Only 13 of the freighters that sail on the Great Lakes are 1,000 feet or longer.

Today, one of them came into the Sturgeon Bay canal and carefully hummed its way into a slip at the shipyard in Sturgeon Bay.ship1

We have learned that regulations require ships to come in every five years for inspections and maintenance. Sturgeon Bay has had boat builders and shipyards since 1896, so for many locals, this was nothing new.

However, my husband David ( and today’s photographer) has been keeping track of the movements of these big ships on  Boat Nerd, so when one started to get close, he drove the 18 miles to watch the spectacle.


Today’s ship was 1,004 feet long. That’s 3+ football fields. That’s 1 and ½ St. Louis arches lying down.  And this massive vessel had to leave the big deep sea that is Lake Michigan  (average depth 289 ft, deepest spot 922 ft) and turn into a channel that is only 125 feet wide.  It then traveled under three draw bridges ( stopping traffic) past marinas and houses and the businesses of downtown on its way to the shipyard.

David spent nearly four hours in the cold, learning just where he could or could not stand at the Coast Guard station (there are apparently a lot of off-limits spots.)


He then watched from a pier in town and felt the pounding vibrations of the ice breaking in the harbor and the sound of ice shattering as that huge vessel plowed its way through what had previously been frozen solid.


He drove to another spot and was close enough, he said, to spit on that huge ship’s side as it slowly threaded its way through the needle of the channel under two drawn bridges, with only a few feet to spare on each side.


Perhaps, after we have lived here for years, the fascination of these big ships will be lost. Perhaps we will stop marveling that such a behemoth can turn out of the great waters of Lake Michigan and maneuver so precisely into a tiny spot. But we think not. Instead we’ll add it to the long list of things we like here: watching massive manmade beasts come in, go out, stop traffic, raise bridges, break ice.

Writing Prompt  images    What could you spend hours watching?

2 thoughts on “Shipwatching

  1. How exciting to watch that great ship come into port. May I now refer to the photographer as Dave the Boat Nerd? Do you have any idea of what type of freight this ship transports and between what ports? Thanks for sharing — I loved reading about it.


    • Yes, Dave is happy to be referred as such! Most of the Great Lake freighters haul iron ore, coal and limestone. The Boat Nerd website tracks each ship’s movements. Often these big ships carry iron that’s needed for the auto industry, traveling between the northern shore of Lake Superior and lower Michigan.


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