Whitefish Glacier
By David Robb

  Courtesy of The Tugboat Association

 

 

65-68 was early Viet Nam as you know and they had not sorted things out yet over there. We got guys back from Nam as sort of a halfway house - like when we got reservists in the summer.

I don't know if you have ever seen Lake Superior but it is not like any of the other Great Lakes. We used to break ice up in the Soo. The problem usually was that all the ice from Whitefish Bay would be jammed down the "funnel" that led to the locks by the prevailing Spring winds. Ore boats would get jammed into the locks as soon as the doors would open so we would back down to their bows in the lock and power out 13th step to give them a ice free track. When we were done, we would go up into Whitefish Bay to about where the Edmund Fitzgerald is lying and wait for the next call.

The so-called ocean Coasties would get their first look at this lake and I always remember their
comments, "GOD!"  If you have never been on it or seen it, it is hard to describe: menacing, cold, mean, angry, threatening, all of it. I spent my summers on it as a kid and felt the same way when I was very young. You can't feel it until you are out on it. When a sailor first sees it, a chill goes down his spine and a deep sense of dread stabs his heart. Ocean sailors never joke about us fresh water sailors after that. It got to the point where we would all be quiet as we came around the turn to reveal the big lake before us just to hear the reaction of the new guy; Never failed.

Part of my technique in ice was to kick over the wheel 1 1/2 turns 2 seconds before we hit the
hard ice. This threw a list into the ship before she could turn and commenced her list - usually to
starboard because I'm right handed. She'd hit the ice at about 8-10 degrees, continue to list right and then react by rolling port. By then, I was spinning the wheel in a blur to get the rudder over by the time she maxed her roll that way to kick her back the other way. I usually got a full 4 1/2 rolls (starboard -port-starboard-port-1/2 starboard) out of her that way.

It was an education to spend a season on Lake Superior breaking ice with a 110 foot Tug.


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