Navigating the Lee A. Tregurtha through the Soo Locks

The Lee A. drops 21 feet through the Poe Lock from Lake Superior to the St. Mary’s River
In the middle of the night, the Lee A. Tregurtha comes alive as it takes its turn moving through the Poe Lock
Published: Oct. 19, 2023 at 7:40 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 30, 2023 at 1:42 PM EDT
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GREAT LAKES, Mich. (WLUC) - This week TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson takes you along on a journey through the Great Lakes aboard the Lee A. Tregurtha, one of the oldest, most celebrated shipping vessels in the industry.

You’ve watched in the first three parts of her series as the crew loaded 26,000 tons of iron ore into the belly of the ship, and they traveled from Marquette to the Soo Locks. You’ve heard from the crew on board about the work and about balancing the job with families and friends. She’s taken you on a tour of the engine room and gotten an up close look at the galley for a taste of the food.

In part 4, we continue our journey from Marquette to Burns Harbor, Indiana, moving through the Soo Locks. And the ship gets a new captain!

The Lee A. reached the Soo Locks around 3:00 am, 15 hours after it left Marquette, and believe it or not - boat traffic was heavy.

As the crew waited for their turn to move through the Poe Lock you could feel the importance of this waterway, every boat carrying important cargo - raw materials - vital to the American economy.

Captain Nick Parson explained, “If the Poe Lock goes down 90% of all Great Lakes shipping is shut off because only 10% can use the MacArthur Lock because it’s so small.”

Nearly three football fields in length and carrying 26,000 tons of Iron Ore in her belly, the Lee A. Tregurtha needs a little extra space and patience.

The Lee A. was being lowered from Lake Superior to the St. Mary’s River. The system works with just gravity, using 22 million gallons of water, and dropping the vessel 21 feet.

When all is said and done, the entire process from waiting to enter the Poe Lock to pulling out, takes close to two hours.

It requires all hands on deck, navigation from the pilot house, ropes and winches from the deckhands... it’s hard to believe it’s the middle night!

This trip through the Soo Locks is a bit more significant, as Captain Nick gets off the boat and heads home to see his wife and kids after almost 60 days at the helm - and a new captain will be coming on board.

“It’s a great feeling, knowing that at the end of the day, I’ve done my job,” said Captain Nick. “I’ve been here for two months, I’ve moved the cargo, all my guys are still here, no one’s been hurt, there’s been no accidents and I get to go home and I get to enjoy that time with my wife and kids.”

Captain Nick says he’s been able to balance life on the boat and a family because of his wife.

“She is there all the time, it’s on her, when I’m gone, she really is the glue that holds this whole production together.”

Time home, is time to recharge - to let go of the heaviness of keeping a ship, her crew and cargo safe.

“My job is to move this boat, it’s to move cargo,” said Captain Nick. “But the most important thing that I do, that I pride myself on is making sound decisions. Not only does my life get affected, but the 22 other people on board are affected by my decisions - not only them but their families too. It’s a big burden, it weighs a lot.”

The switch is made, it’s a quick on and off as the boat continues its move through the Locks.

And just like that… the ship now has a relief captain for the next 30 days, Captain Jack.

Relief Captain Jack Brandenburg said, “We leave what we call pass down notes - so all the pertinent information that I might need to know, what’s going on, on the boat right now is written down for me.”

And it’s right to work for Captain Jack he begins navigating the St. Mary’s River while most of the crew heads back to sleep for the night… or well, morning… it’s hard to keep it all straight.

“The challenge is more of a what am I walking into on this boat,” said Captain Jack. “What are the specific situations that are going on, on this boat right now.”

Now unfortunately traveling the St. Mary’s River at night doesn’t allow for great video, remember, we’re on Lee A. Tregurtha’s time… and so, while Elizabeth says she was looking forward to seeing the sights, there wasn’t much to see… those moments would come the next morning.

Follow along the entire journey:

Part 1: TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson begins her journey with the Lee A. Tregurtha through the Great Lakes

Part 2: Getting to know the crew of the Lee A. Tregurtha

Part 3: Feeding the crew on the Lee A. Tregurtha

Part 4: Navigating the Lee A. Tregurtha through the Soo Locks

Part 5: The final leg of our journey with the Lee A. Tregurtha