The first new lake freighter in decades touched water last week off Lake Michigan, where the partially completed 639-foot Mark W. Barker launched in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding and the Interlake Steamship Company announced the milestone, saying the vessel was floated Thursday in the water in the large dry dock at the shipyard.

Interlake President Mark W. Barker, the vessel’s namesake, said it was “truly gratifying for our company to commemorate the first time the completed hull of our new ship has touched water.”

The Mark W. Barker is tugged into place after it was launched Thursday Oct. 28, 2021, into a flooded dry dock at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The lake freighter is the first new U.S. laker built for the Great Lakes since 1983.  
Contributed / Interlake Steamship Company
The Mark W. Barker is tugged into place after it was launched Thursday Oct. 28, 2021, into a flooded dry dock at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The lake freighter is the first new U.S. laker built for the Great Lakes since 1983. Contributed / Interlake Steamship Company

A formal maritime tradition, the launching ceremony is considered a blessing for the new ship and its crew to bring it good fortune on its future voyages, a joint news release said.

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The Barker is the first new ship constructed for the maritime company since 1981, and the first Great Lakes vessel built since 1983. Construction began in 2019. Interlake said it is not disclosing the cost of the new vessel.

“It is a proud day for the men and women of our shipyard to celebrate the progress made on the Mark W. Barker,” Fincantieri Bay’s Vice President and General Manager Todd Thayse said.

Interlake’s office staff was in Sturgeon Bay to be a part of the launch celebration. For many, it was their first time in a shipyard.

“We are dedicating this historic launch of our new ship to the men and women who have been building these Great Lakes vessels on our freshwater shores for more than 100 years,” said James R. Barker, chairman of Interlake. “Their workmanship and talent are welded into every seam of these vessels that go to sail long productive lives on the Lakes, safely carrying mariners and the raw materials that are the building blocks of America.”

In particular, James Barker pointed to the contribution of Ian Sharp, Interlake’s director of fleet projects, who spearheaded the design of the new build, starting with its conceptual phase.

Sharp and his wife of 56 years, Helen Sharp, were selected as the honorary launch sponsors.

Helen Sharp breaks a ceremonial bottle of champagne against the bow of the Mark W. Barker above the vessel’s nameplate Thursday Oct. 28, 2021, at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The lake freighter is the first new U.S. laker built for the Great Lakes since 1983.  
Contributed / Interlake Steamship Company
Helen Sharp breaks a ceremonial bottle of champagne against the bow of the Mark W. Barker above the vessel’s nameplate Thursday Oct. 28, 2021, at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The lake freighter is the first new U.S. laker built for the Great Lakes since 1983. Contributed / Interlake Steamship Company

Helen Sharp broke the ceremonial bottle of champagne against the bow of the ship just above the vessel’s nameplate. Tugs in the shipyard blew congratulatory salutes before shipyard workers opened the valves in the dry dock to let water flow in. The process of floating the boat took about six hours.

“May this vessel demonstrate not only the importance of commerce on the Great Lakes but also the power of partnerships between two tremendous companies,” said President and CEO of Fincantieri Marine Group Dario Dest.

The ship is expected to be complete and underway next spring. In the meantime, interior work on the vessel’s accommodations and mechanical and engineering systems continues.

The new self-unloading bulk carrier will transport raw materials such as salt, iron ore, and stone to support manufacturing throughout the Great Lakes region.

The carrier is being built by the shipyard’s nearly 700 skilled trade workers. Major partners for the project include American Bureau of Shipping, ArcelorMittal, Bay Engineering, EMD Engines, Caterpillar, EMS-Tech, Inc., Lufkin (a G.E. Company), Kongsberg and MacGregor.

The federal Jones Act of 1920 requires U.S.-built and crewed ships to carry U.S. goods between U.S. ports, making it necessary for Great Lakes ships to be constructed domestically.

Based in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, Interlake Steamship is the largest privately held U.S.-flag fleet on the Great Lakes with a roster of nine current lakers and a tug-barge.

The Mark W. Barker is draws by a tugboat in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. The lake freighter is the first new U.S. laker built for the Great Lakes since 1983.  
Contributed / Interlake Steamship Company
The Mark W. Barker is draws by a tugboat in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. The lake freighter is the first new U.S. laker built for the Great Lakes since 1983. Contributed / Interlake Steamship Company

Aerial photo of the new Mark W. Barker, left, after it was floated at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. 
Contributed / Interlake Steamship Company
Aerial photo of the new Mark W. Barker, left, after it was floated at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. Contributed / Interlake Steamship Company