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Lake Superior, March 2002
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With the gentle push of two polished brass levers on the bridge, two 14-foot diameter propellers come to life and the Mackinaw's hull eases forward into Whitefish Bay, on the eastern end of Lake Superior near the Soo Locks. The motion is so smooth that only an occasional vibration lets on the ship is moving. If it weren’t for the sound of broken ice sliding along the side of the hull you’d never know the Mackinaw is slicing through more than a foot of solid ice.
A quarter mile astern, the searchlight of the 1,000-foot freighter Indiana Harbor cuts through the darkness and illuminates the track we’ve left in the ice behind us. The huge vessel, bound for the locks with her first load of the season, is one of more than a dozen lakers over the next few days that will need the Mackinaw’s assistance negotiating Whitefish Bay’s ice fields, which are often tightly packed by prevailing northwest winds.
The Mackinaw breaks a path leading into the Poe Lock, and then carefully backs out at an angle so the Indiana Harbor is not pushed into its stern by the ice which, far from being inert, is often moving and always unpredictable.
With the opening of the Soo Locks, the Great Lakes shipping season has begun. From ports all around the region, ships are leaving their winter berths. Some are downbound from Lake Superior with ore and coal to feed the steel mills and power plants on the lower lakes. Others head upbound from their winter lay-up docks ready to take on their first cargos of the season. It is the Mackinaw’s mission to see that those ships reach their destinations, aiding in the early shipping of millions of tons of iron ore and other materials.
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