Ice Breaking Begins for US Coast Guard Cutter Alder

Updated: 03/10/2014 6:12 PM
Created: 03/10/2014 5:14 PM

Northlanders could feel the thaw on Monday, but Lake Superior was still locked beneath feet of ice in the Twin Ports.The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder started breaking a path with the start of the shipping season just weeks away.

Spring is on it's way, and the crew of the Alder is helping it along. They shattered, splintered and splashed their way into the changing of the season by breaking through the feet of ice on Lake Superior.

Captain Tony Maffia enjoys the job.

“Yeah, a lot of satisfaction, especially with how thick it is inside the harbor,” Maffia said. “It's a great sign of spring on the horizon.”

Ramming revenge into the massive ice sheets for months of miserable weather was especially sweet for an ensign from Austin, Texas.

“I'm used to maybe 35 degree winters so coming up here and experiencing, you know, negative 30 it's a different experience,” Barton Nanney said.

Nanney gets up close and personal with the ice as a deck watch officer. He said seeing it shift and snap under the ship is surreal.

“It's definitely a unique experience just to hear the ship cracking through the ice and all that. It's kind of hard to believe what happens until you're really out here experiencing it,” Nanney said.

It was a long six miles to find open water. Captain Maffia said it has been over 20 years since the lake has had that much ice coverage. Even with their ice breaking missions shipping could get off to a slow start.

“They're probably planning on a normal trip taking a day or two, but it's going to take two or three times as long because the ice is going to slow them down,” Maffia said.

He said the lakers and salties will want to ship out at the end of the month.

“The iron ore and taconite industries, they've been building up supplies on the pier all winter. Now they want to get it out,” Maffia said.

He said the ships will have to be patient.

“We're going to have to set up convoys where we'll have three or four lakers, several lakers, paired together with a Coast Guard escort,” Maffia said.

The recent warm weather may have eased winter's grip, but the Alder and her crew are set to crack us free.

The Alder made the trek out to open water on Lake Superior and then broke a path under the harbor bridges and along the St. Louis River on Monday.