Thunder Bay·Audio

Thunder Bay port shipping season officially underway

The Port of Thunder Bay's 2018 shipping season has officially begun.

Annual Top Hat ceremony marking arrival of first ship held Wednesday

The CSL Welland, docked at the G3 Elevator at the Port of Thunder Bay. The ship was the first to arrive in the port for the 2018 shipping season. (Port of Thunder Bay)

The Port of Thunder Bay's 2018 shipping season has officially begun.

The occasion was marked Wednesday morning at the G3 Elevator at the city's port, with the annual Top Hat ceremony. This year, it was the CSL Welland that arrived in Thunder Bay first, and Captain Wilson Walters was presented with the honourary top hat.

Walters said it was the first time he had been first into the port - although he has been second a few times.

Walters said the ice in the Thunder Bay port is still very thick — four to six feet in some areas — and the Welland needed an escort from the coast guard cutter Alder.

On 'high alert' due to ice

"We're all on high alert," Walters said of navigating through such thick ice. "We double up the crew. ... There's always two people on the bridge, where normally we navigate with one person on the bridge."

"We usually keep one person on the bow, as well," he said. "We try to slow the vessel down and go into the ice on a slow impact, because if you go at full-speed ... you're going to do damage."

Walters said the Welland's top speed is about 13 knots.
MV CSL Welland Captain Wilson Walters brought his vessel into Thunder Bay on Tuesday afternoon, marking the opening of the shipping season in Thunder Bay, Ont. Walters will bring the MV Welland to Quebec City with a load of grain. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

"We kind of get in about seven, eight knots, and then we pick speed up," he said. "We increase the propulsion of the engines, as well. We usually run at about 65 per cent propulsion on the engines. We get that up to about 80-85 per cent, because we need to force [the vessel] through the ice."

"You can't impact the ice, but you can force yourself through it without doing damage to the vessel."

Record-holding vessel

The Welland has a unique history with the Thunder Bay port. The ship holds the record for the largest single shipment of grain ever loaded in Thunder Bay.

In 2016, the Welland left the port with more than 31,000 metric tonnes of grain on board.

"We're a big carrier," Walters said. "We are the biggest carrier on the lakes."

The Welland will again be taking on a load of grain during its current stop in Thunder Bay; the ship arrived at noon on Tuesday.

The Samuel Risley icebreaker creates shipping tracks in the ice of Whitefish Bay in preparation for the opening of the 2018 shipping season. (Canadian Cost Guard)

Meanwhile, a Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokeswoman told CBC News that three more sections of the St. Lawrence Seaway are scheduled to open for the season on Thursday, March 29: the Welland Canal, as well as the Lake Ontario and Montreal sections.

The Sault Ste. Marie locks opened on March 25.

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