Coast Guard Cutter TACKLE Smashes Ice on Maine’s Penobscot River

By Bob Trapani, Jr.

A view of thick ice on the Penobscot River along Bald Hill Cove
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A view of thick ice on the Penobscot
River along Bald Hill Cove

Winter 2008-09 came in like a roaring lion along the coast of Maine, with a powerful snowstorm blanketing the region on December 21st; followed by a blast of arctic air on January 1st, which was armed with icy wind chills in the minus teens that caused people to ‘run for warm cover’ on New Year’s Day 2009.

While the snow itself has since come and gone to various extents, the gripping effect of winter’s handiwork has remained firmly entrenched. For places like Maine’s Penobscot River it has transformed the mighty river’s surface water into a frozen state from Bald Hill Cove above Winterport to the head of navigation in Bangor at the Interstate 395 Bridge.

U.S. Coast Guard cutter TACKLE (WYTL 65604) breaking ice on the Penobscot River
USCG Photo

U.S. Coast Guard cutter TACKLE
(WYTL 65604) breaking ice on the
Penobscot River

The Penobscot River obviously still flows during the winter months, rising and falling on the daily tides, but for residents along the City of Brewer’s eastern shore and the City of Bangor’s western shore – some 22 miles north above the river’s entrance, they would be hard pressed to know without the domestic icebreaking efforts of the United States Coast Guard.

On January 5th and 6th, 2009, the 65-foot Coast Guard cutter TACKLE, which is homeported in Rockland, Maine, and under the command of officer-in-charge BMC John Anders, set out to do one of the things the ship and crew does best – crush ice.

The TACKLE encountered the first signs of ice on the river a few miles above the City of Bucksport
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

The TACKLE encountered the first
signs of ice on the river a few miles above
the City of Bucksport where a lighted
ice buoy held station in an icy floe

The TACKLE’s crew knew in advance there was plenty of ice on the river near Bangor, but exactly where they would first encounter frozen resistance was the question. The ship’s journey from Rockland to the mouth of the river at Fort Point, then passing northward under the imposing Penobscot Narrow’s Bridge to the City of Bucksport, was nothing but clear sailing.

The first sign of winter’s icy grip on the river was spotted north of the Frankfort Flats, a few miles above Bucksport, where accumulated ice had fastened itself to the steel hull of a lighted ice buoy, and covering a good stretch of water around the vicinity of the navigational aid.

The TACKLE then transited by the quiet Town of Winterport, and eventually past Bucks Ledge with its historic daybeacon standing silent sentinel over a rocky navigational hazard, but still there were no other signs of serious ice on the river to this point.

The Cianbro facility in Brewer can be seen distance as the TACKLE works its way north on the river
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

The Cianbro facility in Brewer can
be seen distance as the TACKLE works
its way north on the river

Finally, the first formidable floes were encountered along the Bald Hill Reach section, approximately 10 miles south of Bangor. The frozen mass stretched completely across the width of the Penobscot River from here northward, encasing the riverbanks in an icy, wretched grip and blocking the waterway’s shipping lanes.

From this point, the ship’s smooth, flat ride was but a memory; replaced by the ceaseless resistance of ice against the ship’s bow and collisions with larger, more stubborn hummocked ice floes, all of which created a raucous din in the air as the cutter plowed through the frozen wasteland.

According to a January 7, 2009 U.S. Coast Guard press release, “The cutters are maintaining a track through the ice so a barge can transit to the Cianbro facility in Brewer, Maine, in late February.”

BMC John Anders, officer-in-charge of the cutter TACKLE navigates the ship through fields of ice
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

BMC John Anders, officer-in-charge
of the cutter TACKLE navigates the
ship through fields of ice

“The ice breakers will maintain the channel on a weekly basis until the barge makes its scheduled delivery,” said Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Chase, the aids to navigation officer at Coast Guard Sector Northern New England. “Once the barge departs about a week later, the Coast Guard crews will head to the Kennebec River and break ice to help prevent flooding.”

BMC John Anders touches on the challenges of maintaining an effective track through the ice, saying, “When breaking up fast ice, you need to ensure that you do so during the beginning stage of the ebb tide and leave a wide enough area down river for the ice to flow freely.”

Anders went on to note, “Typically the ship can make one pass through an area, with the ships wake creating a wide enough path. The challenge arises when we encounter increased ice thickness caped with snow. The snow creates a significant amount of friction and can often halt the ships momentum within a mere thirty feet. We have experienced ice chocked areas where it takes us nearly four hours to get a 400 yard stretch of the river moving.”

There are a variety of ice types that can encountered during icebreaking
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

There are a variety of ice types
that can encountered during
icebreaking, with hummocked
ice being the predominant
type the TACKLE crushed
during this operation

There is the obvious practical side of domestic icebreaking in regards to the importance of these annual operations to the state of Maine and its coastal interests, but there is also an interesting side as well related to what happens to ice after sudden impact with an icebreaker.

Every moment upon which the TACKLE’s rugged bow smashes into fields of ice it never fails to produce a wide range of reactions depending on the thickness of the floes, but all of which end up being of the broken variety for the doomed sheets of rime in the path of the determined cutter.

The power of the ship against stressed, thinner ice often causes a ‘popping’ or ‘shattered glass’ sound, while cracks in the ice race wildly away from the ship and across the floes faster than the eye can follow.

Air bubbles also randomly ‘blow’ water through weakened stretches of floes and chunks of crushed ice are sent sliding furiously across unbroken sections, but invariably within split seconds, large crevices appear and separate the impacted masses from each other like a jagged jigsaw puzzle.

The TACKLE plows through floes, sending crushed ice flying
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

The TACKLE plows through
floes, sending crushed ice flying

With thicker ice, the moment of impact creates more of a hideous grinding sound in the air, which is caused by the resistance of the floes against the TACKLE’s steel bow and forward motion. Stark ‘bangs’ also occasionally interrupt the dominant sound and feel of scrapping friction as hefty sections of broken ice flow free and slam the underside of the ship.

Since thicker ice tends to reduce the ship’s speed (between 2 & 6 knots), the crushed ice floes teeter a moment against the bow upon impact rather than simply shatter, often times rising up on end to reveal their impressive thickness, before being submerged underwater by the ship’s powerful wake in a chilling ‘death plunge’ of sorts.

During times of heavier domestic icebreaking operations, the forward motion of cutters like the TACKLE is anything but normal. The ship often deflects ever so slightly to the left or right following a collision with a solid floe, or momentarily ‘rides up’ upon the frozen rime. When this occurs, the ship repeats a ‘stop, reverse, forward’ sequence of ramming motion to break the stubborn ‘will’ of the ice.

A view of the ship's path
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A view of the ship's path, which was
momentarily impeded by thick ice, before
the ship stopped, moved in reverse,
then ahead in a forward motion that
broke through the stubborn floes

At one point during the January 6th operations on the Penobscot River, after the TACKLE had made multiple passes up and down a particular section of the waterway cutting up the ice, BM1 Keith Nichols, who shared helm duties with BMC Anders, noted, “It’s moving – it’s opening up all over the place.”

Assessing the broken ice flowing free on the ebb tide, Fireman Austin Brummett noted, “It’s pretty chewed up,” which prompted BM1 Nichols to say, “Our job is done here – let’s head to the next one.” The broken ice was ‘running’ on the ebb tide down river away from the choked-up sections of the Penobscot, and would eventually flow harmlessly out to sea.

This type of scene will be repeated time and again this winter, but the cutter TACKLE isn’t always alone on the Penobscot River during winter icebreaking operations as it was on January 5th and 6th. The ship is often the benefactor of vital teamwork provided by other Coast Guard assets in the area.

A view of crushed ice floes 'running' toward the sea on the ebb tide
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A view of crushed ice floes 'running'
toward the sea on the ebb tide

Tenacity and skill is the name of the game when it comes to staying on top of icebreaking operations on Maine rivers like the Penobscot and Kennebec, something the TACKLE, along with its fellow cutters, the 140-foot THUNDER BAY from Rockland, the 65-foot BRIDLE from Southwest Harbor and the 65-foot SHACKLE from South Portland, excel at with great pride and consistency.

Together this black-hulled convoy of icebreakers fulfills the Coast Guard’s mission to clear a navigable path through frozen rivers, ensuring that important commerce interests can reach their destination or that critical flood control measures are enacted, all for the good and well-being of Maine residents and our nation as a whole.

 

USCGC TACKLE: 2009 Icebreaking Operation the Penobscot River...

The USCGC TACKLE approaches the imposing Penobscot Narrows Bridge 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

The USCGC TACKLE approaches the
imposing Penobscot Narrows Bridge

 

 
A view of both the new Penobscot Narrows and old Waldo-Hancock bridges  
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A view of both the new Penobscot
Narrows and old Waldo-Hancock bridges

 

A view of the historic Bucks Ledge Daybeacon 20...the TACKLE encountered ice on the river north of this point 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A view of the historic Bucks Ledge
Daybeacon 20...the TACKLE encountered
ice on the river north of this point

 

 
The TACKLE prepares enters the first of the ice floes on the Penobscot River, north of Bucks Ledge Daybeacon 20 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

The TACKLE prepares enters the first
of the ice floes on the Penobscot River,
north of Bucks Ledge Daybeacon 20

 

Ice floes break apart in the wake of the TACKLE 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Ice floes break apart in the
wake of the TACKLE

 

 
A view of clear and snow-covered ice on the river 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A view of clear and snow-covered
ice on the river

 

The sun sets in the evening sky over the frozen Penobscot River 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

The sun sets in the evening sky
over the frozen Penobscot River

 

 
A close-up view of crushed ice in the path of the TACKLE 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A close-up view of crushed ice
in the path of the TACKLE

 

The evening colors in the sky reflect off the ice south of Bangor 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

The evening colors in the sky reflect
off the ice south of Bangor

 

 
The evening colors in the sky reflect off the ice south of Bangor 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

The evening colors in the sky reflect off
the ice south of Bangor

 

A night view of the thick ice on the Penobscot River just south of the Interstate 395 Bridge in Bangor 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A night view of the thick ice on the
Penobscot River just south of the
Interstate 395 Bridge in Bangor

 

 
The TACKLE retraces its path through the river's channel on the morning of 1/6/09 after it re-froze overnight  
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

The TACKLE retraces its path through
the river's channel on the morning of
1/6/09 after it re-froze overnight

 

 A view of the Penobscot River's western shore at Bangor, with the I-395 Bridge in the distance 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A view of the Penobscot River's
western shore at Bangor, with the
I-395 Bridge in the distance

 

 
A view of ice floes broken free and giving the appearance of a giant jig-saw puzzle  
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A view of ice floes broken free
and giving the appearance of a giant
jig-saw puzzle

 

The TACKLE crushes thick ice floes along Bald Hill Cove on the Penobscot River 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

The TACKLE crushes thick
ice floes along Bald Hill Cove
on the Penobscot River

 

 
A view of thick ice floes that jammed-up a section of the Penobscot River 
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A view of thick ice floes that
jammed-up a section of the
Penobscot River

 

Crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter TACKLE (WYTL 65604)
Photo courtesy Bob Trapani, Jr.

Crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter
TACKLE (WYTL 65604)
(Back Row L to R) MK2 Eugene Peters,
BM1 Keith Nichols, BMC John Anders &
MKC Sam Hoy (Front Row L to R)
Auxiliarist Bob Trapani, Jr.,
FN Austin Brummett,
SN Dan Kimbrell & SA Matt Goode
(not pictured: SN Manny Sabat)

Posted: January 2009