Boat nerds, rejoice: the Great Lakes shipping campaign is gearing up to start.

The shipping season gets going overnight Monday with the midnight opening of the Soo Locks. Vessels both upbound into Lake Superior and downbound to the other lakes will be lining up outside the locks in advance of the opening.

Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard said it expected at least one vessel to transit the locks before dawn Monday, ushering in activity that won't be expected to stop until next January.

The first vessel out of Duluth is anticipated to be the Mesabi Miner, slated to load coal Friday in Superior before departing for St. Clair, Mich., on the bottom of Lake Huron, said the Duluth Seaway Port Authority in a news release on Thursday. The Kaye E. Barker is also scheduled to get moving Friday, according to the vessel traffic site

Six ships wintered in Duluth-Superior, and the Port Authority made note of other departure details:

  • Kaye E. Barker is expected to sail Saturday for Two Harbors and a load of taconite iron ore, then is bound for Indiana Harbor
  • The Lee A. Tregurtha is scheduled to leave Fraser Shipyards in Superior and load ore at the CN dock in Duluth

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw spent Thursday busily breaking out the Duluth-Superior port - cutting a 100-foot-wide lane into the Superior Bay, said the Port Authority.

Several vessels were scheduled to pass upbound through the Soo Locks, including:

  • Algoma Guardian, bound for Two Harbors
  • Erie Trader, bound for Two Harbors
  • Great Lakes Trader, bound for CN/Duluth Dock
  • James R. Barker, bound for Silver Bay
  • Paul R. Tregurtha, bound for coal at the Superior Midwest Energy Terminal
  • Stewart J. Cort, bound for BNSF Railway Dock in Superior
  • Wilfred Sykes, bound for Two Harbors

"Recent warming weather, rain and winds have helped reduce Lake Superior ice cover to approximately 65 percent," the Port Authority said. "However, the U.S. Coast Guard reported ice fields in excess of 12 inches thick still remaining on the lake, along with approximately 16 miles of ice cover outside the Duluth entry."

Because of the conditions, and the potential for rapid changes elsewhere on the lake, shipping operators were expressing caution about early-season sailings, the Port Authority said, meaning slower speeds and "a deliberate start to the season is expected."