The crew of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw makes an icy approach to the Mackinac Bridge Lighted Bell Buoy 1 in the Straits of Mackinac, December 11, 2013.
An early start to the ice season means the crew of the USCGC Mackinaw has to race to complete Operation Fall Retrieve, now at 85% completion, before the ice floes set firm and damage the navigational buoys.
Operation Fall Retrieve, which affects lighted and unlighted buoys and beacons, commenced in October with a goal of retrieving 1,278 navigational aids.
The 1,278 aids, approximately half in the region, are taken out of service during the winter months due to decreased vessel traffic and are replaced with smaller, lighter and more buoyant buoys, known as wintermarks or ice hulls, that are designed to actually ride underneath the ice when it comes, but still stay on location.
As Operation Fall Retrieve nears completion throughout the Great Lakes, the Coast Guard, in partnership with Canadian and commercial entities, has begun ice-breaking operations as part of Operation Taconite in the western Great Lakes — lakes Superior and Michigan, the St. Marys River, the Straits of Mackinac, and northern Lake Huron.
The Coast Guard says that crews in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, commenced the annual ice-breaking operation last Friday to prevent developing ice from hindering commercial navigation in the ports of Duluth, Minn., Superior, Wis., and Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Meanwhile, Operation Coal Shovel, which is the ice-breaking operation in the eastern Great Lakes region, including lakes Erie and Ontario, the Detroit and St. Clair rivers, Lake St. Clair, and southern Lake Huron, has not yet begun as ice conditions have not called for it.
Operations Taconite and Coal Shovel constitute the country’s largest domestic ice-breaking operations. This year, the combineb operations will have a total of nine district icebreakers and several Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers that can provide assistance.
Photos courtesy U.S. Coast Guard