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A Few Days at the Soo

I recently spent the better part of four days camping in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. I wanted to watch the lake freighters up close and personal. It was fantastic! I saw 17 ships negotiating the twists and turns of the St. Marys River before or after going through the locks. The locks make it possible for the ships to move between Lakes Huron and Superior, lifting or lowering them the 21 feet of differing lake levels.

A few facts about the locks, courtesy of

  • 90% of the world’s iron ore moves through the Soo Locks
  • Duluth, Minnesota to the Atlantic Ocean (via St Lawrence Seaway) is 2342 miles or 7 days
  • Soo Locks have no pumps they are 100% gravity fed
  • Poe Lock requires 22 million gallons of water to lift or lower a boat
  • The Soo Locks close from January 15-March 25 each year for repairs
  • It would take 584 train cars to move 70,000 tons of cargo or just one 1000 foot freighter
  • The Paul R. Tregurtha is the largest freighter on the Great Lakes at 1013.5 feet
Hon James L Oberstar

The Hon James L Oberstar slowly glides under the railway bridge and the International Bridge to Canada and into the locks before heading south to Lake Huron.

Yurt at The Soo 2018

Our camp/tent/shelter/yurt—call it what you will—at The Soo Locks Campground was just 100 yards off the river and a few short blocks from downtown.

We were in the right place/right time to catch the CSL Welland sounding the standard “greeting and salute” to another freighter she was about to meet on the river:


Wednesday morning dawned beautifully…with a gorgeous pink, cotton candy sky over our Canadian neighbors to the east. Wow! Makes it well worth getting out of bed at the crack of dawn!


Camping in town, close to restaurants and lots of fast food places, I found it hard to take the time and trouble to start a fire and do my own cooking. I did, however, have the urge for a plate of fresh tomato and avocado, accompanied by a few pretzels and Schuler’s Cheese Spread. Yum! Of course, my next meal was an olive burger and french fries prepared by Clyde’s Drive-In.  🙂

Good Lunch

I was a bit surprised to see the number of U.S. Border Patrol vehicles here and there along the river. Evidently, they were watching for unauthorized border crossings between the states and Canada. The Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba was even passing through from her home base in Boston. Beautiful, isn’t she?

USCGC Escanaba

Our last morning in camp, fog rolled in soupy thick on the river.  You could barely make out the Sugar Island ferry midway between the island and mainland. About 45 minutes later, the fog was starting to clear and we were fortunate to catch the American Integrity upbound, along with the blast of her foghorn.


Some folks say, you see one of those freighters, you’ve seen ’em all. Well, to each their own; I don’t happen to agree with that myself. Whether you’re watching a thousand-foot self-unloading bulk carrier, a chemical tanker, a tug/barge combination, one with a more modern single aft superstructure, or the older style with the bridge and superstructure on the bow, each one is unique and interesting…at least they are to me. I do seem to favor the older, bridge/superstructure forward style, like the Roger Blough, shown in the two photos below. Originally launched in 1972, she’s a majestic ship, isn’t she? That distinctive paint style on the bow really sets off all ships of the Great Lakes Fleet, Inc.

Roger Blough

Roger Blough aft

I’m not sure at this point where my next travels will take me; time will tell. Duluth, Minnesota sounds interesting. We’ll see. I may not have enough time to make that long trip this year due to work responsibilities. Wherever I go, there’s a very good chance lake freighters will influence that decision!

3 comments on “A Few Days at the Soo

  1. harmon1940 says:

    Great pictures and great travels! Wishing you many more!

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Great post; I’m glad you enjoyed your trip. I love the videos you shared, especially the fog horn accompanied by the sweet sound of gulls calling in the background. Good stuff!


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