Cadet Shipping Experience on the Great Lakes: Day 21

In the spring and early summer of 1997 I sailed on the Great Lakes as a deck cadet on board the bulk ore and coal carrying ship “James R. Barker“. The following articles are pulled directly from the journal I maintained during my 60 days on board the vessel. Enjoy!

Day 21: St. Mary’s River and the Soo Locks:

May 23th, 1997

The "Gros Cap" Lighthouse marks the entrance to the St. Mary's River. The "snowplow" on the western side helps break up the flow of ice in the winter months.

This morning I stood the 8-12 watch and spent most of my time preparing for our downbound transit of the Soo Locks and the St. Mary’s River. After doing a little “deadreckoninig” on the chart (estimating our position at various points in the future based on our current course and speed) I figured we would be at the Gros Cap Light House (at the entrance of the St. Mary’s River) at around 1800.

Since I was most likely going to be up all night as we transited through the locks and down the river, I planned my afternoon so that I would be well rested before heading back up to the wheelhouse by 1800.

We passed through the locks this evening without any problem and then took on a “boat load” of supplies from a local vendor. It tool a lot longer than we had anticipated due to a problem with our deck crane, but the problem was soon sorted out, the provisions were loaded, and we were once again merrily on our way down the St. Mary’s River.

It was a fairly uneventful rest of the way through the river and out into Lake Huron. I spent a good deal of time talking with the 3rd Mate on watch about a host of different topics relating to the differences between the ocean going merchant marine, and the merchant marine industry on the Great Lakes.

The most interesting component is that there is no celestial navigation required for a license on the Great Lakes. This is mostly due to the fact that you are usually within sight of land. The issue is that all of the tables and publications used for celestial navigation would need to be republished for use on the Great Lakes due to the higher elevation of the water above sea level (approximately 600ft).

We finally cleared the river at 0300 this morning. We are still a day or two away from Lorain, OH with our load of Taconite and I’m looking forward to getting a little rest while we steam down Lake Huron.

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