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Talking ships with a Great Lakes Maritime enthusiast

Andrea Guerriero's love affair with ships started with the Paul R Tregurtha and continues with all the lakers and salties that come through the area

No matter where you are in and along the Lake Huron, St. Marys River and Lake Superior shorelines it's difficult to fathom what life would be like without the presence of the big lake freighters and ocean-going ships also known as 'salties' ever-present on these waterways.

Since the beginning of time as most of us know it in the area, we have grown accustomed to and sometimes oblivious of the sights and sounds of ships passing in our waterways. 

Some of us look forward to a true sign of spring when once again we hear the salute of boat horns as they precisely navigate these large floating vessels through what seemingly appears to us as a labyrinth.

While looking for pandemic activities I realized a huge oversight. One of which I have not covered in the past but have myself been very aware of and rather enjoy participating in.

For some of us, it has become a hobby or pastime following these ships and their voyages through the seasons. 

Observing everything about the ships, their crews, cargos and ports is a daily routine and a great way to educate oneself in geography, math, map reading, weather and marine conditions, physics and the like.

This hobby can be as sedentary as you wish it to be. Some of us can observe from the comfort of home, others on park benches and still others wander the area from different vantage points. 

One local hobbyist takes her maritime love to the next level by combining her passion for the Great Lakes Maritime (GLM) industry with photography to bring it to the public on a Facebook group.

Andrea Guerriero has taken her fascination with the GLM industry to the next level by photographing all things maritime both locally and in ports around the great lakes and beyond and then designing and producing products for other enthusiasts known as 'boat nerds' to purchase and enjoy.

Her interest began in 2015 when she moved home to Sault Ste. Marie after living away for many years.  

She was bitten by the bug during a quick road trip to Duluth with her parents where they attended a harbour cruise.

"While out in the harbour and just outside the aerial lift bridge in Duluth, we saw the queen of the lakes, the Paul R Tregurtha, from the Interlake Steamship Company leaving with their cargo to head down to the Detroit area to offload," Guerriero said. "We got very close to them and heard a Captain Salute and I loved it... got my first photo of the ship that day."

A chance sighting of the Paul R Tregurtha, which was locking through a short time later while Guerriero was crossing the International Bridge, prompted a visit to the West Pier where she was able to view the ship at close range.

From that moment it became important to her to try to capture the Paul R Tregurtha sailing through Sault Ste. Marie on as many voyages as possible.

Over time she had amassed enough confidence and photos to make a calendar of the Tregurtha. 

She researched how to send a parcel to the ship, drafted a letter to the captain, about how she had come to make them and included a dozen copies.

To her delight she received an email from the captain once the package had arrived on board thanking her for her gesture, telling her how they were liked and indicating that they would be dispersed among the crew.

The two mutually agreed to stay in touch and have become good friends ever since the ship and her captain became her sentimental favourite. 

The captain will be entering his retired life on July 7 of this year and Guerriero has been doing everything in her power to capture him and the ship as many times as possible on his last voyages through.

"My love for the rest of the ships and other vessels on the Lakes just grew as I continued to shoot and learn and meet people. It has been an adventure for the past six years and one I hope continues for many years to come," says Guerriero.

Here in Sault Ste. Marie, Guerriero finds locations along the waterfront to observe as often as she can.

There are also two ports where ships load stone nearby that she travels to further capture her subjects - Bruce Mines and Thessalon.

A typical vacation for Guerriero would include travelling to various ports around the US to view and photograph ships in their element. 

Travel restrictions and the US/Canada border closure have kept her from travelling to non-local ports but Guerriero plans to go back to reconnoitring when safe to do so.

"In the meantime, I am hoping to travel to ports here in Ontario like St Catharines where the Welland Canal is, and Thunder Bay, Hamilton, Toronto... all places where the ships come to port with cargo or to load," said Guerriero.

Over the past six years, her passion has led her to tour several marine ships while at dock both in Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie. 

She also earned the unique opportunity along with three other marine photographers to sail for a weak aboard one of the larger vessels on the Great Lakes - The American Spirit from The American Steamship Company.

They sailed from Two Harbors, MN loaded with iron ore down to Zug Island near Detroit, MI where they off-loaded. The return took them back to Duluth where they departed ship.

"It was the most incredible thing I have ever done that involves these beautiful ships and something I will definitely never forget. I have been invited by one of the shipping companies to travel on one of their vessels through the Welland Canal when it's safe to do so, so that's something I am also very much looking forward to," said Guerriero.

Presently Guerriero sits as the only Canadian on the Soo Locks Visitors Center Association Board of Directors and is a member of the International Ship Master's Association with the lodge in Sault, MI.

Recently her interests have expanded to writing a short article for The Know Your Ships book which was published by Roger LeLievre and his Marine Publishing Co and she is looking forward to writing a feature piece for the 2022 book as well.

"Know Your Ships is considered the publication out there for Great Lakes shipping information so it's a privilege to be in it.. and it's so affordable I find I have numerous copies and keep them in various places so I'm never without it!" said Guerriero. "Amazing what you can learn when you read the right material."

Whenever anyone is interested in taking up the hobby or learning more about the marine vessels and their voyages Guerriero directs them to Marine Traffic which is a free website

It also offers an app that you can download to your mobile device for a nominal fee, allowing you to take it with you anywhere. This invaluable tool has allowed her to be on the spot and ready for each ship she has been looking for.

Another useful resource is a website known as Harbor Lookout which will alert you to the vessels that are Superior bound to points like Two Harbors Minnesota, Duluth, Superior Wisconsin and Silver Bay.

Depending on the port these ships are heading to we know they have to come through the Sault Locks so you can estimate their trip by looking at their departure time.

A passage takes anywhere between 24 - 48 hours and you can view their estimated arrival time on the website and calculate from there.

It's also helpful if you find a ship you are interested in that is up-bound that you have not been following - the site will tell you exactly where they are headed if it's one of those ports.

In addition, the Sault Locks Visitor Centre has a hotline (1-906-253-9290) you can call and get the schedule of ships there for the day.

Guerriero is still working on a way to determine a schedule for the ships coming in and out of the port of Thunder Bay.

Locally the shipping industry runs 10 months of the year for 24 hours a day and we have the benefit of picking and choosing our vantage point and viewing time dependent on the ship we want to follow.

Marine traffic is dependent on the shipping industry so there really isn't a busy time as opposed to a steady normal season.

The fall/winter season will likely bring more salties through the locks as they hurry to complete their voyage through the Welland Canal which closes before our locks and back out the St. Lawrence Seaway to points overseas.

Guerriero is out observing ships daily.

"I truly love each and every ship out there," she said. 

"There is something very fascinating and special about them. I marvel at the engineering of them, I am amazed at how a crew works seamlessly together to make their jobs look so easy and yet we all know it's not.

"I love the beauty of seeing the Lakes from that perspective now that I've had the chance to do that.

"Each ship I've boarded, and every one I've shot has something special about it that I love.  And in a time when it's hard to find joy in so many things, we can always find joy with these ships and their crews.

"It's become a very large part of who I am and I can't really imagine my life without it anymore."