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Category Archives: Ice Breaker

On Sunday morning my wife and I were heading out for a walk along the Duluth waterfront when I check the Marine Traffic on my phone and noticed that the Heritage Marine Tug the Nels J was out breaking ice. We decided to forgo the walk and drive out to Rice’s Point to watch the tug work.

Helen H

Helen H

When we arrived the tug was working at the Calumet Fuel Dock which is a secure area where we couldn’t photograph. I assumed that a ship was going to move from winter layup to refuel before the start of the shipping season and the Nels J was breaking up ice around the dock. I was having problems following the Nels J with my Marine Tracker and discovered the app hadn’t been updated in some time so I updated it. When It came back on I noticed the Nels J was heading to Rice’s Point. I grabbed my camera but was a little late to get any good photos. Just about then my wife noticed another Heritage Marine tug, the Helen H sail out from Howard’s Pocket where the Frasier Shipyards are located. We watched as the Helen H moved back into Howard’s Pocket.

We jumped in the car and drove down to Conner’s Point which offers a good view of the ships in winter layup at Frasier Shipyards. Sure enough the Helen H had already broken ice to free the John G. Munson from the ice. As was getting up steam to move out of winter layup. This was a far cry from last year when we watched most of the day while the Helen H and Nels J tried to free the Munson from the heavy ice.

John G. Munson and Helen H

John G. Munson and Helen H

Duluth has a good collection of Boat Nerds that show up whenever there are boats moving. Many of the folks that were watching the Munson leave were also on hand to watch the Indiana Harbor arrive to end the shipping season at Wisconsin Point.

Indiana Harbor

Indiana Harbor

We watched as the John G. Munson slowly backed out of Howard’s Pocket and under the Blatnick Bridge. It was followed by the Helen H in case it ran into trouble. He Nels J was waiting at out in the Saint Louis River in case it was needed to help turn the Munson.

Helen H and John G. Munson

Helen H and John G. Munson

The Munson then sailed under the Blatnick Bridge past Rice’s Point before turning and then backing into the Calumet Fuel Dock where it spent several hours refueling. The Nels J was on hand in case it needed help docking.

John G. Munson and American Integrity-

John G. Munson and American Integrity-

 

 

Last Tuesday we were in Superior, Wisconsin to watch the John G. Munson leave the Frasier Shipyards for its first trip of 2014. We arrived around 11:20am. Two Heritage Marine Tugs the Helen H and Nels J had been working most of the morning to break up the ice from the St. Louis River to the Munson. The Monson was at winter layup at Frasier Shipyards. It was anchored far into the bay next to N 5th street. The Munson was scheduled to head for Two Harbors several days earlier but had some frozen pipes that had to be fixed.

When we arrived the Helen J was just starting to break the ice along the bay side of the ship. The Kaye E. Barker , and John J. Boland can be seen behind the Munson. In the background the Nels J can be seen breaking ice at the entrance to the dock.Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_1927

The Helen H worked its way along the side of the Munson. The ice was very thick and it was slow going. It would take a run at the ice and the front of the tug would slide on top of the ice before the weight of the tug collapsed the ice. It would then repeat the process. It broke the ice about half way up the length of the Munson before retiring.Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_1942a

The Munson’s captain then tried to free the ship by reversing engines. When that failed the captain tried to go forward. This went on for a while but the Monson remained firmly suck in the ice. It was quite a racket when the propellers were working because they sucked in large chunks of broken ice which were chopped up and thrown into the air.John-G.-Munson-14-3-_1959

The Helen H they repositioned itself to the dock side of the ship and attempted to push the Munson away from the dock. At one point the Helen H was pushing and the Munson was going in reverse but the result was the same the Munson was firmly stuck in the ice.Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_1975a

They next attached a tow line and the Helen H attempted to pull the Munson out into the channel. After a number of tries this too failed.Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_1987

The next step was to break more ice along the bay side of the ship. This time the Helen H broke ice along three quarters of the ship. It then went back and broke ice along the dock side of the ship. The Helen H was then able to push the Munson free from the ice. At this point it was around 3pm and the Munson was still not able to exit the port at on its own.Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_2001

The Nels J came up from the St. Louis River where it had been breaking ice. The Helen H positioned itself on the dock side of the Munson and the Nels J attached a tow rope to the Munson. The Nels J tried to pull the Munson away from the docks toward the St. Louis River but it was slow going.Nels-J,-Helen-H-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_2043

The Nels J Would move the Munson about fifteen feet before it would become stuck in the ice. The Munson would then start its engines and move forward about twenty feet and the process would be repeated. When we finally stopped watching about 4:30pm the Munson had moved about thirty yards in an hour and a half.Nels-j-and-John-G.-Munson-14-3-_2030

I checked around 8pm and the Munson was finally in position to move out onto the St. Louis River on its own power and about 10pm I noticed it had just gone under the Blatnik Bridge on its way to Two Harbors. The next morning it was loading taconite at two harbors when the convey of ice breakers and ships left for the Soo Locks.

 

Apostle Islands Ice Caves:

Normally I’m complaining about the lack of a good winter but this year we have had a fantastic winter. Every winter I look forward to photographing the Apostle Island Ice Caves but this is the first year since 2009 that they have been accessible from the ice on Lake Superior. I was very surprised when I checked  the middle of January and found that the ice caves were already open. Normally they don’t open until January but with the cold weather they were early this year.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1471a

We immediately drove up to Cornucopia to visit the caves. This was followed by two other visits to the caves. We weren’t the only ones visiting the caves. Thanks to social media more than 140 thousand people visited the caves before they closed in mid March.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1672

In-spite of the large number of people visiting the caves I was able to get some great photos and, for the first time, my wife was able to visit the caves. As you can see by the number of blogs I wrote on the subject this was my favorite winter activity.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-3-_0983

Bald Eagle Watching:

The cold weather has been a boon for Bald Eagle watching since it concentrated the eagles in areas where there was open water. This winter we spent time visiting three locations along the Mississippi River to watch Eagles. Our most productive location was Covill Park in Red Wing, Minnesota where we always saw eagles. There were also a large number of ducks that provided entertainment when the eagle watching slowed down. The water is always open below the heating plant above Covill Park so the eagles and ducks hang out in this area.Bald-Eagle-14-1-_1996

The second best location was Reads Landing in Minnesota. On three occasions we saw large numbers of Eagles at this location. We also saw Trumpeter Swans that were hanging out in this section of the river. Viewing at this location slowed down as the winter progressed.Bald-Eagle-14-1-_0599

Alma, Wisconsin was the least productive area we visited. We only saw a significant number of eagles on one visit. On several other visits we didn’t see any eagles or only saw a few. I found this a difficult area to photograph eagles because you are usually looking into the sun.Bald-Eagle-14-1-_2164

I wrote a number of blogs describing our visits to these locations.

Trumpeter Swans Watching:

We made a number of trips to Hudson, Wisconsin to watch the Trumpeter Swans. Several people had mentioned that Trumpeter Swans hung out on the St. Croix river but didn’t know the exact location. We eventually found them in downtown Hudson.Trumpeter-Swan-Hudson-Wisconsin-14-2-_1125

Because of the very cold weather they were hanging out it a very small area of open water close to shore during the coldest part of the winter. You could walk down along the shore and photograph them and they didn’t seem to be the least concerned with your presence.Trumpeter-Swans-Hudson-Wisconsin-14-2-_1176

These trips resulted in several blogs reporting on our visits.Trumpeter-Swans-14-2-_0592

Lake Superior Ship Watching:

The very cold weather resulted in a lot of ice on Lake Superior. The early ice made for some great opportunities to photograph ships in the cold weather. One of my favorite year around activities is ship watching in Duluth and Superior Harbors so being able to photograph them working in ice was a great adventure.

Baie Cormeau

Baie Cormeau

We were able to watch ships arrive in the harbor during the very cold winter.

Baie Comeau

Baie Comeau

The Coast Guard Cutters were very active this winter and I was able to see them in action as they were breaking the ice and anchored in the harbor.

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

Tug Boats were also required to help break the ice when the Coast Guard was not available.

Helen H

Helen H

A large number of ships are in the Duluth/Superior docks either being repaired or for winter layup.

American Spirit

American Spirit

The long winter will continue into spring as the ice breakers are working to free the harbor of ice and the ships in layup are waiting to head out for the 2014 shipping season. The season should start in the next couple of weeks.

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

 

Rush River Ice Formations:

I discovered the Rush River Ice Formations this winter. What a wonderful place to visit. A local land owner has run piping around his property tapping into underground springs. At about two dozen locations on the property he has run vertical pipes with holes drilled into them. The result are some spectacular ice formations.Nelson's-On-the-Rush-River-14-1-_1918

Long Ski Season:

For the second year in a row we have been blessed with a lot of snow. The difference this year is that the ski season started at Thanksgiving and has continued into March. With a little luck we should be able squeeze in at least one more ski trip this year.Boulder-Lake-Ski-Trails-14-2-_1375

Our favorite location this year was the ABR Ski Trails because they usually receive early snow and they do the best job of grooming of any ski location. They are usually able to have good skiing even after warm weather because they have equipment to break up the trail in icy conditions and lay a new track.ABR-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1183

We also skied at The After Hours Ski Trails in Brule a number of times this year. This is a great location because of the large number of trails and its close proximity to Duluth.After-Hours-Ski-Trails-13-3-_3674

We discovered the Boulder Lake Ski Trails near Duluth and made sever visits to these trails. There are enough trails to provide a nice day of skiing without skiing the same trail twice.Boulder-Lake-Ski-Trails-14-2-_1378

We only made one visit, to what we consider, the most beautiful ski trails in the Midwest. These are the Swedetown Ski Trails in Calument, Michigan. They get more snow and beautiful light fluffy snow than anyplace else.Swedetown-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1124

 

Last week we drove up to Duluth, Minnesota for a short visit. On the way up I was watching the Coast Guard Cutter Alder break ice in the Duluth/Superior Harbor. Most of the time it was working clearing the ice in the St. Louis River. As we neared the Blatnick Bridge in Superior I noticed that it had moved its operations down by the Gavilon Grain Docks so we turned off by Frazier Shipyards to see if we could find it. Just about then it started moving toward the Superior Entry.Coast-Guard-Cutter-Alder-at-Wisconsin-Point-14-3-_1411

We quickly headed back to Wisconsin Point to see if we could get a shot of it exiting the harbor. When we arrived it was standing just inside the entry attempting to break ice. Apparently the ice in this area was really thick. You could tell that it was having a tough time because every time it started to ram the ice the two diesel engines started belching smoke.Coast-Guard-Cutter-Alder-at-Wisconsin-Point-14-3-_1439

I took some photos of it before it started heading back down the Harbor toward Duluth. There were a couple of other photographers attempting to get photos but the snow was so deep they couldn’t get down the breakwater. Fortunately I was light enough so that I could walk on the crust.Coast-Guard-Cutter-Alder-at-Wisconsin-Point-14-3-_1441

The shipping season on Lake Superior should start in the next couple of weeks. On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week US Coast Guard Cutter Alder

started breaking ice. It was tough going. On Tuesday it made it out of its moorings  and broke ice past the St. Louis River toward Superior. Some of the ice was over 5 feet thick. On Wednesday it made its way to the Superior Entry and out into Lake Superior for 12 miles.Coast-Guard-Cutter-Alder-at-Wisconsin-Point-14-3-_0920

We had been over at the Apostle Islands Ice Caves in the morning. On our drive back to Duluth we noticed the Marine Traffic website that the Alder was out in Lake Superior so we drove down to Wisconsin Point to see if we could see it.Coast-Guard-Cutter-Alder-at-Wisconsin-Point-14-3-_0926

On our first attempt we didn’t have much luck. It was very windy and cold. I walked out toward Wisconsin Point Lighthouse but couldn’t see the ship so we drove to the end of the road. There was another person sitting in his car and I assumed he was waiting for the Alder to return through the Superior Entry.Coast-Guard-Cutter-Alder-at-Wisconsin-Point-14-3-_0929

We waited a while then noticed that the Alter was continuing out into Lake Superior so we started driving back toward Duluth. Just as we exited Wisconsin Point I asked my wife to make one last check on the status of the Alder. As luck would have it the Alder had turned around was heading back to Superior so we turned around and headed back to the Wisconsin Point Lighthouse.Coast-Guard-Cutter-Alder-14-3-_0919

We watch on Marine Traffic as the Alder neared the Superior Entry. Once again I walked out toward the Lighthouse. There was a fisherman ahead of me and I watched him go out onto the ice. It was really cold and the wind was blowing. I thought he was nuts but when the fish are biting you have to go.Wisconsin-Point-Lighthouse-14-3-_0917

As the Alder entered the port I took some photos. I then notice another photographer heading out onto the ice from a parking lot next to the south breakwater. He walked out to where the Alder had made a path on its way out of the harbor and started taking photos. If you look just in front of the Alder you can see him. This is a fellow I’ve met before. He works for the harbor taking photos of ships. He is one lucky fellow because he has access to places others don’t have including the bridge operators house on the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge.Coast-Guard-Cutter-Alder-at-Wisconsin-Point-14-3-_0939

We woke up with the intention of going cross country skiing but saw that it was going to be a warm day. The day before it had been -10 but this morning it was pushing +20. I happened to notice that the U.S Coast Cutter Alder was out in the harbor breaking ice so we put the skis into the car and drove over to Superior to see if we could catch the ice breaker at work.Alder-14-1-_0372

It was a frustrating experience. The Alder was really moving it out and by the time we reached Barkers Island it was already down at the Superior entrance to the harbor. We waited for it to come back but it then went out into Lake Superior. We thought we might get a photo of it coming back into the harbor and started driving over to Wisconsin Point. It soon became obvious that it was traveling too fast and would be back in the harbor long before we reached Wisconsin Point.Alder-14-1-_0400

We then headed back down to Barkers Island to see if we could get a photo of it passing Barkers Island. It turned out to be a race because the ship was moving faster than we could drive through traffic. We quickly pulled into a parking area before Reaching Barkers island and I was able to get a few shots of the Alder as it passed. It was a strange sight with the ice breaker breaking up the ice and people fishing and driving cars on the ice just a few yards from the ice breaker.Alder-14-1-_0405

We then noticed that the Alder heading up the Saint Louis River to break ice by the taconite loading docks. We drove down to Rice’s Point to try and get a few photographs as it came down the Saint Louis River into Duluth Harbor.

I drove down to Canal Park a few weeks ago to watch the Baie Comeau arrive in port. It was -26 with a wind chill that was even colder.Baie-Comeau-14-1-_0085

There were a few brave people around to watch the ship come into the harbor. Most of the folks weren’t aware there was a ship about to arrive until I told them. Unfortunately the fog was so thick that we weren’t able to see the ship until it reached the ship canal entrance.Baie-Comeau-14-1-_0086

The Baie Comeau was accompanied by a couple of Great Lakes tugs that would help it get through the ice to its dock.Baie-Comeau-and-Great-Lakes-Towing-Tug--14-1-_0098

Most of the ship canal as well as the harbor was covered in ice so when the Baie Comeau broke up the ice even more steam rose from the harbor.Baie-Comeau-14-1-_0107

Last weekend when we were in Duluth we noticed the US Coast Guard Icebreaker Katmai Bay tied up at the DECC. It was in Duluth to help break up the ice that was forming in the harbor. On a bitterly cold morning we walked down to the DECC to get a closer look. The air temperature was -18 with a wind-chill  of -30.13-12-_0727

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