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Season's first saltie lands in Duluth

People gather near the Maria G Monday afternoon for the annual ceremony held for the first saltie of the year arriving in the Twin Ports. The 655-foot-long Maria G entered the Duluth harbor shortly before 7 a.m. Monday to dock at Riverland Ag/Duluth Storage to load approximately 21,000 metric tons of spring wheat bound for Italy. Steve Kuchera /skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 3
U.S. Coast Guard Commander Erin Williams presents gifts to Ievgen Medvedenko, captain of the Maria G. Steve Kuchera /skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 3
A worker looks into one of the Maria G’s holds during loading operations Monday. Steve Kuchera /skuchera@duluthnews.com3 / 3

Captain Ievgen Medvedenko looked right at home standing dockside at the Riverland Ag terminal on Monday.

The zipper open on his coat, flashing a tie, Medvedenko shrugged off what had to be a familiar chill coming from Lake Superior. Medvedenko grew up on the Black Sea, in the Ukraine city of Odessa, 46 degrees north of the equator — same as Duluth.

"I live in a city which is along the sea," he said, having steered the 655-foot saltie Maria G into Duluth early Monday morning. "It's a family tradition to become a seaman."

Medvedenko followed his father and grandfather into shipping. As the guest of honor at the annual ceremony to mark the arrival of the shipping season's first salt-water vessel, Medvedenko met a parade of local dignitaries bearing small gifts.

Grain dust billowed into the air from the ongoing loading operation. The locals shouted over the idling vessel — its engine audible from the inside of the hull.

The St. Lawrence Seaway is celebrating its 60th year in 2019, and this is the second time in that span that the Maria G has made it to Duluth first. In 2008, sailing under the name Gadwall, the ship made it to Duluth-Superior on April 10.

"Two times the Maria G has been first," said Duluth Seaway Port Authority executive director Deb DeLuca, before drawing on a timely reference. "Kind of like UMD (men's) hockey winning back-to-back titles."

Medvedenko smiled and accepted the kindnesses with grace. A lot of children in Odessa grow up dreaming of a life at sea, he said. It is a noble life, he explained, including for girls and women now, too.

"Not just cruise ships," he said. "They're in the (maritime) academies, too."

Maria G is scheduled to depart Duluth bound for Italy late Tuesday with 21,000 metric tons of spring wheat. The ship, painted green and wearing the scars of life at sea, discharged steel in Oshawa, Ontario on its way to Duluth.

Before the ceremony ended, Medvedenko learned the winner of Visit Duluth's First Ship Contest. Debra Keech of Stillwater guessed Monday at 6:30 a.m. The Maria G sailed under the Aerial Lift Bridge at 6:48 a.m. Keech was 18 minutes off — the closest guess from among 2,100 contestants. She won a Duluth getaway, including lodging and gift cards to local restaurants.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson shouted over the sound of the working port.

"It's a big part of who we are," she said of the shipping industry.

Medvedenko nodded along, knowing exactly what she meant.

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