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U.S. Coast Guard’s Alder breaks ice to kick off shipping season in Duluth and Superior

LT. Daniel Kubasch, Executive Officer USCGC ALDER says:
“Most people think that ice breakers just cut through the ice and just smash it… it’s actually just a really well balanced game of managing your weight, and pushing down, and breaking up the ice that way, instead of directly backing and ramming. We do do that depending on the ice thickness, but pending that we just try to use our weight to our own advantage.”

But they don’t just randomly break up ice throughout the entire harbor.

In fact they work smarter, not harder.

“Kinda what we’re doing today in the harbor is we’re hitting the main areas where bigger ships will need to turn around, and how they translate from their specific docks where they’ll be operating from–whether its getting fuel, or getting loaded up with Minnesota product and [getting] out on the lakes… it all depends on how well they can get in, turn, pivot, load, and leave” says Lt. Kubasch.

And how does this year’s ice compare to past years?

Even though it’s about a foot deep in the Duluth-Superior harbor right now thanks to this winter’s bitterly cold temperatures Lt. Kubasch says it’s a good year so far.

“The warm temperatures and the rain will really help us out getting maritime commerce flowing in the Great Lakes. For me, comparing last year to this year there’s less ice in the harbor due to the warmer temperatures that we’ve seen be consistent. But just like last year, too, we’re a little worried about April. Hopefully it doesn’t get as cold as last year, because all of this could just come right back. It just depends on overall temperatures and sustained temperatures.”

For Northlanders excited about this year’s shipping season, sights like this can be nothing short of incredible.

And we’re not the only ones who enjoy it.

Ensign Michael Torgensen has been working on the boat for over a year.

“Ive been having a blast here, it’s a really unique ship handling experience because it’s a lot different to drive a ship on the ice than it is in normal water. And a lot of ships you don’t get to break ice. So for me, it’s an excellent learning experience to get an understanding of how ice breaking works that’ll help me out later in my career.”

The process has just begun, but not a moment too soon!

The Soo Locks are set to open Monday morning.

The Alder will continue to break ice throughout the weekend.

Port Authority officials say lakers like the Mesabi Miner are already loading coal and taconite in anticipation.

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Jenna Lake


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