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Sykes is week's only freighter

Sam Hankinson/Ships Log • May 22, 2019 at 10:00 AM

For the Ships Log this week, we have a guest columnist, my friend Jack Hurt. Jack is an aspiring journalist who has a passion for Great Lakes freighters, so I wanted to give him the opportunity to combine those things. Here is his report.

This past week, the port of Grand Haven was relatively quiet compared to the week before.

Central Marine Logistics’ Wilfred Sykes arrived off the pier heads Friday evening. Instead of anchoring to wait for wind to die down, it “treaded water” and ran at a reduced speed out in the lake. Once the winds subsided, the vessel traversed up the Grand River with a load of slag and unloaded at the Verplank’s dock in Ferrysburg. After unloading, it departed at night with a destination of Port Inland.

Originally built for the Inland Steel Co. in 1949, the Wilfred Sykes has been one of the more notable ships on the Great Lakes during its 70-year career. The 678-foot vessel underwent conversion to a self-unloading system in 1975 and was sold to Ispat International of the Netherlands in 1998. Ispat then immediately sold the Sykes and its two fleet mates to the newly formed Central Marine Logistics in order to comply with the Jones Act. The Jones Act states that vessels moving cargoes between United States ports must be U.S.-owned, crewed, operated and built.

The Wilfred Sykes is one of two active vessels operated by Central Marine Logistics, with the second being the Joseph L. Block. The Block’s last visit was in May 2018, filling in for the Wilfred Sykes, which was having its boilers rebuilt in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

The Joseph L. Block was built in 1976 by Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay. Measuring 728 feet long, the Block has only called on Grand Haven seven times since 2000. This is due to the Sykes being more suited for river runs, and the Block’s routine upper lakes trips.

On Lake Superior sits an inactive Central Marine Logistics vessel. Currently in long-term layup for the past decade at the Barko Hydraulics dock in Superior, Wisconsin, the Edward L. Ryerson rounds out the fleet. At 730 feet, the Ryerson is loved by all boat watchers for its sleek design, one-of-a-kind horn and being one of the last steamships on the lakes. Due to a lack of a self-unloading boom and oddly designed cargo holds, the Ryerson’s future is unknown.

Keep an eye out for the Cuyahoga and Kaye E. Barker today. Both vessels are due at the Verplank dock.

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