Threading the Needle: The William A Irvin Returns

Have you ever had to back your car into a really tight parking space with people watching?

Many of us were holding our breath Wednesday, October 16th just thinking about getting the 610-foot William A. Irvin back into the Minnesota Slip.  Irvin Director Steve Rankila said, “it was moved carefully, flawlessly and methodically.”  With no working engine, rudder or ballast the team brought her successfully through the opening of the Blue Bridge with just inches of clearance on either side.  Hundreds of fascinated people looked on and were posting live videos and photos on social media. Thousands viewed the move from afar.

Special thanks and appreciation go to the DECC employees on board running the winches: Steve Rankila with John Clark, Jake Magdzas, Riley Mundle, Dan Patterson, and Randy Richter.  Daven Scott headed up the team of 13 young Twin Ports Navy Cadets handling the lines, and even DECC Board member Roger Reinert volunteered to help bring the Irvin home.

The laser-precision procedure took approximately six hours from first tug pull to final docking.


Timelapse Aboard the Ship



These six hours were just a tip of the iceberg for this historic vessel’s recent adventure.

In 2018, a major project conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the City of Duluth required the SS William A Irvin to leave its berth for the first time in over 30 years. The Minnesota Slip was due to undergo pollution remediation after years of sediment have settled to the lake floor. In order to complete the work, the slip had to be vacant.

On September 21, 2018, a team of marine, shipping, machinery, engineering, and coast guard experts successfully threaded the Irvin between the Minnesota Slip pedestrian bridge with just seven inches clearance on each side. Massive excavators tied to the ship pulled the vessel while barges pinned in the harbor helped navigate through the narrow opening.

Once removed from the slip, the Irvin was tugged to Superior, Wisconsin, where Lake Superior’s only dry dock facility – Fraser Shipyards – resides.

DECC officials opted to restore the museum while it was absent from its berth. Funding was provided by the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant Agreement in excess of $504,000 for the exterior restoration. During its residency at Fraser Shipyards, the ship underwent hull restoration, rivet repairs, and painting below the waterline.

The hull beneath the waterline was blasted, then coated with a 2-Part Marine Grade epoxy to help protect it from future corrosion.

285 corroded rivets were repaired.

Maintenance on the hatch crane was completed.

These repairs will safeguard the Irvin from additional corrosion for many years to come.



Welcome Home

Finally, we can breathe easy with the Irvin parked in its designated berth.  The community support and awe for the ship continued throughout the process. We are inspired by the teamwork, patience, and dedication our crew demonstrated during the historic move.

Stay tuned for exciting news of when the Irvin will reopen for tours and a special Celebration this Spring. Enjoy below some interesting time lapse videos and photographs of the Irvin throughout the move and restoration process.


Time lapse from DECC roof by Derek Montgomery:

Time lapse of the move in its entirety, captured from aboard the Irvin. By Derek Montgomery:


Time lapse from inside DECC Horizon Level Foyer


Navy Cadets helping with lines as Irvin moves into the Slip


Photo Gallery:

Images by Derek Montgomery and Mary Sullivan



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