Monday, July 14, 2008

Boats and Ships, Lakers and Salties

One day I was sitting on my Sittin’ Rock looking out on the bay, and it suddenly came to me that if I had a boat big enough, I could shove off from our dock, go around the bend to the shipping channel, follow it into Lake Huron and then head down through the St. Clair River, across Lake St. Clair, down the Detroit River to Lake Erie, onward east into Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River and finally float into the Atlantic Ocean. From there I could sail the world’s seas to parts so exotic even the National Geographic would marvel at the stories I would have to tell.

I could do that—though, sincerely? I never really would. Still, it’s pretty thrilling to think that the seemingly placid waters in front of our cabin could, in fact, carry us to the far reaches of the entire planet.

From our island ferry dock and all along the St. Mary’s River system we see Salties from all over the world passing upbound to go through the Soo Locks into Lake Superior or heading downbound, following that winding route to the ocean again. (Proof that my plan is workable.) Some of them are incredibly beautiful, while others look like hard times and rough seas have just about done them in.

They ply these waters alongside our own Lakers and sometimes it’s a toss-up over which of them is more wondrous. Our Great Lakes boats can reach lengths of 1000 feet or better—the length of three football fields and then some. Their size is just amazing--a sight we never get used to.

(I’ll stop here for a bit of trivia: 1. Ocean-going vessels (Salties) are called “ships”, while Great Lakes vessels (Lakers) are always called “boats”. 2. The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system runs 2038 nautical miles, from the Atlantic Ocean to Duluth, Minnesota, and encompasses all of the Great Lakes. More facts here.)

We can’t see the channel from our cabin, so we can’t watch the boats from here, but sometimes in the fog we hear their urgent horns. The first time I heard them, I felt a little heart-tug, remembering the huge fog horn on the Coast Guard Station at Five Mile Point on Lake Superior, near the cabin owned by my Aunt and Uncle. It was a two-note horn, OooAaa, OooAaa; over and over, far into the night, lulling us to sleep, with us not giving a single thought to boats possibly being in danger, steering clear of the direction of those horns. There was a kind of eerie romance about them and when the fog horns were gone from the lakes, having given way to a quieter technology, it took us years to stop listening for them in the fog.

The boats have a language of their own—a series of boat whistles that is a form of talking to each other. We landlubbers love hearing them, and we keep a horn blast glossary so that we know what’s going on. One long and two short means they’re greeting (or saluting) one another. One long at two minute intervals or less means they’re moving in fog or snow. One short, one long, one short means they’ve anchored in reduced visibility, and five or more quick short blasts means the threat of imminent danger.

For the past couple of years, there has been a lottery to win a trip on one of the Lakers, and twice now I’ve bought tickets hoping to get my husband on one of those boats. That’s his dream—to ride along with those crews and experience the wonder of those massive carriers. But he’s not alone there. How can anybody watch those beautiful boats silently glide by and not want to be on board?


  1. Hi Mona, this is an anonymous comment, Mark, oh fiddle.

  2. If you go on that trip, take enough cash to pay the toll on the panama canal. Hee,Hee! Mark.

    Tryin this as Google/Blogger

  3. So glad to you commented on my blog so I could find yours. I'm always looking for fellow log cabin dwellers! You have a nice site!

  4. Welcome, Shellmo. Loved your website--I'll be stopping in from time to time. And as always, you're welcome here!

  5. I've just found your blog too,... and we share the love of the lakers or as i say "freighters"... I camp right on the St.Lawrence Seaway and they go by right in front of the campsite. (check my oct. 14th entry) I can see I'll enjoy browsing through your blog for some time to come!

  6. Yes, Cedar, we call them "freighters", too. I love your photos of the St. Lawrence River, including the one of the freighter. I had no idea they came so close to shore there! We have some spots here on our river where they come that close, but the river is wider where we are, so we only see them that up close and personal when we're crossing on the ferry and one of them passes in front of us. I love it when they do that. They leave no real wake so we're not bounced around at all. They just glide by quietly and regally.