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Two Harbors Gets New Tug Service

Apr 17, 2017 10:51AM, Published by Eric Block, Categories: News

For the first time since 1981, people who visit Two Harbors will have a chance to see a tugboat working in the port, as tug service has returned to Agate Bay. 

The last tugboat that serviced Two Harbors was the Edna G., which still is docked in Agate Bay. Now the Edna G. has some company as the Nancy J. is docked on the north side of Canadian National Railway Ore Dock 1. The Nancy J. is owned and operated by Heritage Marine in Duluth and its owner, Mike Ojard, has a long history with tugboats — and specifically the Edna G. 

Ojard grew up on the Edna G. His father was the chief engineer and his uncle was the captain, and he went to work with his dad every day. 

“There was no mother in the family, so it was just me and my dad,” Ojard said. “I would go to work with him and I knew that Edna from stem to stern.”

As a tribute to the Edna G., the four tugboats currently in the Heritage Marine fleet all are painted the same color as the historic tug, and Ojard is now picking up where his family left off by providing tug service for Two Harbors once again. 

Tug service has returned to Two Harbors because CN wants to better serve its customers that visit the Two Harbors port, said CN spokesman Patrick Waldron. According to Ojard, when there is a strong north-northeast wind, it can be hard for some of the larger vessels to navigate into the port.

“A lot of times they have to run across the lake and sit near the Apostle (Islands) anchored or come all the way to Duluth and anchor and wait for the weather to die down,” he said.

Though weather is the main reason the tugboat will be used, Ojard said that it also will be used when the ore boats are having bow thruster problems. 

“If CN and Key Lakes Inc. and the rest of the shipping companies are not moving pellets and product they don’t get paid, so that’s why they made the decision to move to a tug service,” he said. 

The current contract between CN and Heritage Marine is for one year, with the hope that time delays will begin to lessen with the tug on hand. 

Ojard wasn’t the only one happy to see tug service return to Two Harbors — so was former Edna G. crew member John Klug.

“It’s the right color,” Klug joked as he made the comparison to the Edna G.

Klug, 70, worked on the Edna G. from 1972 to the day it was retired. He said he often goes down to the parking lot near the boat ramp along Agate Bay in the summer to watch the boats, and he hopes to be able to catch the Nancy J. in action this summer. 

“It’s good to see it and I think that’s one of the most powerful tugs on the lake,” Klug said.

Ojard started Heritage Marine from the bottom up about 10 years ago, and said he wishes he would have started it earlier. 

“It’s very rewarding and a lot of hard physical work, but it’s something I really enjoy doing,” Ojard said. “I’m not a kid anymore, either. I’m 71 years old… so you’ve got to have a love for it.”

Before starting Heritage Marine, Ojard spent 11 years as a teacher and owned three businesses, but his passion is with his tugboat service. 

Ojard started his business with just one tugboat, and around mid-June this year he will be adding a fifth one. The tugboat business has been a family affair for Ojard, so naturally all of the tugs are named after family members — with the Nancy J. being named after his wife. 

Along with running his business, Ojard has recently joined Two Harbors’ Edna G. Commission is hopes of using his knowledge of the tug to help the city find a way to pull the deteriorating, historic tug out of the water. The commission is actively working on finding a feasible way to save the historic tug and put the Edna G. on land.

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