How to Get a 630' Freighter Out of the Thickest Ice in 40 Years.




Introduction: How to Get a 630' Freighter Out of the Thickest Ice in 40 Years.

About: Hi everybody! I'm a Great Lakes District 2 ship pilot! As a result I don't have many other instructables to offer.

Ok. Let's knuckle down everybody. You thought November was long and cold? That was just pre-game. Button up butter cups, double up your long johns and put your parka's on and let's take a trip to the arctic. AKA: Northern Michigan. From here on out, consider it January.

Now if you're a Yooper, you're smiling from ear to ear right now. If you're a deck winch or a bollard, see photos, It's going to take us all day to thaw it out with hot water.

The photo above is from when we ran from Duluth to Gros Cap (across Lake Superior) in some snotty weather. We took the North shore and didn't get a drop of water on us until we became just a little to greedy and tried to shave an hour off our ETA by cutting across the smallest tip of Michipicoten Bay. After all, how bad could it be for 1 hour? Well, with decks awash we froze everything up pretty fast. Time to send the hot water up on deck and start de-icing. Needless to say the deckhands won't be too thrilled with you.

So, step 1, keep the decks dry and don't be a hero in January!

Step 1: Figure Out How Thick the Ice Is

Look at a fixed object, Lansing Shoal light will do just fine. Hmmmm, it looks pretty darn thick but, the wind and current are still blowing it right around the light. We have come to a complete halt (the engine wont push us through it anymore) so based on that alone....must be more than a foot. We have about 70 miles to go to get from the top of Lake Michigan to the top of Lake Huron, heading due East, and over to the straights of Mackinac.

Step 2: Phone a Friend

Sometime your buddies with HUGE horsepower come through. In this case, the Joyce L. Van Eckenvort, with 10,000HP happens to come by! What's more, the Captain is a good friend of yours and a great man! Ask him to cut you out! He will get as close as he can to try and cut a relief path so you can dart out in to his old track line. It HAS TO WORK!

It didn't work....:(

Beat by the wind and current again, as fast as he came through and carved out a path, the open track line closed up and sealed us in here faster than I could ring the chad burner. "See you in the spring Dave! Thanks! I'll be right here!"

Step 3: The First Rule of Ice Club Is.......

Tell everybody about ice club.

It's the only way you are going to get help. If you look at the picture, you'll see a mess of little black arrows. Each one is a ship. We are the green one all the way on the left. There's even a U.S.C.G. ice breaker in there taking a convoy my way! What a lucky break for us! We'll get him on the rebound!

Step 4: Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

This is all your going to see the for the next 5 days.

"Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament.......Look kids, we know...."

Establish communication with the Katmai Bay, he will give you a set of instructions and have you stand by on channel 8. It will take him at least an hour to do one lap around you effectively. That's approximately 1300 linear feet to slice through!

Be prepared for 8 hours of blinding white followed by 16 hours of complete black.

It's going to feel like Groundhogs day.

Step 5: How Far Have We Gone?

It's 12 hours later and the Katmai Bay has done more left hand turns than Dale Earnhardt!

Go to the ECPINS (Electronic chart) and check your progress. It looks like we've gone..........1 mile! Ok, this is a little thicker than we thought.

At this point it's real important to keep a good P.M.A. (positive mental attitude). You have plenty of groceries and decent cell phone coverage.

Step 6: Try Going the Other Way???

So, we are pretty well committed at this point. The poor USCG has been burning the candle at both ends. Be prepared for them to cease ice breaking at dark. This is better for everybody. Get a good nights sleep, and start again in the day light.......times 4 more days.

Step 7: Call Me Shackleton

No, that's not the planet Hoth! That's the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, there are now snowmobilers coming along side of you to say hello! In fact there's hundreds of them!

Keep an eye out for Christmas trees in the ice! Not making this up, this is how the locals turn the ice into kind of a super ice freeway between Mackinac Island and St. Ignace. They put all the old trees in line and if the tree's shift, the ice is moving! Those Yoopers sure know how to adapt!

At this point the ice should be getting a little thinner, relatively speaking. You can see up ahead, Round Island light. If you've been checking the morning ice calls, you know you are back in open water on the other side.

Step 8: Free at Last, Free at Last, Lord Almighty.......

Wow, there's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ships waiting on you! You sure know how to clog up the system! None of these guys can get through until you get out of the way! It looks like the entrance to the Panama Canal over here. You may want to put a paper bag over your head as you go by. You really are under powered for being out here but, that's the way it goes!

Now take all that experience in because your going to need it, again, down in Port Huron.

Congratulations! You've survived the worst ice conditions in 40 years!

PS: Super thanks to USCG Katmai Bay & Biscayne Bay for sticking it out, I'll never see those boats the same again, and the crew of the Joyce L. for at least trying.



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    54 Discussions

    So, how soon does your book come out? This is great stuff, and it has a wider appeal than only for ship captains. I'm in Marquette County, so...see you in the spring, Calumet!

    1 reply

    Thanks for the compliment. I haven't worked on that book in a while. It's just crazy sea stories and events that I've witnessed over the years. Unfortunately most people think I'm making it up.

    Interesting journey there...thanks for sharing. Living on the Detroit River I see the Calumet and her sisters quite often. Looks like you're probably gonna go by me again Monday.

    I came into reading this thinking it was about de-icing. Something that would be useful for all of us who are about to get to snow. However as I got through a couple steps I realize that it was actually keeping a gigantic boat away from icy waters so that the boat does not freeze

    Hi amenough, thanks for the breakfast-story this morning and an interesting lesson of english! Our lake here in Neuruppin/Brandenburg/Germany was a little bit smaller :-D

    I think this instructable has to be one of the winners of the Winterize Contest, because awesomeness! :-)

    Ha is this the Calumet? Been aboard this boat many a time!

    I live in port Huron, this winter was a fun one. the lake just north of the blue water bridge looked like a parking lot with everyone waiting for the ice to break. got to see the damage to the back of the USCG cutter hollyhock after its incident of bumping uglys in the straights, quit the dent.

    1 reply

    4 years ago

    I'm from petoskey. I know this ice. Lol. Good job

    "How To Get A 630' Freighter Out Of the Thickest Ice In 40 Years."

    According to this headline it took 40 years to free the freighter from the ice.

    1 reply

    4 years ago

    Love it as a Michigan native and transplant to the northern LP I love watching the freighters slip by.

    I absolutely love your freighter series, especially because I purchased a 560 ft freighter on Lake Michigan last year. I could have used this -ible last winter, though, with all the heavy ice in the Manitou Passage.

    I don't think I'll ever sail a freighter, but I enjoyed it either way.

    A very entertaining and informative read! Well done!

    Cool post. I suspect that for enduring those harsh conditions and the ever-present danger, you and your shipmates each pull down at least a cool million per year.

    Well told story; thanks for sharing!


    Being born and raised in the UP (Kingsford) and having spent 4 years in Marquette (Go Cats!) I can relate to the author. We Yoopers have always said there are two seasons...the 4th of July and the rest of the year. Nice Instructable!

    Very entertaining! I had no idea you all were trying to get boats around the Great lakes even in the crazy winter weather we had this year. Thought all the freighters were in dock someplace warm.