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First saltie reaches Duluth with ice drama

Mike Creger

More than 100 people knew the reality of a cold winter when it came to guessing when the first ocean-going vessel of the year would slip under Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge.

They all guessed sometime in May, more than a month after a saltie’s usual first entry. Of the 1,155 people who entered the Visit Duluth and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority “First Ship Contest,” 103 said the date and time would fall in May, said Gene Shaw from Visit Duluth.

Some guessed May 7, and they would have been right as the Diana came under the lift bridge just before midnight.

The Diana and another saltie, the Zealand Delilah, were delayed by more than 15 hours Tuesday and Wednesday by ice on the northern section Lake Superior.

“They’re trying to get her in tonight, but there’s a lot of frozen slush,”said Adele Yorde of the port authority late Wednesday as the drama unfolded outside of the canal. “The tug has been doing a yeoman’s job trying to carve space.”

The Diana had reached a stalemate in a “soupy muck” of ice — visible from shore, but going nowhere fast. The Walter J. McCarthy Jr., a laker, came to its aid.

“They were going to see if the McCarthy going around (the Diana) will open a channel,” Yorde said. “They want to try and slide the Diana into the track right behind the McCarthy.”

The ice event was indicative of a slow shipping season all around, and even featured a brief power outage on the lift bridge.

Only last week did lakers get on a regular schedule across the Great Lakes as ice choked passageways when the season began in late March.

The Diana’s feat was a record late date for an ocean-going vessel. The previous latest date was May 3, 1959, when the St. Lawrence Seaway was first opened from Duluth to the Atlantic.

The Diana began her voyage by discharging cargo in Brazil before heading to the Twin Ports. The 453-foot ship will load 11,550 metric tons of wheat at the CHS elevator in Superior before departing for Algeria. This is her first time in the Twin Ports.

“While this will go down as the latest on record, the ice-encrusted start to the season can’t dampen enthusiasm here in the Twin Ports,” Yorde said.

There will be a ceremony this afternoon honoring the first saltie where it sits in the Superior port.

Honoring a namesake

Meanwhile, the Hon. James L. Oberstar came into port this morning as the funeral for its namesake began in Maryland. The ship passed through the ship canal at about 9:30 a.m. Once it reacheed the Aerial Lift Bridge, the ship horn blew two long blasts and three short ones, with the bridge master following suit.

The Lake Carriers’ Association asked earlier this week that all U.S. ships sail the American flag at half-mast.

The Oberstar was heading to the BNSF dock in Superior to load iron ore, a cargo that befits the former congressman, whose family was closely tied to the mines on the Iron Range.

News Tribune staff writer Brady Slater contributed to this report

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