As crews worked into the night to ensure the William A. Irvin could safely move out of the Minnesota Slip Friday, hundreds of onlookers in Canal Park stood waiting to see the 611-foot ship make its first voyage in about 30 years.
Although the floating museum was scheduled to depart at 8 p.m., the move was delayed several hours as surveyors worked to ensure two barges crucial to the Irvin move were properly positioned outside the Minnesota Slip. Finally, at about 9:50 p.m., the ship started to slowly move toward the harbor.
"No complications. We're just running a little bit behind with the weather and getting the equipment and barges moved into place," said Chad Scott of AMI Consulting Engineers, the company overseeing the move, during a 9 p.m. news conference.
The ship could only be moved in 5- to 6-mph winds.
Passing through the Minnesota Slip Bridge, the Irvin had just 7 inches of clearance on either side. Two winches - a pulling winch and a braking winch - controlled the ship's forward movement, about 1 foot every 4 seconds. Meanwhile, the new seawall on the DECC side was used as a straight edge to guide the ship. Excavators with lines tied to the Irvin kept the ship up against the seawall.
"This vessel was already in the slip prior to the bridge being built ... so this'll be a test to make sure it goes through," Scott said Friday afternoon of the Irvin's first voyage through the blue bridge.
After passing through the slip bridge, the Irvin headed toward Fraser Shipyards in Superior, about a 3 mile trip, for a drydock and fresh paint. While it's gone, contaminated sediments in the slip will be capped in place and stabilized as part of a $10 million project to revitalize the slip. Most of the funding is being provided by the state of Minnesota and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Irvin is slated to return to Duluth again in spring 2019.
Some spectators didn't mind waiting Friday night to see the Irvin off.
Marjorie Schultz of Rochester said she was willing to wait "whatever it takes" to watch the ship move.
As a regular visitor to Duluth and a member of the Duluth Engineers' Club, Schultz said the historical ship and logistics of the move intrigued her.
"This is like Engineers' Club, except it's not a meeting," Schultz said.
The move captivated hundreds more who watched it streamed live on the internet.
Jerry Thoreson of Destination Duluth had 240 people from all over the United States watching the ship on his live stream, and that was over an hour before the ship even moved an inch.
"People just love the history of it," Thoreson said. "It's going to be weird not seeing it."
The move should take at least four or five hours, Scott said.
By 10:30 p.m., the Irvin was slowly making its way through the narrow bridge opening. Crews stopped and started the process to make any adjustments.
Scott called that "the most critical part" and said he was a little nervous about it.
Looking at the weather forecast, Scott said crews had until about 4 a.m. Saturday to finish the move.
Once through the Slip Bridge, moving across the harbor should be no problem, Scott said.
"That's the easy part," he said.