soo stop by and support the local brewer.

To get to the UP we had to cross the the Mackinac Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in North America. At 200 feet above the water it is the highest bridge we have crossed. It has to be this high to allow ships to pass from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. I think the view from the middle is great, but I did not get to see much as both eyes were on the road.
A must see are the Soo Locks that allow ships to navigate through the 21 foot drop in water level between the lakes. The first lock that was built on the Canadian side in 1812 was destroyed during the War of 1814. The first American lock was built in 1855. The four locks (above left) that are used today range in length from 800 to 1350 feet. The two longest, built in 1914 and 1919 by the "War" Department, are the oldest and need to be rebuilt because they are too narrow for the newer larger ships.

The 730 foot long, 76 foot wide Mapleglen entering the 800 foot long, 80 foot wide MacArthur Lock. There are no tugs and no bumpers to prevent this giant ship from hitting the wall of the lock. The amount of freight carried by the 11,000 ships that pass through the locks each year exceeds that carried through the Suez and Panama Canals combined.

Another look at how tight it is for these big ships. The biggest ship today, the Paul R. Tregurtha, is 1013' 6" long and 105" wide. The Poe lock that was constructed in 1968 is the only one large enough to handle the 1000-footers.

The Mapleglen sails out of the lock 21 feet lower than it was a half hour earlier to continue its journey to Montreal. Ships carrying ore, coal, grain and general freight to places around the world pass through these locks.

It is not just big ships that use the locks. Here is the tall ship, Pride of Baltimore, that we have seen docked in that city's Inner Harbor. There is a lock cruise that we opted not to take as we have been through other locks a few times.

Some of the ships we saw out the front window of the rig while parked at the Elks. There were local sailboats, ocean going freighters, Canadian Coast Guard ships, work barges and 1000-footers. Boat spotting is a fun activity. There are books you can buy to identify all the ships.

The Museum Ship, Valley Camp. It is 550 feet and could carry 11,500 tons compared to today's 1000-footers that can carry over 78,000 tons. The Valley Camp's cargo often went to the steel mills of Western Pennsylvania.

Looking down the length of the ship. The displays in the cargo holds offer a history of Great Lakes shipping. The floor was very uneven from years of having coal and ore dumped on to it. Bottom is a crew cabin and the officer's mess. You can also get into the engine room of this old coal burner and see what it was like to work aboard a freighter.

Of course, sadly the most famous Great Lakes freighter is the Edmund Fitzgerald that sank in November, 1975 with all 29 crew members lost and memorialized in the song by Gordan Lightfoot. Part of the Valley Camp display is a movie about the Fitz and these two life boats that were some of the few items recovered. This museum is very well done and worth a visit.

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