What’s In Port: The “Wilfred Sykes”, a One-Time Queen of the Lakes


Tom Wenstadt, contributor

The Wilfred Sykes came up Lake Michigan from Burns Harbor, Indiana and meandered around out in the lake until she motored up the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, Jan. 23, through the three bridges and to her dock for winter storage at the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding dock.           

The steamship (S/S) Wilfred Sykes was built as a straight decker completed in 1949 by American Shipbuilding Co. in Lorain, Ohio. The vessel’s name came from the President 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 Inc. of Highland, Indiana, respectively, since July, 1999. 

The Wilfred Sykes had the honor of being Queen of the Lakes – the largest vessel on the Great Lakes – from 1949 through 1952. In a major upgrade, the vessel was converted to a self-unloader at the Fraser Yard in Superior, Wisconsin in 1974-75.  In her earlier years, the Sykes set a number of cargo carrying and unloading records.  

The Wilfred Sykes is 678 feet long and 70 feet wide at the beam, and has a depth of 37 feet and a carrying capacity of 21,500 tons. She has one, 7,700 horsepower Westinghouse compound steam turbine engine 

turning one propeller bow thruster, and has a self-unloading rate of 6,000 tons.

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

The winter fleet can be viewed at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, with viewing spots on both sides of the bay, or check out the view from the Door County Maritime Museum Lighthouse Tower.