Friday, July 8, 2011

The Soo Locks

(Sault Ste. Marie, MI) Hi 76 Low 58 - We heard a couple of rain showers early this morning, but by the time we got up it was clearing and turned out to be a beautiful day. We were glad of that because we had a big day planned.

Sault Ste. Marie is best known for the Soo Locks. The water level of Lake Superior is 21 feet higher than that of Lake Huron. The St. Mary's River, which connects the two lakes, drops that 21 feet in a half mile of rapids. In order to allow shipping through the river, a system of locks was built back in the early 1800's. In 1881 the Army Corps of Engineers took over the locks and have been operating them ever since. We became familiar with locks and how they work during our stay at Smiths Falls, Ontario. But the locks on the Rideau River are for small pleasure boats. The Soo Locks are in another league... 1000-foot cargo ships pass through them!

We showed up at Soo Locks Boat Tours about 10:40 for the 11am tour. The dock is about a half mile from our campground, which was very convenient.  (Click on any photo to enlarge it.)

The locks are about a mile upriver from our departure dock. This is a view of all four locks. You can see the dark colored gates. From left to right are the MacArthur, Poe, Davis, and Sabin locks.

Only the two on the left, MacArthur (800 x 80 ft) and Poe (1,200 x 110 ft), are still used.  The gray buildings in the photo above are administrative and operations facilities where they manage and operate the locks. A plan has been approved by congress to replace the Davis and Sabin locks - which are too shallow for modern ships - with one new lock the same size as the Poe.

As we approached the MacArthur lock (named after Gen. Douglas MacArthur by the way), the gate swung open for us to enter.

The white span you see in the background is the International Bridge, which we went over yesterday to return to the U.S. from Canada.

The structure you see in the upper left is a 2-story viewing platform where the public can get an up close view of the ships. (More on that later.)

Here's a close up of the viewing platform. Notice the concrete wall, which at this point is above our heads.

Once we entered the lock, the gate closed behind us. At this point we're 21 feet below where we have to be to continue on up the river. Once the rear gate closed, Dee started feeling a little claustrophobic. It did feel kind of like being trapped.

Then the water started to rise, lifting us up. Here we're about halfway there...

Just a little more to go...

Finally, after less than 10 minutes, we were all the way up and the gate opened up to let us out.

While we were in the lock heading upriver, there was a cargo ship in the Poe Lock next to us heading downriver. This is the Arther M. Anderson, a 647-ft lakes cargo ship. I mention this because it's a rather famous ship. It was the last ship to be in contact with the Edmund Fitzgerald, the great ship that sank in Lake Superior in 1975. (And made famous in a song by Gordon Lightfoot.)  The Anderson was also the first ship on the scene to look for survivors. (Tragically, there were none.)

Here you can see the ship is lower, as water is pumped out of the lock to lower it down to Lake Huron level.

Meanwhile, we continued upriver toward the International Bridge.

It's a beautiful bridge, with two suspension spans (you can see the second one far in the distance). The total length of the bridge is 2.8 miles.

It's really up there!  It has to be for those big ships to pass under it. The cars were stop and go the entire day going slowly toward the U.S.

After a nice cruise along the St. Mary's River past some local sights on the Canada side, we had to go through another lock. This time it was the Canadian Lock, which is much smaller than the soo locks, and more like the locks we saw on the Rideau River in Ontario. Here we're entering the lock. It's hard to tell in the photo, but the water level on the other side of the gate is 21 feet lower than inside the lock.

By now you know the routine... water is pumped out and all of a sudden we're 21 feet lower.

The gate opens up...

And we're on our way.

We then returned to the dock. It was a wonderful tour, and a very unique experience to travel through the most famous locks in the world. Thousands of ships a year pass through the locks, carrying mostly coal and iron ore to ports all around the Great Lakes.

After some lunch at the Lockview Restaurant (which was excellent), we walked across the street to the viewing platform (which you saw in one of the photos above). We were just in time to see a 700-foot tanker inside the lock. This is looking toward the bow. Check out how little clearance there is on the sides.

And this is looking toward the stern. So awesome!

As the ship started on its way it slowly passed us close enough to talk with the crewmembers. One of the guys said, "Be sure to study in school kids so you don't end up here." Cute.

We hung around to see one more ship come into the lock. This one was so big it had to go through the Poe Lock, which is longer than the MacArthur Lock. This is the Stewart J. Cort. It has the distinction of being the first lakes ship built that's 1,000 feet in length. It's as long as they come (one other is 13 feet longer). It's so long we couldn't get the whole thing in the picture. Here's the front end. (Notice the superstructure is on the front end of the ship rather than at the stern... that's one of the distinctions of lakes tankers. I'm not sure why.)

And it's a looooong way back to the stern!

After watching it pass through the lock, we made it back to our campground in time to see it pass by heading to Lake Huron.

We had a great time today. It was another one of those days that probably would never have happened if we weren't living the full-time lifestyle.

After relaxing for a while this evening, we were in for a big surprise. A couple of RV-Dreamers left comments on yesterday's blog telling us that Roger and Dianne (Travel With Whippets) are here in the same park as us. Dee went to the office to ask about them and found out they're in the motorhome parked right against our back window! Is this a small world or what? Dee knocked on their door but they weren't in, so she left a note. In less than a half hour they came over and and we had a nice conversation with them. They're here for a few days, on their way across the Mackinac Bridge to Traverse City, MI.

They're here until Monday like us, so we'll probably be having more conversations. It sure is a small world sometimes!

This was quite an eventful day. And more is ahead tomorrow.


Sandra said...

You've certainly gotten your locks education on this segment of your journey!

Kimberly and Jerry Peterson said...

We loved the Locks and the same ship passed while we were there. It was much cooler when we were there, it was in September a few years ago.

Thanks for all your photos, sure does bring back some great memories for us.

Gail and Rick (Gypsy Turtles) said...

That brought back a lot of memories for me! I had taken that same tour way, way back in 1971. I had forgotten most of it until reading your account where much of it came back to me. Thanks! This is another place I would like to revisit.

Leno said...

Loved your tour.. I am amazed by the locks. The only one we have been on was in Boston..

Rod and Loyce Ivers said...

Neat tour, thanks for the interesting story and nice pictures!

squawmama said...

WoW... how very interesting. We stayed in the same campground and even though it didn't have sewer or cement pads the view couldn't be beat! we were there for a week and didn't know about the boat tour through the locks. You can bet when we get there next time we will do that! It looked like so much fun. Glad you got to meet more bloggin friends. That is always exciting~
Have fun & Travel safe

Elizabeth J. Neal said...

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