Early Ice Season Keeps Coast Guard Busy in Cape Cod Harbors

HYANNIS – The U.S. Coast Guard was busy clearing ice out of navigational channels much earlier this winter than in past years.

The ice breaking season started about six weeks before usual when frigid temperatures descended on the region in late December.

Coast Guard Senior Chief for the Sector Southeast New England Tim Chase said crews were ready despite the early start to the season.

The most affected supply routes locally were Hyannis Harbor and Lewis Bay out to Nantucket.

“We were experiencing anywhere from six inches up to over a foot of ice in some of these channels,” Chase said. “It was greatly hindering the ferry services out to the island.”

Crews utilized two types of icebreaking tugs to cut through the thick ice. They are designed to break up to a foot of ice non-stop.

“We prioritize our vessels to where we see it as important vital supply routes and we got them opened up and got the ferries escorted out to Nantucket to get them the fuel and food they needed,” Chase said.

Once frozen channels are cut, the Coast Guard uses tides, currents and wind to help move the broken ice to flush the channels out.

Broken up ice, also known as brash ice or flow ice, can still be hazardous.

“Our fear is that it chokes up in tighter points in the channels and creates jams which won’t allow the vessels through,” Chase said.

“So we put our icebreaking assets to work and we keep these little jams open so hopefully it all flows out to sea.”

The recent warm spell immensely helped out the Coast Guard crews. The Cape Cod Canal, Hyannis, Lewis Bay and Nantucket have flushed out.

The focus now is to correct the aids to navigation discrepancies created by the ice.

“As these ice sheets move around they’ve moved buoys around and they’ve broken buoys and they’ve broken lights,” Chase said.

Chase said they aren’t out of the woods yet as February is right around the corner.

“February is a cold time in the Northeast and we all know that,” he said. “We’re ready to face whatever we face and we’ll be out there doing the job.”

By BRIAN MERCHANT, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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