Port in a storm

One of the largest ships on the Great Lakes, the 1,004-foot Edgar B. Speer, finds shelter from a fall gale just off the harbor; its senior officer says, ‘We love looking at your town’

THE 1,004-FOOT Edgar B. Speer idled about a mile-and-a-half off Port Washington Monday morning before dropping its 22,000-pound anchor and settling in for the night and much of the next day. Taking advantage of the deep water off Port and the lee provided by its high bluffs, the 22-person crew was waiting for conditions to improve before delivering 63,000 tons of taconite to Gary Harbor, Ind. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington lake watchers got an eyeful this week—an eyeful of one of the largest ships on the Great Lakes. The 1,004-foot-long bulk carrier Edgar B. Speer, seeking shelter from high seas and near gale-force winds, lay at anchor off the Port harbor Monday and Tuesday and became a fascinating, and much photographed, addition to lake views.

Sea conditions at the ship’s destination, Gary Harbor at the foot of Lake Michigan, would have been untenable, Ken Houseal, a senior ship’s officer on the Speer, told Ozaukee Press via VHF marine radio Tuesday. The lee of Port Washington, with its high bluffs and deep water, is an ideal place to wait out north-northwest winds gusting to over 30 knots, he said.

“In strong northerly winds, sea conditions off Gary are very difficult to anchor in,” Houseal said. “The waves are large and confused, making it hard for anchored vessels to stay pointed into the wind.”

Gary Harbor consists of a single channel just wide enough for the 105-foot-wide bulk carriers and offers little refuge in those conditions, he said. “We have to moor on a north-south dock and there is a heavy surge. The last time, we used nine steel cables and eight soft lines and still worried about damage to the ship and equipment.”

In contrast, the water a mile and half east of the Port harbor where the Speer anchored was relatively calm. Houseal said the ship was secured with a 22,000-pound anchor and 360 feet of chain in about 125 feet of water.

The Speer was carrying 63,000 tons of taconite, a low-grade iron ore, that had been loaded aboard at Two Harbors, Minn.

The voyage over Lake Superior, through the Sault Ste Marie locks and down the length of Lake Michigan is a regular run, Houseal said, which will be repeated through the year until the locks close for the winter.

The vessel, which sails with a crew of 22, can handle most offshore conditions, though when southbound in strong northerly winds waves can break over its stern, Houseal said.

About Port Washington, the freighter sailor said, “We love looking at your town. It’s a pretty place. I wish we could have come into your harbor, but that wasn’t something that could happen.”

There’s no doubt about that. With a draft of 28 feet with its full load of iron, the Edgar Speer would go aground in the breakwater entrance.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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