Great Outdoors: Cutting Ice with the Coast Guard Alder

DULUTH, Minn. —

Mason Cambridge mans his post on the Coast Guard ice alder on Lake Superior.

His mission is important, since there’s still plenty of ice to break for shipping season to really get started.

“When they eventually have to get out and move and get their loads shipped, they’re going to need all this open so we’re breaking it up, kind of relieving some stress cracks and everything so if we do get a nice wind, it’ll kind of push everything out of the way as well,” Cambridge said.

Once or twice a week, they’ll be out here, grinding away at ice that is at times piled up to five feet thick!

“Our schedule is just as fluid as the environment is,” Cambridge added. “We have to match our mission to what the weather is doing. It varies a lot.”

And for the next few months, the alder will be on its mission to keep getting these waters ready for the many months of shipping season ahead.

The alder is equipped with a specialized hull for this kind of work.

“It’s not like we’re just running into it and shattering it,” Cambridge explains. “We’re actually kind of pulling up on top of it, pushing it underneath, and using the displacement of the ship to create that stress and break the ice underneath us.”

Also on board the day we spoke to the Coast Guard – the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve group (ESGR).

ESGR Chairman Tom Simonet says it’s an outreach group to gain employer support for local members of the National Guard and Reserves.

“I can speak from my own experience – if I didn’t work for a good company that had great support for my military service, I wouldn’t have been able to do 36 years,” Simonet said.

On board with the group is Mark Ketterer, a vice president with AAR Aircraft Services.

“We’re very veteran friendly,” Ketterer said. “About 35-40% of our work force are veterans. It’s a good opportunity to get out here and see how – especially the reservists – what they do when they get sent out on orders to go back and help out.”

Ketterer is here to show support for the men and women doing the work to get the icy lake ready for ships to come and go.

“We all know in the summer time – we always think about the Coast Guard, always here protecting the waterways,” he said. “But in the winter time, they do a lot of work out here, especially the ice breaking. It’s fascinating to see what’s going on.”

It’s a tough job – but someone has to do it.

The ship used for ice breaking is a multi-use vessel.

When they’re not breaking ice, it can be used for placing and replacing buoys; it also has search and rescue capabilities.

Categories: Great Outdoors