Coast Guard "Cuts" Their Way Through The Penobscot

BUCKSPORT, Maine (WABI) - It's a yearly tradition for the Coast Guard...breaking ice along the Penobscot River.

Cutters made their way up river Friday helping to reduce the risk of flooding.

Alyssa Thurlow went along to see how it's done.

"Ice breaking itself is fun. You get to take your ship and break things with it. That's something you usually try to avoid. It's a unique opportunity, and it's a lot of fun to get out and do," said Chief Petty Officer, Einar Mattson.

The task of breaking through thick sheets of ice belongs to the Coast Guard.

It's a job they don't take lightly.

"This is one of those jobs that is very unique within the Coast Guard. We are a small unit and we are self-contained, but there's only seven of us who work on board," explained Mattson.

The Coast Guard makes multiple trips out here on the Penobscot every winter, and they say the thickness of the ice can get up to 5 to 6 inches.

But, this cutter working in the Penobscot River can actually plow through much more than that.

"The 65, the Bridle, and the Tackle, this type of ship can break up to 12 inches of ice," said Mattson. "Before this last winter storm, we were able to assess where the ice is, so we are going to go back up and start breaking and flushing out any ice that has formed down river."

This crew works long hours and through plenty of bumps.

But, for the Northeast region, this gig is necessary, especially with heating oil in high demand.

"80% of the heating oil is used here in the Northeast," explained Mattson. "90-95% of that comes in on a barge."

Without cutters like this one, ice jams could trigger flooding.

It's guys like the engineers who keep this ship up and running.

"My responsibility is to keep the engine running while we're breaking ice. If there is some kind of problem, I have to quickly respond and make sure that we get back online and continue operating," said Engineer Officer on Board, Michael Fonseca.

Being out on the water in the middle of winter in Maine can be quite an experience.

"Breaking ice is a completely different mission than I've never done, so I really do like going up to break up the ice, and freeing up the river and making sure the waterways are clear," said Fonseca.