The Coast Guard offered me an embed in an icebreaker in Maine and I always enjoy new experiences so I took them up on it.
For a day I rode in the Bridle a 65′ harbor tug that works as an ice breaker in the winter.
We navigated up the Penobscot River breaking ice from Bucksport to Bangor, Maine. The Coast Guard has missions to break ice on rivers for flood control and to keep the rivers navigable for supplies like heating oil.
We left the dock a little after 06:30. It was a cold morning and amongst all their other tasks the sailors also had to clear the light ice and snow from the deck.
A breakfast of waffles and bacon is cooked up in the galley, some of the sailors were able to eat before we got under way but others had to grab a bite in between their assignments as we headed up-river.
The Tackle and Bridle already broke some ice the day before so the first part of the trip was smooth sailing on clear water.
As we got closer to Bangor, Maine we hit loose ice and eventually we were plowing through solid sheets of ice.
When the ice is breaking well the process is repetitive and predictable. The boat will gaining speed a few hundred meters before the ice and use its momentum to ram through and break a clear line through the white sheet. It might get 100 meters with each ramming run. When its momentum is spent the icebreaker will often stay lodged and run its engines pushing water and all the loose ice in its wake down the river.
The pilot must stay focused during this whole process watching their radar for shallows, fighting currents, breaking ice in the channel, not straying too far from the previous lane, but staying close enough.
The Coast Guard often breaks through ice in the winter for flood control and to keep the rivers navigable for supplies like heating oil.
At the end of the day, after making it to the Bangor water-front park we turned around back to Bucksport, Maine for the evening.