In the Soo Locks

We’re parked for a month just 33 miles from the US version of Sault Ste Marie, which is across the St Marys River from the Canadian version.

Because the river drops 21 feet at that location, and because rapids caused by such a drop are a total nightmare for large super tankers (and for almost all other boats!), five locks have been built across the river between the two cities.

Canada operates the smallest one, used primarily by pleasure craft.

Of the other four…all operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers…one is officially out of service in preparation to replace it with a much larger version. A second next to it is out of service because of the construction work.

The other two are busy. In just 9 months of the year without ice, they pass about 10,000 ships!
DSC_4585_aThe name might officially be Sault Locks, but even the Corps of Engineers website spells it Soo Locks. This ship was just pulling into the lock as we arrived. It was built in 1942, and is one of the oldest ships working on the Great Lakes; it hauls cement products among the five lakes.
DSC_4591_aNotice the boil of water to the left of its bow. It kept making little adjustments to its direction by briefly powering a front engine for its bow thruster (in the upper right, you can see some of the puff of smoke from the engine’s effort).
DSC_4612_aAfter the ship has crawled into the lock at a slow walk speed, it is tied up front and back. Notice the height of the water ahead of it. And notice the Soo Locks Tour boat and small red tug boat beyond it….going upriver in the next lock.
DSC_4622_aNow notice the rear gate of the lock is closing while a bar drops down that looks like a railroad crossing gate. It contains a cable that would snag a ship if it broke free of its moorings in the lock and moved toward the rear gate.
DSC_4639_aIn a matter of 10 minutes or so, 21 feet of water has poured in through the bottom of the lock and lifted the ship. Here, the upper river level has been reached and the front gate has begun to open. Once the way is clear, the ship’s mooring cables will be released.

The ship has barely left the lock, and already the safety cable bar is dropping and the lock gate is closing….ready for the next ship.
DSC_4672_a

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