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Ice Breaking on the Penobscot River [Video]

Crew of the USCGC Tackle on ice breaking assignment on the Penobscot River, January 2014. Photo, Susan Patten, Townsquare Media

What does it take to clear the Penobscot River of ice in the winter?

In this news story the answer is; 65 feet, a crew of 8, and 72-tons worth of rugged Coast Guard persistence.

I had the honor of hopping on board the USCGC Tackle this morning, from the loading platform at Cainbro in Brewer.

The Tackle crew welcomed me aboard, had me throw on a float jacket, gave me quick instructions on what to do in the event of an emergency, and then quickly went about the mission of breaking up the ice on the river.

Clearing ice on the Penobscot, and other Maine rivers, is critical to relieving pressure and ice in the river, to help mitigate ice jams and flooding. It also keeps the boating channel clear in the event the need arises for search and rescue, or any kind of shipping.

BM 1, Richard Terwilliger-Smith, is piloting the Tackle on this trip and explains what he’s focusing on as he guides the Tackle down the Penobscot toward Bucksport.

“I’m just making sure I stay on my track and make sure there’s no debris in the water that I can run into,” states Terwilliger-Smith.

That’s not as easy as it looks from shore, as the movement forward is slow, and the river ice will sometimes force a direction change of the vessel without notice. The crew says the ride is bumpy and cold, and can be rough on the body over time.

The bow on the USCG cutter is 12 inches thick and can push through about 14 inches of ice. The crew of the Tackle does regular checks to be sure the vessel hull is not breached and taking on water.

Chief Marc Moore says you might think the Tackle can simply muscle her way through the ice and make it to the Bangor pier quickly from Brewer, but that’s not the case. It can be an all day process, and if the tide isn’t strong enough to pull out the broken ice chunks as it recedes, the track refreezes and needs to be broken through again.

If all of this ice makes you wonder about getting stuck, like was the case with that Russian research vessel in the Antarctic, we did! Thankfully though, it was brief, and as it turns out, there’s no greater motivation in the world for a Coast Guard icebreaker to get out of a jam, than to think about having to be rescued by another Coast Guard ship.

I’m told that would simply NOT be cool.

The crew on this ice breaking mission included Chief Marc Moore, BM 1, Richard Terwilliger-Smith, MK1 Keith Stinson, MK 2 Dan Litten, SNBM Gregory Schroeder, SN Manuel Ortega, SN Tyler Kleinguenther and SA Sean Moore.

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