Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center News

Sturgeon Bay’s Winter Layup Remains a Sight to Behold

If you haven’t witnessed mammoth Great Lakes freighters making their way through the Sturgeon Bay ship canal on the way to winter layup — you’re missing out on a one-of-a-kind experience! Regardless of the weather, people eagerly flock to the snow-dusted shores of Sturgeon Bay bundled-up with cameras in hand to capture the impressive sight of these Great Lakes giants on their way to dry dock.

Each year, the annual winter layup takes place as January tightens its icy grip on the Great Lakes and the Soo Locks close for yearly maintenance. Often referred to as the “shipbuilding capital of the Great Lakes,” Sturgeon Bay, Door County remains home to a number of shipyards where colossal freighters seek refuge from the elements along with routine maintenance during winter. Ranging from 500’ to 1,000’ long, these massive ships are carefully guided through all three of Sturgeon Bay’s bridges by tugboat to ensure safe passage.

Ice coverage is always taken into account as the ships come into Sturgeon Bay. As of early January, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported the Great Lakes are only 14.2 percent ice-covered. However, icebreaking efforts by the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards began recently began in southern Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario.

In Sturgeon Bay, the USCG ice-cutter, Mobile Bay, works hard from late December into March and occasionally beyond to keep the ice open. At just 140’ long, Mobile Bay utilizes power and stamina to sheer a 35’ swath through the frozen ship canal, which is an impressive sight to behold along with the monstrous freighters. Extreme winter temperatures during last year’s polar vortex resulted in the most widespread ice coverage across the Great Lakes since 1979. Ice coverage reached its peak in early March 2014 with a whopping 92 percent of the Great Lakes covered in ice, which claimed the number two spot for most ice coverage since 1979’s record of 95 percent.

There are no current concerns regarding extreme ice coverage in the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, and three freighters have already arrived for repairs and maintenance. November 29, 2014 the 739’ CSL Laurentien with a 37,797-ton capacity arrived. The 739’ CSL Assiniboine with a 36,768-ton capacity followed nearly a month later on December 27, 2014. Most recently, the 730’ Algolake with a 32,150-ton capacity was guided into dry dock January 2. More freighters are expected to arrive soon. Additional information on all Great Lakes freighters including layup dates and locations can be accessed by visiting the Great Lakes and Seaway Shipping website

So if you haven’t flown south for the winter with the snowbirds, what are you waiting for? Plan a getaway to Sturgeon Bay where you can view the Great Lakes’ most impressive freighters for yourself! The Sturgeon Bay Coast Guard Station Lighthouse, Graham Park, and Sawyer Park all serve as excellent locations along the canal to watch the ships make their way towards dry dock. Interested in more of a bird’s-eye view? You can also watch the ships make their voyage from the sidewalk of the Bayview, Oregon, or Michigan Street Bridge.  For insider tips on entertainment as well as where to stay, dine, and shop, contact the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center. And whatever you do — don’t forget your camera! From the sight of the Great Lakes freighters to the icy shoreline and picturesque countryside, Sturgeon Bay, Door County is a sight to behold all winter long!