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The Detroit River:
Winter 95

December 22, 1995:
A Parade of Boats Closes the Navigation Season

Photographs, text, and HTML by Jim Hebert

Winter closes in on the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair. The navigation season draws to an end, as unusually cold temperatures in late December create heavy ice in the river and lake. Lake St. Clair is almost frozen over, with only the narrow shipping channel kept open by vessel traffic and ice breaking.

The strong current of the Detroit River makes navigation still possible, but the water is filled with ice, and only the largest vessels are moving on the crunchy surface. On the Friday before Christmas, December 22nd, the weather is very cold. Temperatures are slowly rising from single digits as a high pressure system brings cold but clear arctic air into the region.

For some reason, I have brought my camera with me today, in the hope of sighting a passing laker. The weather conditions are excellent for photography, with a clear sky and strong sun. Unfortunately, the temperatures and wind chill are extreme, as we have been in the grip of a winter chill for several days, making conditions a little more hostile for the camera and camera-man.

As fate directs, I am summoned to the Penobscott Building, where my duties take me to the highest floors. With this unexpected opportunity at hand, I hope that good fortune will also permit a vessel or two to pass this way.

From the 45th floor of the Penobscott building in downtown Detroit, the view is spectacular. Visibility is only limited by the haze on the horizon, as an extremely bright sun shines in a cloudless sky, while a cold north wind blows at 15-25 knots. I am in luck. Just exiting the shipping channel of Lake St. Clair a vessel appears in the upper Detroit River. She is too far away to identify, but I'll figure out who it is later. For now, I try to get some interesting photographs.

I wait while the slow progress of the downbound vessel allows her to transit my lofty perch. After she passes, I'll head down 500 feet to the ground and across town to the riverfront just south of the Ambassador Bridge.

From the shoreline of the J.W. Wescott Company, the near solidity of the river is more apparent. The wind has blown all the ice to the Canadian (south) side of the river, but thousands of small bergs float past just submerged. The weather changes quickly, as clouds roll in from the northeast. They bring snow with them.

My initial boat has dissappeared around the bend, but another downbounder appears. No sooner has she gone by then suddenly three more vessels appear upbound!

Five vessels! In less than an hour! I haven't seen traffic like this on the river in years. While the down-bounders escape into Lake Erie, the three up-bound boats will find rough going at Algonac on the St. Clair River, where an ice-jam awaits them. But for now, they pass 1-2-3 on their way north. As the snow increases, an amazing sixth vessel appears downbound! This is a scene seldom repeated these days: six vessels transiting Detroit within 60 minutes! Here is the photograhic story of that afternoon...

Winter 95/96 Photographs

Copyright © 1996 by James W. Hebert. All rights reserved.
Page Last modified: October 20, 1996