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

TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson travels with the crew as they leave the St. Mary’s River and head to Burns Harbor, Indiana
TV6's Elizabeth Peterson takes us along as the Lee A. moves out of the St. Mary's River and into Lake Huron, traveling under the Mackinac Bridge
Published: Oct. 20, 2023 at 7:50 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 30, 2023 at 1:42 PM EDT
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GREAT LAKES, Mich. (WLUC) - After spending over 37 hours on board the Lee A. Tregurtha, TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson said she didn’t want to leave.

Elizabeth said she watched, often from a distance, the crew interacting with eachother... working, laughing, reminiscing of home or detailing what their first stop off the boat would be: Steak n Shake, Cookie Crumble, hanging with their families, taking a trip, completing house projects. They talked about any and everything.

But when there was work to be done, they dove in, pushed hard and focused on the task at hand. They cackled as one would yell, “let’s go - every day’s a Monday.” Because, time really is irrelevant... remember the first lesson - Lee A. Tregurtha moves at her own pace.

She said she wasn’t what she expected... but what she was a part of, was so much more than she could have ever anticipated.

To wrap up this adventure, it’s the final leg. Waking up to a beautiful sunrise in the Saint Mary’s River as the boat moved along Drummond Island and made the turn into Lake Huron, heading for the Mackinac Bridge.

Here’s her perspective of the last bit of the trip from Marquette to Burns Harbor:

I wouldn’t say it was a particularly extraordinary sunrise - and yet it was - for the simple fact that it was another morning aboard the Lee A. Tregrutha.

Navigating the Saint Mary’s River mostly happened overnight in the dark, so taking in the last stretch - well, I didn’t want to miss it.

A crew member navigated the Lee A at all times while on the river. There’s no auto pilot being used here to move through the narrow openings and around islands.

This island is a familiar one, Drummond Island, and it marks a turning point for the freighter as it shifts out of the river and into Lake Huron.

An easy, beautiful morning with much to look forward too.

Relief Captain Jack Brandenburg said, “We’re looking forward to more great weather, while it lasts. Typically once we get into Fall time of the season we all know the winds are going to pick up and so we’re really enjoying the easy winds right now, I guess you could call it. “I’m just looking forward to getting to Burns Harbor without scratching the paint.”

And that’s exactly what the day brought, a peaceful cruise. But, it wasn’t without a bit of excitement and awe. One of the highlights of taking this route from Marquette to Burns Harbor was the chance to go under the Mackinac Bridge. I was grateful the sun was up, the weather was perfect and the opportunity didn’t pass us by.

We passed Mackinac Island, taking in the landmarks. The Grand Hotel easily visible. And we patiently waited for that moment as remarkable as I’d hoped.

Wheelsman Tom Pilarski said, “There are some days out here, you’ll see things that.... I’ve told my wife many times, I wish you could see what I’m seeing right now. There are some completely amazing things that no one will ever see and you can’t even explain it to them.”

It was a perfect start to a long final stretch. We had 15 hours left to Burns Harbor. Lake Michigan was calm and quiet. In the distance I noted the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and a faint Chicago skyline.

On board, the crew used this time to catch up on maintenance around the boat - from painting to cleaning. It seemed upkeep on the Tregurtha never stopped, from the time we boarded to the time we left - there was always something to do.

As the hours went on the projects were cleaned up and preparations began to be made for our arrival to Burns Harbor.

“We’ll get in there,” said Captain Jack. “The facility will have a hopper and we’ll swing the boom over the hopper and unload iron ore. And then after that what they do with it is somewhat of a mystery to me, they put it in a big furnace and they make a big slab out of it.”

The Lee A Tregurtha is 826 feet long. She’s one of 10 commercial vessels within the Interlake Steamship Company and picture this, over the course of a season, these vessels criss-cross the Great Lakes over 500 times, stop at 50 different ports and transport over 20 million tons of raw materials.

It’s nearly effortless, the giant freighter docking in the harbor. The landscape here is very different from the Marquette shore we left. It’s industrial, it’s dirty and on this day, the conveyer belt at the harbor needed to unload was being repaired and so the crew of the Tregurtha would have to wait.

Regardless, there’s a sense of accomplishment. Over 37 hours navigating the Great Lakes. The cargo and crew has arrived safely. They’ll spend the next 10-12 hours here and then turn the Lee A around and head back to Marquette for another shipment.

They’ll face a new set of circumstances... changing winds and weather conditions. But, at the end of the day... they’ll have each other and they’ll have the Lee A. Tregurtha.

“I love that everyone comes together in the easy situations and then in the bad situations,” said Captain Jack. “And I don’t mean dangerous. I mean long hours, dirty - they come together to accomplish the common goal and that goal is to provide cargo to our customers throughout the Great Lakes.”

To learn more about the ore boats of the Great Lakes or to inquire about job opportunities check out the Interlake Steamship Company’s website.

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