Knowing Your Neighbors: Ship Nerds

DULUTH, Minn. – Watching the ore boats come into the harbor is a tale as old as time for Duluthians. For some it is an enjoyable pastime, for others, it is a way of life passed on from generation to generation.  While there is no shortage of opportunities to watch boats come through the canal throughout the shipping season, occasionally we are blessed with unique opportunities that you cannot miss if you dare to call yourself a boat nerd.

“It’s a boat nerd’s Christmas. We’ve had two episodes this year where it’s a must see.  The US Minneapolis-St. Paul which came in earlier this year, the Navy boat, and the Barker. And it’s just exciting,” said boat nerd Joel Heller.

On this particular morning, it was the arrival of the Mark W. Barker that attracted a large crowd.  The fascination and interest in the ships that come and go through the Twin Ports stems from generations of dockworkers still working the same jobs that helped build the city of Duluth. For Joel Heller, it is a passion he shares with his son Noah, just as he did with those who came before him.

“My grandfather was a longshoreman. My dad was a longshoreman. I grew up picking grandpa up from work all the time. My dad, I grew up watching him come home from work all the time.  My thing, personally for me, it’s in the heart.  It’s in the family.  And it’s a part of Duluth.  You would not have Duluth if there wasn’t shipping.  Duluth would be a small, super small town.  Shipping build this town.  Union shipping built this town, and I love Duluth. I mean, it’s a soft spot in my heart, cause anytime you see a ship come in, that means good jobs for this town. Good paying jobs for this town. And it keeps Duluth alive,” said Heller.

While some ship lovers are Duluth transplants and catch the bug upon arrival, others grow up in a family of longshoreman and carry it in their DNA.

“I’ve been watching boats since I was very little and I just find it very interesting. It’s a major part of our economy and it’s just fun to see large ships come through here and think about how much they’re doing, how much work, and they go underappreciated here,” said Joel’s son Noah.

When the Barker arrived back on September 6, it brought along with it a hope for the start of a new generation of boats which are faster, more versatile, and more environmentally friendly.

“Our ships are starting to get old. But with good union work, good union steel, and good union people building these ships, we can go bring shipping back on the map because you need shipping. We need shipping,” said Joel.

The next time you are in Canal Park and the bridge is going up, chances are you might bump into a boat nerd who could teach you a thing or two about all the ships that salute the bridge when they reach the canal. But don’t try to hold them up too long, they usually have a boat to catch.

“I need to see the Miner coming in right now,” said Noah as he scurried off toward the pier.

Categories: Community, Entertainment, Features, Knowing Your Neighbors, News, News – Latest News