The Winter Fleet Comes In

Editor’s Note: When the fleet began pushing through the ice-chunked waters of Sturgeon Bay for their winter layup, boat photos began pouring into our email inboxes, rivaling sunsets – at least for now – as the most popular subject of submitted photos.

The first to arrive Jan. 17 was the 728-foot Joseph L. Block, with the massive freighters arriving throughout the past week. A handful of ships are now snugged at the dock at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, with more on the way.

We’ll run this column weekly, courtesy of the Door County Maritime Museum, to give details on each of the boats in winter layup.

The Joseph L. Block


Tom Wenstadt, contributor

The merchant vessel (MV) Joseph L. Block arrived at the entrance to the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal mid-morning on Wednesday, Jan. 17 – the first vessel in for the 2023-24 lay-up season. She proceeded down the bay, through the three Sturgeon Bay bridges, pivoted, and backed into her slip for winter layup at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding. The tugs – William C. Gaynor and the Jimmy L – broke ice in front of and around the Block

The MV Joseph L. Block was christened June 29, 1976 at Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay. The vessel’s name came from the Chairman of the Board of the owner, Inland Steel Co. She has carried her name throughout her life and has been owned and operated by Indiana Harbor Steamship Co. and Central Marine Logistics of Highland, Indiana respectively, since July, 1999. 

Unfortunately, the Joseph L. Block has had a rough career, suffering a number of engine problems as well as hull damage from groundings and ice. However, after 47 years of battling the Great Lakes, the MV Joseph L. Block continues to serve its owner. 

She’s 728 feet long, 78 feet wide and 45 feet deep, with two 3,600 horsepower EMD V20 diesel engines turning one propeller, and bow and stern thrusters. Her carrying capacity is 37,200 tons, and she can self-unload at a rate of 6,000 tons per hour. 

Look for an aft pilot house, an aft self-unloading boom and an iron-ore red hull and white and gray upper paint.

There are viewing spots on both sides of the bay to see the winter fleet at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, or enjoy the spectacular view from the Door County Maritime Museum Lighthouse Tower. Also check out the two new fabrication buildings at the south end of the yard. They are being used to make large subassemblies for a new series of US Navy frigates that will be built across Green Bay at Fincantieri Marinette Marine. 

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