It's a sure sign of spring in the northland – the day when the first "saltie," or ocean-going freighter, arrives in the Duluth-Superior harbor.
And that day was Monday, when the 465-foot Kom arrived from Spain to pick up a shipment of durum wheat that it will deliver to Italy, where it will be made into pasta, MPR News reports.
Dozens of people lined the Duluth ship canal to watch the Kom, flying the flag of Malta, pass under the aerial lift bridge at about noon Monday.
"This is the coolest thing in the world," Dale Stewart, of Cambridge, Minn., told MPR News.
And the Kom's arrival was quite a bit earlier than last year's first saltie, which didn't get to port until May 7 because of the harsh winter and thick ice on the Great Lakes, the Duluth News Tribune reports.
Last year’s shipping season was a rough one. The deep freeze on the Great Lakes cost the economy more than $700 million and nearly 4,000 jobs.
For a while, there was some concern that this year's shipping season would start off late as well because of the ice conditions.
Now, most of the ice has melted and spring has come.
"The arrival of the first saltie each year is a tangible reminder for residents and tourists alike that the Port of Duluth-Superior is an international seaport," said Vanta Coda, Port Authority executive director, according to the News Tribune.
Larger vessels – "lakers" that can be up to 1,000 feet long – already began their shipping season. They transport cargo throughout the Great Lakes, and the first ones passed through the port in late March.
Close to 1,000 ships visit the Port of Duluth-Superior each year, carrying about 38 million tons of cargo including iron ore, coal, grain and cement, according to the Port Authority.