MPR News / Breaking the Ice

Every year, when the temperatures drop and the Duluth Superior harbor begins to freeze, the Coast Guard is hard at work keeping the shipping channels free of ice.  This extends the shipping season, keeps the shipping economy alive for a few more weeks and allows some of the larger ships time to reach their winter layup destinations.  I was assigned to capture some video and images of the Coast Guard Cutter Alder at work for Minnesota Public Radio and it was definitely one of the coolest assignments I’ve been on.  I’ve seen the Alder at work many times along with its predecessor, the Sundew, and always wondered what it would look like, sound like, feel like, to be on the ship when it’s smashing through tons of ice.

The Alder is capable of steadily demolishing 10 inches of ice and can clear up to three feet of ice if needed.  On the day we went out, temperatures were below zero, wind chills were near 20 below and it ended up being the most fun I’ve had while losing sensation in my hands, face and feet.  And that was with neoprene, four layers of shirts, two of pants and socks.  The guys and gals of the Coast Guard are pretty tough to be working these conditions day in and day out.

Below is a video I did of the Alder smashing through the ice, some of the guys dealing with a frozen rope and more.  Oh, and there are a few images too.  First, you should listen to MPR reporter Dan Kraker tell you about the story.  You can also read it here if you’d like, but I always prefer the audio if it’s available.

MPR News / Coast Guard Cutter Alder Breaking Ice from Derek Montgomery on Vimeo.

Steam rises from the Duluth Harbor on the morning of Monday, January 14, 2013.  Temperatures at the time were three below zero.

Steam rises from the Duluth Harbor on the morning of Monday, January 14, 2013. Temperatures at the time were three below zero.

The city of Duluth, Minn. and the Aerial Lift Bridge can be seen from the top deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Alder Monday, January 14, 2013 as it begins an operation to keep the Duluth Harbor shipping channels clear of ice.

The city of Duluth, Minn. and the Aerial Lift Bridge can be seen from the top deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Alder Monday, January 14, 2013 as it begins an operation to keep the Duluth Harbor shipping channels clear of ice.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alder passes under the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth, Minn. Monday, January 14, 2013 during an operation to keep the Duluth Harbor shipping channels clear of ice.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alder passes under the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth, Minn. Monday, January 14, 2013 during an operation to keep the Duluth Harbor shipping channels clear of ice.

Second Class Petty Officer Erik Smith prepares the Coast Guard Cutter Alder for departure Monday, January 14, 2013 during an operation to keep the Duluth Harbor shipping channels clear of ice.

Second Class Petty Officer Erik Smith prepares the Coast Guard Cutter Alder for departure Monday, January 14, 2013 during an operation to keep the Duluth Harbor shipping channels clear of ice.

First Class Petty Officer Holly Burgrabe prepares the Coast Guard Cutter Alder for departure Monday, January 14, 2013 during an operation to keep the Duluth Harbor shipping channels clear of ice.

First Class Petty Officer Holly Burgrabe prepares the Coast Guard Cutter Alder for departure Monday, January 14, 2013 during an operation to keep the Duluth Harbor shipping channels clear of ice.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alder clears a path Monday, January 14, 2013 during an operation to keep the Duluth Harbor shipping channels clear of ice.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alder clears a path Monday, January 14, 2013 during an operation to keep the Duluth Harbor shipping channels clear of ice.

Lieutenant Commander Anthony Maffia (center) provides suggestions to First Class Petty Officer Holly Burgrabe (left) on how she might improve how she docked the Coast Guard Cutter Alder Monday, January 14, 2013 after concluding an operation to clear ice from the Duluth Harbor shipping channels.  To the right of Maffia is Lieutenant and Executive Officer George MacDonnell.

Lieutenant Commander Anthony Maffia (center) provides suggestions to First Class Petty Officer Holly Burgrabe (left) on how she might improve how she docked the Coast Guard Cutter Alder Monday, January 14, 2013 after concluding an operation to clear ice from the Duluth Harbor shipping channels. To the right of Maffia is Lieutenant and Executive Officer George MacDonnell.

Second Class Petty Officer Andre Pinault laughs while dealing with a large section of frozen rope Monday, January 14, 2013 aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alder.  Pinault and the Alder were concluding an operation to clear ice from the Duluth Harbor shipping channels.

Second Class Petty Officer Andre Pinault laughs while dealing with a large section of frozen rope Monday, January 14, 2013 aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alder. Pinault and the Alder were concluding an operation to clear ice from the Duluth Harbor shipping channels.

Seaman Allyson Raby watches ice break apart as the Coast Guard Cutter Alder clears the shipping channels in the Duluth Harbor of ice Monday, January 14, 2013.

Seaman Allyson Raby watches ice break apart as the Coast Guard Cutter Alder clears the shipping channels in the Duluth Harbor of ice Monday, January 14, 2013.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alder breaks up ice in the shipping channels of the Duluth Harbor Monday, January 13, 2014.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alder breaks up ice in the shipping channels of the Duluth Harbor Monday, January 13, 2014.

Oscar may not have the best living accommodations, but he serves as one of the most important "people" on the Coast Guard Cutter Alder.  Oscar is what the sailors on the Alder call the mannequin used in open water rescue drills.

Oscar may not have the best living accommodations, but he serves as one of the most important “people” on the Coast Guard Cutter Alder. Oscar is what the sailors on the Alder call the mannequin used in open water rescue drills.

Lieutenant Commander Anthony Maffia (left) watches while First Class Petty Officer Holly Burgrabe (right) maneuvers the Coast Guard Cutter Alder into the dock Monday, January 14, 2013 after concluding an operation to clear ice from the Duluth Harbor shipping channels.

Lieutenant Commander Anthony Maffia (left) watches while First Class Petty Officer Holly Burgrabe (right) maneuvers the Coast Guard Cutter Alder into the dock Monday, January 14, 2013 after concluding an operation to clear ice from the Duluth Harbor shipping channels.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alder approaches its dock Monday, January 14, 2013 after clearing ice from the Duluth Harbor shipping channels.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alder approaches its dock Monday, January 14, 2013 after clearing ice from the Duluth Harbor shipping channels.

The path left behind by the Coast Guard Cutter Alder as it clears ice from the Duluth harbor shipping channels Monday, January 14, 2013.

The path left behind by the Coast Guard Cutter Alder as it clears ice from the Duluth harbor shipping channels Monday, January 14, 2013.

The Aerial Lift Bridge and the city of Duluth, Minn. as seen from onboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alder in the Duluth Superior Harbor.

The Aerial Lift Bridge and the city of Duluth, Minn. as seen from onboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alder in the Duluth Superior Harbor.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alder at dock Monday, January 14, 2013 after concluding an operation to clear ice from the Duluth Harbor shipping channels.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alder at dock Monday, January 14, 2013 after concluding an operation to clear ice from the Duluth Harbor shipping channels.