Port Huron, Michigan is the self-proclaimed Maritime Capital of the Great Lakes. The city sits one hour northeast of Detroit, where the St. Clair River meets Lake Huron, right across from Sarnia, Ontario. The relatively narrow river through town makes it a fantastic place to see the passage of Great Lakes freighters traveling to or from Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Hamilton, the Saint Lawrence Seaway and all points overseas.
The best place to watch the ships pass is the Boatnerd Vantage Point at the Great Lakes Maritime Center. While ship-watching might not be everyone’s idea of a great vacation, these ships are amazing up close, and provide a glimpse into the important role that overseas shipping plays in the Great Lakes economy.
The Boatnerd Vantage Point is a public space that attracts ship-lovers from all over. As ships pass the Vantage Point, volunteers with Boatnerd, a nonprofit that provides Great Lakes maritime information, will announce the names of the ships and give some background about its history and where it is heading. This is especially important if you do not have your copy of “Know Your Ships,” the Boatnerd bible.
The building has just about everything you need to enjoy a day (or an hour) of boat-watching. Inside there are informational displays of the maritime history of the Port Huron area, and screens showing boat traffic on the nearby waters. You can also hear a scanner monitoring shipping frequencies to hear the ships communicate with each other in the area. You can also sit on the large deck that spans the entire front of the building. Outside is a display of Great Lakes fleet flags that adorn each of the ships of a particular line.
If you are lucky, you will see one of the 1,000-foot freighters, the largest that operate on the Great Lakes. (They are the biggest ships that can fit in the Soo Locks. ) The Queen of the Lakes as the longest ship operating at 1,013 feet.
Know Before You Go
The Great Lakes Maritime Center is a great place to spend time if you are in Port Huron. There is no admission fee and the hours are (typically) 8am-7pm from Memorial Day through Labor Day and 8am-5pm the rest of the year. Other events that take place at the Center include a farmers market through the end of October on Tuesday and Saturday mornings and free movies. Check out the website for calendars.
The shipping season on the Great Lakes normally runs from mid to late March through early January. Naturally, the severity of the winter will impact the exact dates the shipping lanes open and close.