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      First boat of the year is cause for celebration

      These days, the arrival of the first ship at harbors along the Great Lakes is a passing curiosity. However, during early settlement of the U.P., it was quite an event.

      Today shipping season begins around the end of March and will roughly last through the middle of the following January. This year, there has been a delay in seeing the first boat dock in Marquette. However, technology has improved over the years and we are able to consider ourselves lucky.

      "If we go back 150 years ago that would've ended usually towards the end of October, beginning of November and they would not have re-opened again until perhaps middle of May and that was primarily because of heavy ice on the lakes. You didn't have the capability of really punching your way through," said Marine Historian Fred Stonehouse.

      Considering the most viable source of transportation back then was shipping, it is no surprise the short season meant that the first boat to arrive in Marquette was a cause for celebration. Especially after a year like 1873 when the famous "ice blockade" prevented the first boat from arriving until May 21.

      "The Ice Blockade is really synonymous with what we have this year in terms of its voracity and depth of ice and the amount of ice," said Stonehouse.

      More recently, boats on Lake Superior had to fight thick ice back in the mid 90's In fact, the Kaye E. Barker, which was one of the first boats to arrive in Marquette this year, managed to get stuck in the ice in April of 1996.

      As the ice slowly melts on Lake Superior, the Coast Guard continues to escort vessels across the lake.

      "As conditions improve we're going to continue to work with the wind and the weather and getting more traffic moving across the lakes. It's slow going, but we're the best at what we do," said Michael Patterson, Commanding Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Katmai Bay.

      It will be a while before the ice on Lake Superior melts completely, but at the end of the day, it's nothing we haven't been through already.

      â??We in the upper Great Lakes have learned to live with ice. We encounter it every winter, greater or lesser amounts, so for us it's just kind of what we do and who we are and really helps define, I think, us as citizens,â?? said Stonehouse.