US Coast Guard Cutters Clear Ice Around Soo Locks in Preparation for Opening

There’s a lot of work to be done on the water before the Soo Locks are expected to open.

We joined the Coast Guard Wednesday as they began breaking up ice along the Saint Marys River.

The locks are set to open Sunday.

U.S. Coast Guard cutters, along with help from their Canadian counterparts are out making sure the waterways are ready for the shipping season.

For the Coast Guard here in the Great Lakes, this is by far their most important non-life saving mission of the year.

We got to experience it first hand from one of the biggest cutters in their fleet and it was incredible thing to watch.

“Short trip today, we are going to be getting away from the pier. The ice is expected to be 24-30 inches thick right now,” Adam Leggett, USCG Mackinaw said.

A 240 foot ship ripping through 2 feet of ice like a sheet of paper. It’s breathtaking.

“You see a lot of things off the boat. It’s pretty cool. I kind of like, watching it break the ice,” Samantha Coulter from Traverse City said.

Spectators both young and old gathered for an up close look along the walls of the Soo Locks.

Traveling through the locks is the main reason behind this mission

“What we need to do is get up above the locks in Whitefish Bay is 90 percent frozen and we have over 60 miles of track that we actually have to cut before lakers can move through all that ice,” Leggett said.

And they got the right cutter for the job: the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw.

“Highly maneuverable, the fastest I’ve seen our rate of turn is 360 degrees per minute,” Chantel Early, USCGC Mackinaw said.

Maneuverability that international economies relies on.

“Through the season we facilitate about $500 million worth of commercial traffic with our efforts. Traffic wants to move as much as possible because they have shipments waiting to go,” Leggitt said.

We got an abbreviated look at the operation, but in reality, the men and women on the ship will be working 15 hour days up until and the start of shipping season this Sunday.