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First ship of the season departs Twin Ports

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Jason Fyten of Munger, a self-described boat nerd, waves at the outgoing Roger Blough while holding a "Boat Watcher" flag. The Blough, a laker, was the first ship of the season to depart the Twin Ports. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 5
The Roger Blough glides through the Duluth Ship Canal as the first ship of the new season to depart Duluth-Superior Wednesday around 7:30 a.m. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 5
A member of the Roger Blaugh crew waves to boat watchers in Canal Park Wednesday morning. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 5
Ship watchers lining the Duluth Ship Canal take in and photograph the Roger Blaugh as it departs the Twin Ports Wednesday morning. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com5 / 5
With a hardy group of onlookers lining the ship canal not long after sunrise, the freighter Roger Blough left Duluth on Wednesday as the Twin Ports’ first departure of the 2017 commercial shipping season.

The Blough traded the customary horn salute with the Aerial Lift Bridge operator — one long, then two short blasts — as it left winter layup and passed beneath the bridge at about 7:45 a.m., bound for Two Harbors to pick up a load of iron ore pellets. It passed the inbound U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder as it headed out onto Lake Superior; the Alder’s icebreaking skills were not needed Wednesday, with open water on the lake as far as the eye could see.

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory estimated ice coverage on the lakes to be 9.4 percent as of Tuesday. That compares to 3.3 percent at this time last year, and 53.5 percent in 2015.

On Lake Superior, the ice coverage was estimated at about 5.6 percent this week, compared to 1.4 percent last year and 60.6 percent in 2015.

Most of the remaining ice on Lake Superior this week is concentrated at the eastern end of the lake, including Whitefish Bay. The Blough — and other freighters that departed Duluth on Wednesday or will leave today — will have to traverse that remaining ice field as they head to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., for the opening of the Soo Locks at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

Other vessels that left the Twin Ports on Wednesday or are slated to leave today include the Philip R. Clarke, Herbert C. Jackson, Paul R. Tregurtha, Lee A. Tregurtha, Burns Harbor and American Century.

The first freighters to reach the Twin Ports from Sault Ste. Marie are expected on Sunday.