The 2016 shipping season officially opened in Thunder Bay on Monday with the annual top hat ceremony, which celebrates the captain and crew of the first ship to reach the port.

For the second year in a row, the Tecumseh lake freighter was first to reach the Lakehead, but port officials said there was a bit of a competition to claim this year's bragging rights.

The Tecumseh arrived on Saturday at 5:10 p.m.; another freighter the Algoma Equinox, arrived about 45 minutes later.

It's not the closest race that Harbour Master Guy Jarvis said he remembers, but it was still exciting.

"I've seen where there's been three vessels coming to the port, using all three entrances, we actually [used] a timer to decide who you're going to give the top hat to," he said of another memorable race.

Top Hat Ceremony

Kevin Collard (middle), the captain of the Tecumseh, and his crew were fetted at the annual top hat ceremony in Thunder Bay. Port Authority Director David O'Brien (left) and Coun. Larry Hebert (right) also took part. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

Kevin Collard, the captain of the Tecumseh, credited his crew with getting out of its winter port in Windsor five hours ahead of schedule. That happened a week ago, although Collard said they didn't realize they were in a race until Friday, one day prior to their arrival in Thunder Bay.

"The ship moves at the same speed and we all move a little quicker inside," he laughed. "There's not a lot you can do because we always maximize our efficiencies, but everything's exciting if you're in a competition."

The ship is carrying wheat and canola for shipment to Sorel, Que.

Waiting for the first salty

Port officials are still waiting to see whether the arrival of this year's first ocean-going vessel will be a new record.

The first salty was originally slated to come in on Monday, but Jarvis said it's now looking like a late Tuesday arrival, with docking on Wednesday.

"It all depends on the timing of ships that are coming to the elevators," he said. "We do have a few vessels at Richardson's [elevator] which have to be off-loaded prior to loading the salty vessel."

If that schedule holds, Jarvis said it would still be a record for the earliest ocean freighter in Thunder Bay.

"It's nip-and-tuck," he said.