Indiana Harbor Makes a Surprise Visit

Over Labor Day weekend, I headed up to Sturgeon Bay one last time before summer comes to an end, not expecting to see anything at the shipyard other than the usual construction projects. What a surprise I was in for!


I just so happened to be driving into town when I noticed this across the bay. At first, I didn’t believe what I was seeing, but I quickly realized that yes, that was the Indiana Harbor in the channel, headed for the shipyard!


I quickly headed over to Bullhead Point, one of my favorite ship-watching spots in Sturgeon Bay, to watch her arrival. The tug to the right of Indiana Harbor‘s bow is the Selvick fleet’s William C. Gaynor.


At this point, I still had absolutely no idea why a 1,000 footer was arriving during one of the busiest times of the shipping season. The Harbor was certainly taking her time though, as she slowed to a crawl as she neared Bay Shipbuilding.


As I would later learn, Indiana Harbor had actually lost her port rudder somewhere in the St. Marys River, and all four blades of her port propeller were also damaged when the rudder came loose.


The last time a ship dropped a rudder on the Lakes was in August 2006, when the Roger Blough‘s rudder came loose (also in the St. Marys River, ironically). In that incident, the Blough had to be lashed side-to-side with fleetmate Edgar B. Speer for the trip to Sturgeon Bay for repairs. Her lost rudder was eventually recovered, and remains at the shipyard to this day.


Prior to that incident, the St. Marys River was also home to rudders belonging to the Speer herself and Lower Lakes’ Mississagi…meaning that Indiana Harbor is the fourth vessel to lose her rudder in that river.


Along with the Gaynor, fellow tug William C. Selvick was on the Harbor‘s stern to aid her steering.


Here’s a closeup of the classic 85′ tug, constructed in 1944.


Meanwhile, the Gaynor had emerged from behind Indiana Harbor‘s bow, and crossed in front of the ship to push from her starboard side.


The Gaynor‘s primary job was now to hold Indiana Harbor‘s bow in place while the Selvick swung her stern in towards the dock.


William C. Selvick gives all she’s got to push the ship closer to the dock.


In this wide view, you can see both tugs working to keep the ship in place. There was also a stiff breeze coming through the channel, which probably didn’t make the job any easier.


After the Indiana Harbor was inched further forward to clear her stern of the dock, she began to swing towards the dock.


Launched here at Bay Shipbuilding on March 19, 1979, the Indiana Harbor was the ninth 1,000 foot vessel built for Great Lakes service.


Like her sisters, the Harbor has a maximum carrying capacity of 78,850 tons at her maximum mid-summer draft of 34 feet. Cargo is loaded through 37 hatches on her deck, and she has a total of seven separate cargo holds.


The ship’s engine room is home to four GM diesel engines that produce 3,500 horsepower each, giving Indiana Harbor a rated service speed of 14 knots, or about 16 miles per hour.


For her large size, the Harbor is very maneuverable – in addition to her two propellers, each with a dedicated rudder, she is also equipped with thrusters at her bow and stern. Even with the loss of one rudder, the ship is still plenty capable of turning.


Even though Indiana Harbor lost her rudder while downbound in the St. Marys River, she still unloaded her iron ore cargo at her namesake port on the south end of Lake Michigan before arriving in Sturgeon Bay for repairs.


Both the Selvick and Gaynor are on the ship’s port side now, pushing her in to the dock.


The Gaynor, still on Indiana Harbor‘s bow, continued to swing the bow towards the dock. You can see a little bit of wake where the Harbor has activated her bow thruster.


The massive ship inched closer and closer to the dock.


William C. Gaynor then moved to the ship’s starboard side to prevent the bow from colliding with the dock.


I didn’t stay to watch the ship actually docking, since it took two hours for her to arrive and turn for the dock, but I returned to Bullhead Point the following day. As you can see, her ballast tanks had already been pumped out to bring her propellers and remaining rudder out of the water.


Her bow anchors had also been dropped to ensure she stayed in place while repairs were completed.


Her fleetmate Walter J. McCarthy Jr. lent the Harbor two of her spare propeller blades to replace the damaged ones, however I don’t know where the other two (or a new rudder, for that matter) will be coming from.


While there, I also took the opportunity to photograph the other vessels at the shipyard. American Courage was still tied in her usual slip, with no sign of activity to indicate a return to service anytime soon.


In the floating drydock was one of Bay Shipbuilding’s newbuilds, the tug Miss Houston. There were two barges under construction in the graving dock, so I’m assuming she will be paired with one of those once they are completed. Notice that the propeller visible here has three rudders behind it, meaning that the tug has a total of six rudders (there is a second propeller to the left, hidden behind the drydock wall).


Lower Lakes Towing’s Invincible was also still laid up – she has been here since 2014, when her contract to operate with the barge McKee Sons expired. However, rumor is that the company intends to scrap the old tug Olive L. Moore at the end of the season, and then pair Invincible with the Moore‘s barge Menominee.


I also stopped on the shipyard side of the channel to try to get some pictures, but of course there was too much equipment in the way to get any decent shots. The clouds make this one of American Courage a little more dramatic, though.


Unfortunately, this was the best shot I could get of Indiana Harbor, although the large gray metal object on the right is the bow of one of the new barges under construction.

Considering that I wasn’t expecting to see any ships other than those already laid up, the weekend turned out exceptionally well! I have no idea how long it will take for repairs to the Indiana Harbor to be completed, but I’m assuming she will be back in service soon if all goes well.