Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - The Coast Guard Cutter Alder began spring ice breaking duty last week and the ice is thick.
"The Superior side was consistently three feet on the way out and we saw spots where it was five feet thick." said LCDR Tony Maffia, Captain of the Alder.
"The veteran coasties of deck force say this long cold winter has made this one of the toughest ice seasons they've faced in a long time." said reporter Dave Anderson.
"Ice is a lot thicker this year. I haven't seen a winter like this." said BM2 David Duenow.
But, the Alder has so far been able to handle the work.
"We are near her max capabilities and she's cutting through the ice no problem." said Maffia.
Monday's mission took the ship out into the lake.
After ten miles of one to three foot ice, she broke into open water.
Alder's executive officer credits the crew for the accomplishment.
"We have a very tight crew. Very professional and I think they're excited to be out there." said LT Anna Grafchikova.
One cause for the excitement is the warm weather that did away with the need for coats and carharts.
This open water is deceptive, though.
Satellite imagery shows the North Shore is open to Isle Royale but the rest of the lake is still iced up.
It's hoped the shipping season will commence at 12:01 am on March 25th.
The captains of the Alder, Hollyhock, Mackinaw and a pair of Canadian icebreakers are doing their best to that schedule.
"As long as industry is patient with us the Coast Guard will be working non–stop to get the job done for as long as it takes." said Maffia.
If needed, the Coast Guard will initiate a convoy system led by a cutter and followed by several ships until the ice no longer poses a hindrance to navigation.