You got a spare icebreaker you won’t need this winter?

Well it’s been a while (i.e., here and here) since I checked in on Inland Seas, the Quarterly Journal of the National Museum of the Great Lakes, an interesting cross between an academic journal and a popular magazine dating to 1945.  The journal and museum are the centerpieces of the Great Lakes Historical Society. The museum is a restored lake freighter (shown below) built in 1911 and now docked in the Maumee River in Toledo, Ohio.

The latest (Vol. 75, No. 2) issue’s first article is titled Early Maps of the Great Lakes and the First Boat Trip Across Lake Erie in 1669–a topic sure to get my attention. It turns out that no, Robert LaSalle and his 34 crewmen were not in fact the first to traverse the length of Lakes Erie, St. Clair and Huron in their famous sailing ship, the Griffon.  Rather, it was two French Jesuits in canoes ten years earlier who did so, and who even made a pretty accurate map of it, given the circumstances.  A major part of the Lake Erie traverse was done in March/April, 1670, in which they dealt  with lots of ice, high winds, swampings, hostile natives and other perils inherent in such an escapade. Great stuff there.

But my favorite part of this journal may well be the “Great Lakes News” section, wherein various events from the previous three months are briefly mentioned.  Many of these are entirely mundane.  For example, we read that on January 6, “The Walter J. McCarthy Jr. departed Duluth after spending nearly two days loading frozen [taconite] pellets” and that on January 1 the last downbound commercial vessel of the shipping season cleared the Welland Canal.

But there’s usually also some much more interesting stuff, and so it is this time.

We learn for example that on January 6, the crew of the US Coast Guard’s Mackinaw happened to witness a stray dog go through the ice in the St. Mary’s River (connecting Lakes Superior and Huron) and to see it then struggle onto an island therein. Fully 20 crewmen then went in search, but finding no dog “set a campfire on shore and left a bowl of macaroni”, apparently considerate of the fact that this dog might be a vegetarian.  A couple of days later they found the bowl empty, and the dog nearby, and then motored on over to Cheboygan where they delivered the dog to its (no-doubt surprised and thankful) owners.

But it gets better.On March 12, the US Coast Guard and several other agencies rescued 46 ice fishermen from an ice floe that broke free near Catawba Island, in SW Lake Erie.  Another 100 or so escaped either by swimming or running across existing ice bridges before the full break occurred.  The article doesn’t say it, but undoubtedly there are also a bunch more snowmobiles, ATVs and pickup trucks now resting on the bottom of western Lake Erie–the Coast Guard saves persons first, property second, if at all.  Try swimming for land in the open (ice) waters of Lake Erie in early March after you’ve had maybe a six pack (or more) and tell me how it goes. This type of event happens more frequently than you might imagine–there are a lot of rusting snowmobiles at the bottom of Lake Erie.

The Canadian CG has different issues: “…the Canadian Coast Guard’s Hero class of midshore patrol boats are suffering from extreme rolling in even moderate seas. The rolling is so severe that crew members stuff jackets under the edge of their bunks to raise them so they will not be flung to the deck while asleep. Seasickness affects many crew members…”.

Not everything of interest involves the two Coast Guards however.

For example, on February 7, in Superior WI, we read that “the horn on the docked American Spirit stuck in the ‘on’ position, disturbing the neighbors at the nearby McDonald’s and local residences.  Some hours later the horn was shut off.  The sound could be heard for miles, as it should”.  Is anything much worse than going to the local McDonald’s for morning coffee and cholesterol and getting summarily blasted out of there by a ship’s horn? I mean, other than having to listen to the music that one would otherwise be subjected to…

If you’ve been thinking (naively!) that ship fires would probably be among the easier class of possible fires to deal with, at least from a total water availability standpoint…well not so fast.  It seems that “the St. Clair caught fire at its lay-up dock in Toledo…Fire crews from Toledo had a hard time getting hydrants on the dock to work… and had to just play water on the ship and let the fire burn out…”.  Success in this case was measured in terms of  preventing other nearby ships at the port from also catching fire.

There are non-boat-related news items as well.  If you have some spare change, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is seeking some “real money” to help combat Microcystis algal growth in Lake Erie. Dig deep now, because there’s nothing micro about the amount desired–about $1 billion (DeWine was heard to say “fight green with green” after the announcement).  Farmers in the Maumee River basin (responsible for the phosphorous loading that contributes to the algal blooms) were in turn heard to respond “I’ll be glad to show you what some green corn and soybeans look like Mike”. And so on.

Also noted is that the Canadian government is actively seeking a temporary, light duty icebreaker as a replacement for those that will be laid up for repairs this winter.  If you would happen to have a spare icebreaker that you don’t think you’ll need this winter, contact them.

Canada also takes this opportunity for a friendly seasonal reminder to always keep your stick on the ice, icebreaker or no.

2 thoughts on “You got a spare icebreaker you won’t need this winter?

  1. I lived on Lake Koshkonong in Wisconsin for a year. It is a big lake but only 7 feet deep. The locals would snowmobile on the lake every winter. There is an area of the lake where springs emerge and the ice never thickens, and that area supposedly has a lot of snowmobiles at the bottom. On the lake, the snowmobilers typically survive. Not so when they go through the ice on the Fox River. Personally, I would never snowmobile on a river.

    • Another thing that snowmobilers started getting into, years ago now as their machines became much more powerful, is called “high pointing”, where they compete with each other as to who can reach the highest point, and then make a hairpin turn, on some steep slope in mountainous areas. And for many/most of them, with roughly little or no knowledge of avalanche safety and hazard. And lo and behold, avalanche fatality leaders are frequently snowmobilers, or if not are right up there with them.

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