Posted by Cmdr. Glynn Smith on behalf of Coast Guard Vice Commandant Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara.
The term “facilitation of commerce” takes on different meaning as you move around the U.S. Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts, but on the Great Lakes, it means ice breaking. And the “breakout” refers to the start of a new shipping season marked by U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian icebreakers clearing ice from the primary waterways, including: the St. Mary’s River, Detroit River, the St. Clair River and the Straits of Mackinac.
I had the opportunity to ride aboard Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw in Whitefish Bay on the eastern end of Lake Superior. This unique, highly capable cutter was keeping the waterway clear to the approaches of the Soo Locks near Sault Sainte Marie, MI – repeatedly transiting this area to keep the ice from re-forming. The first “Lakers” of the season were making their way through the Soo Locks and into the Saint Mary’s River.
Mackinaw sliced through fresh ice while I observed from the forward weather decks. It was quite a sight to see as ice sheets cracked ahead of the ship and then broke apart as the ship’s bow rode atop them. It’s also noisy with a continuous grinding of ice against the hull. The 240-foot Mackinaw can break 32 inches of ice continuously at 3 knots.
Elsewhere in the Great Lakes, the Ninth Coast Guard District’s 225-foot buoy tenders and 140-foot ice-breaking tugs were clearing ice in other vital shipping areas. We also leverage our partnerships with the Canadian Coast Guard and shipping company representatives to ensure critical waterways are open and safe for transit.
The whole effort enables U.S. Great Lakes shippers to move billions of dollars worth of steel, coal, heating oil, grain and other cargo each year.
The Coast Guard enjoys a rich history of ice breaking in the Great Lakes. That legacy is carried on today by the skilled crews of the Mackinaw and the other Coast Guard icebreakers clearing channels for the 2011 shipping season that will help maintain the Nation’s economy. It was a true pleasure to observe our Service in action.
Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara