Sunday 2 February 2014

Ice Breakers USCGC MACKINAW (WAGB-83 &WLBB-30)

When you say 'Global Warming', most people believe the weather should be warmer, which at times, that's exactly the case. Like at the North Pole in summer where there used be ice, now it's open water. Or, like two years ago here in Ottawa, we had a very mild winter, hardly any snow, then a dry-ish spring and early summer causing a drought which due to carelessness, resulted in numerous grass and brush fires literally in our backyards. The weather norm has changed. It continues to become unpredictable just like the devastating super typhoon that crashed its way through Philippines, or tornadoes in Illinois in November or a freakish snowfall causing havoc this week in Atlanta, Georgia. Say What? Yes, the weather has become 'Wacko', or an extreme reality show for us all - nothing planned or anticipated. 'You just go with the flow'.
During World War II, the production of steel was extremely important and to ensure that plants located along the Great Lakes were able to continue production during the winter months, the United States government decided to build an ice breaker that would assist freighters deliver much needed supplies of coal and ore through ice flows and clogged channels from Lake Michigan to Western Lake Erie, beyond or earlier than the 'normal' Great Lakes shipping season. The US Navy already had several Wind-class icebreakers in service that were built in California but because the design of the ship was too wide to traverse the narrow canal locks along the upper St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes version needed to be built within the inland seas. Built at American Ship Building and Drydock in Toledo, Ohio, the 290'x74' USCGC MACKINAW (WAGB-83) was commissioned in December 1944, just in time to extend the Great Lakes shipping season to mid-January and to clear the channels and ports throughout the winter to allow the shipping season to commence in March instead of the usual norm of when the ice softened enough for a safe passage, sometime in April.
Based in Cheboygan, Michigan, the USCGC MACKINAW or sometimes known the 'Mac' or 'Queen of the Great Lakes', provided exceptional service to many ports and shipping companies for 62 years and in 2006 she was decommissioned and now serves as maritime museum in the community she was named after, Mackinaw City, MI. That's where I snapped these photos of the Wind-class MACKINAW during our own 'Whirl-wind Tour to the Soo & Back' last September.
It was during that same boat hunting trip that we came across the newer USCGC MACKINAW (WLBB-30) snapped below, getting her superstructure re-painted while moored at the coast guard station in Cheboygan, MI. Commissioned in June 2006, the ice breaking cutter also serves as a navigational aid tender, as well as conducts search and rescue, and Homeland Security ops, pollution response, law enforcement and public affairs. Built at the Marinette Marine Shipyards in Marinette, Wisconsin, the 240'x58.8' USCGC MACKINAW (WLBB-30) uses two 'Azipods' for her main propulsion. These, coupled with her powerful bow thruster, makes the MACKINAW exceptionally maneuverable. Azipods also remove the need for the traditional rudder as the thrusters can turn the cutter 360 degrees around her vertical axis to direct the MACKINAW's thrust in any direction. COOL!! Also, since the azipods are controlled indiviually, the MACKINAW also lacks the need for a traditional ship's wheel. WOW!! c):-o

What started out as an essential wartime need, has become an annual tradition to continue to operate the movement of goods and services by various lakers and tankers  from Lake Michigan to the western end of Lake Erie as if no weather change has occurred. Though maintenance and ice blockage hassles has made it a requirement to close down the St. Lawrence Seaway, Welland Canal and Soo Locks during normally the worst months of winter, the recent warmer than usual winters has resulted in 'business as usual' shipping activities with perhaps the exception being this current winter. Since late November, much of central and eastern Canada, and the United States has been engulfed in a polar vortex (a.k.a. polar cyclone) that has sent temperatures plummeting to record deep freeze lows and combined with Siberian-like polar blasts that has caused ongoing wind-chill that has made life almost unbearable for anyone working or simply just getting around in the effected areas. The weather and the ice conditions on the Great Lakes are the worst in 20 years. Normally, ice may incase ports and bays along the edges of the Great Lakes that could be managed with harbour tugs and coast guard ice breakers from both sides of the border, however the middle of any lakes would remain ice free. This winter, Erie is virtually frozen over, a third of Michigan is covered in ice and the rest are at least 50% covered.  
CCGS GRIFFON and CSL ASSINIBOINE at Port Colborne - March 8 2006
For the last few weeks, it's been quite interesting to track the progress or lack there of, of so many ships that are still attempting to operate south of 'The Soo' and I've come to the obvious conclusion that many of these ships would be locked in the ice until spring had it not been for the Canadian and American ice breaking resources that appears to be stretched to the maximum. Activity like CCGS GRIFFON assisting CSL ASSINIBOINE (Carlz Boats: 19.09.12) from Nanticoke on Lake Erie to winter lay-up in Sarnia (snapped them together in Port Colborne in March 2008). Or, CCGS SAMUEL RISLEY assisting the ALGOWAY (Carlz Boats:07.10.13) from Lake Huron through to Toledo, Ohio on Lake Erie.
Tanker ALGOSEA at Port Colborne - February 10, 2013
Then the RISLEY make herself available to escort the upbound tanker ALGOSEA  making her way to Sarnia. Meanwhile, as the ALGOWOOD attempted to make her way to Goderich on Lake Huron, the USCG tug BISCAYNE BAY and USCGC MACKINAW assisted her and others through the ice locked Mackinaw Straits. From there the MACKINAW churned up a path through Georgian Bay so that the ALGOMARINE (Carlz Boats: 30.10.13) could back into Owen Sound for winter lay up (great snaps of her effort at Friday night and Saturday I watched as the tankers ALGOCANADA and ALGOSEA (Carlz Boats:13.09.12) slowly made their way from Sarnia to Nanticoke. Leading the way was the GRIFFON and USCG tug NEAH BAY, which left to assist the ALGOWAY to Detroit. Tonight the ALGOWAY made it to Sarnia with the help of the MACKINAW which also assisted the downbound EVERLAST/NORMAN MCLEOD (Carlz Boats:09.11.12) make their way to Windsor.
Bay-class ice breaking tug USCGC KATMAI BAY (WTGB-101) 

It's all been kind of like the old board game 'Snakes & Ladders' for the Canadian and U.S. coast guard ice breakers, which regardless of the flag they fly, they work together as one ensuring the safe transit and movement of commerce for both nations.
Go Coast Guards GO!! 

No comments:

Post a Comment