Throughout the history of the Great Lakes marine industry the emphasis has been on the cheap movement of cargo from shipper to customer. Given the emphasis on low cost, there was little incentive to move the cargoes quickly as the achievement of speed was equated with higher costs. The passage of time brought little alteration to this philosophy. The only changes were increases in the size and tonnage capabilities of the ships. In the early 1990's, frustrated by the inability of established waterborne carriers to meet tighter deadlines and rail carriers to meet any sort of schedule, Arctic Rail began planning to improve the situation. In 1995 Arctic Rail was gathered under the umbrella of Arctic Industries for oversight of the rail group as well as orchestrating the formation of a new division: ARCTIC MARINE. With a mandate for speed and dependability in hand, the division began to acquire a fleet of ships for use on the Great Lakes. Readily apparent to the operations staff of the new division was the complete inadequacy of current designs to meet the needs of the corporation. Anxious to start operations, engineers decided that existing vessels could be modified to meet the immediate needs. Requiring nearly a year in dry dock, the process was expensive, requiring extensive modifications to the hulls and replacement of the engines.
In May of 1996, the M/V John Galt was commissioned at Bay Shipbuilding in Manitowoc, WI. Operations began immediately at Duluth with a full load of iron ore bound for Arctic Rail's ship to rail transfer facility in Cape Vincent, NY. From the outset of the voyage, it was apparent that Arctic Marine was serious about decreasing transit times on the lakes. With a top speed of 28 knots, the John Galt shattered long standing records for transit times to various ports across the entire Great Lakes region. Shippers and carriers alike watched the fledgling division as it chalked up record tonnage and speed records that first year. Productivity figures were outstanding owing to the shorter time in transit required for each trip. Perhaps most surprising of all, operating costs, (figured on a dollar per ton basis) were the lowest for any of the Great lakes ships in operation. It was obvious that the design engineers had achieved an economy of operation previously unseen.
Arctic Marine acquired three more ships from 1996 to 1999. Each was overhauled in dry dock like the John Galt, each emerged with the same efficient, high speed capabilities. The Franciso d'Anconia, Ragnar Dannesköld and Ellis Wyatt all shared the same high speed capabilities as their older sister. Still, there were bigger things afoot in the design group. Arctic Marine had a requirement to move even more tonnage at the same speeds and efficiency. In 1999, the keel for the M/V Hank Reardon was laid down at Bay Shipbuilding. Although she was not the largest ship on the Lakes, she would surely be the fastest of the "thousand footers" currently plying the waters. Unique among the big lakers, the Reardon relies on a hull design similar to large naval vessels to achieve its' great speed. Eight of the largest marine diesels manufactured by Caterpillar provide motive power to the four-shafted beast. The Reardon was launched in June 2000 with little fanfare and went straight to work. With a 78,250 ton capacity and 25 knot cruise, the Reardon was a fine match for the operating standards of her sisters.
Named for characters in Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged", the ships of the Arctic Fleet are the mechanical embodiment of the spirits of the men for whom they are named. Although Arctic Marine is a youthful company, her fleet is crewed with the most knowledgeable, progressive seamen and Masters on the lakes. Shippers have come to rely on Arctic for fast, inexpensive transportation. A fact evidenced in the steady growth in total tonnage moved over the years. Arctic Marine continues to operate the fastest fleet on the lakes in support of it's motto: "Just because it's bulk, doesn't mean it has to be slow."