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Rare visitor returns to port

Matt DeYoung • Dec 15, 2017 at 12:15 PM

It had been more than 15 years since the 728-foot-long Joseph L. Block last visited Grand Haven prior to its stop in our port Nov. 28

The ship returned for a second visit Thursday night, and it’s drawing quite a bit of attention this time around. That’s because the Block docked up in front of the Coast Guard Station on Friday morning. Many people driving by the waterfront were stopping and braving the blustery conditions to take photos of the big freighter.

According to Station Chief Kyle Thomas, the Block was making its way out of port Friday morning when the winds picked up and pushed the ship toward the south seawall. 

“They were just leaving and the strong winds set them down near the walls,” Thomas said. “They decided to hang out until the wind settles down. ... They gently came to a stop — no damage — along the seawall (and) made the decision to tie up.”

The freighter was docked directly in front of the station, blocking the entrance to the Government Basin. 

“It does’t impede our operations,” Thomas said. “We have boats on trailers able to respond as necessary.”

According to Samuel Hankinson, who writes the Tribune’s weekly “Ships Log” column, the Block is a fleetmate of the Wilfred Sykes. The Sykes is Grand Haven’s most frequent visitor over the past five years, and visited 19 times this season before laying up for the winter early. The Sykes is Grand Haven’s main slag boat, and loads the cargo in either Burns Harbor or Indiana Harbor, Indiana, for delivery to Meekoff’s D&M dock on Harbor Island or Verplank’s dock in Ferrysburg.

While the Sykes is laid up, the demand for slag still exists at those two docks, hence the reason for the Block’s visits.

The Block has essentially the same trade routes as the Sykes, but it is larger and occasionally makes travels to Lake Superior. The Sykes mainly stays on Lake Michigan.

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