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 Departed Sturgeon Bay 2013

Monica Sawyn

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature - Wilfred Sykes

by George Wharton

Built by American Shipbuilding Co., Lorain, OH in 1949 for Inland Steel Co., the streamlined bulk freighter Wilfred Sykes was the first new American-built Great Lakes vessel constructed after World War II. At the time of her launch, she was the largest vessel on the Great Lakes. The Sykes is powered by 2 steam turbine engines producing a combined 7,000 horsepower driving an 18 1/2 foot diameter four-blade propeller giving her a speed of up to 16 mph. Being the first steamship built to burn "bunker C" heavy oil for fuel instead of coal, her fuel tanks can hold 165,000 gallons giving her a cruising range of 4,500 miles. She is also equipped with a bow thruster.

Her 18 hatches feed into 6 compartments where she can carry 20150 tons at maximum Seaway draft of 26 feet and is capable of carrying 21500 tons at her maximum mid-summer draft of 27 feet 7 1/2 inches. The Sykes was the first Great Lakes vessel built with a 70-foot beam and was also the first laker built capable of carrying in excess of 20,000 tons. She set iron ore cargo records during her first three seasons of operations (1950, 51, & 52). At the time of her design, Inland Steel determined that the needs of the iron ore trade dictated that this vessel be the largest and fastest that the yards were capable of building and still be able to pass through the existing locks at Sault Ste. Marie. Her hatches are 44 feet wide, 11 feet long, and spaced on 24-foot centers. The one-piece hatch covers are moved by a 25 hp. electric motor driven tracked hatch crane which is equipped with 2 lifting hooks powered by a separate 10 hp. motor.

Private rooms are provided for all licensed officers and double rooms for the unlicensed personnel with each room having a private bathroom. Fore and aft recreation rooms are also provided. The Sykes was designed so that the crew could go anywhere on board without having to step outside (including stairways & passageways).

She is equipped with two 12,000 lb. bow anchors, each attached to 540 feet of 2 1/8-inch forged alloy steel chains. Her 10,000 lb. stern anchor is fitted to 540 feet of 1 7/8-inch steel chain. She also has six 50 hp. electric mooring winches with 1 1/2-inch plow steel mooring cables. Her lifesaving equipment includes two 31-person lifeboats carried on stern davits with power winches for raising and lowering as well as several inflatable rafts stowed in containers on deck.

The straight-decker was converted to a self-unloader in 1975 by Fraser Shipyards, Superior, WI. She is equipped with a 250-foot stern mounted discharge boom that can be swung 90 degrees to port or starboard for unloading.

Inland Steel has had the Sykes' activity focused on the Lake Michigan taconite, stone, and coal trades. Inland Steel was acquired by Ispat International of the Netherlands in 1998. Ispat, in turn, sold the 3 Inland Steel lakers to the newly formed Central Marine Logistics, Highland, IN. The 3 vessels were the Wilfred Sykes, Joseph L. Block, and the Edward L. Ryerson. This move was to comply with the Jones Act which dictates that vessels moving cargoes between U.S. ports be U.S. owned, operated, crewed, and built. After the change in ownership, the Wilfred Sykes' activity has continued to be focused on the Lake Michigan taconite trade into Indiana Harbor.

The year 1999 marked "50 yrs of Smooth Sailing" for the Wilfred Sykes. This lake boat is a true classic steamer of the post World War II era. May her future years on the Lakes be as profitable and productive as her previous fifty.


Overall dimensions
Length 671'00"
Beam 70'00"
Depth 37'00"
Capacity (tons) 21,500
horsepower steam turbine 7,000
Self-unloading boom 250'

  2-WSykes-4-3-13-ms.jpg (140064 bytes)
Lake Michigan just ahead, the Sykes passes through the last of the Ship Canal, with the lighthouse on the north side.

Unloading at Indiana Harbor. Gary Clark

Loading in Marquette. Lee Rowe

Loading Escanaba, "50 years of smooth sailing." Rod Burdick

Mate watching over the stern. Wade Streeter.

Stern view. Wade Streeter

Unloading at Wirt Stone on the Saginaw River. Roger LeLievre

Aerial view Don Coles

Grand Haven Steve Vander Bosch

View from the boom. Roger LeLievre

As a straight decker. Luke Collection

Later in her career. Jim Hoffman

December passage on the Saginaw River. Todd Shorkey


As a straight decker. Tony Paquette Collection

Aerial view Don Coles

Rouge River, 2002. Mike Nicholls

Approaching Rouge Steel, Detroit. Wade Streeter.

Saginaw River. Stephen Hause

Turning in Saginaw. Todd Shorkey

Straits of Mackinac Sunrise from the pilothouse.  Eric Treece

Close up of stack. Roger LeLievre

Foggy Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Winter day passage. Wendell Wilke

Entering Grand Haven Todd Davidson

Rouge River. Wade Streeter

Summer storm. Eric Treece

Green Bay. Wendell Wilke

Winter lay-up. Scott Best

Pilothouse Engine room telegraph's (Chaburn) inner workings. (Lay-up picture) Wade Streeter

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