Coast Guard Works To Break Up Ice For Commuting, Heat Delivery

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Lance DeFoggi is captain of the USC Bollard, a 65-foot Coast Guard vessel. Its core mission is to break up ice. DeFoggi and his crew were called up two weeks ago from their home port in New Haven, Connecticut. The six guys are working out of Point Allerton in Hull, helping to keep boats moving in Boston Harbor and beyond.

DeFoggi says there's not a whole lot of science or art to breaking up the ice.

"You hit the ice, you break it up and the ice actually breaks with the weight of the ship, that's how we get our capability, not cutting or sawing or anything like that."

With a wind chill of 14 below Thursday morning, the crew breaks up the ice in Hingham Bay, which led the MBTA to cancel ferry service. Motoring at 10 knots, the boat headed straight for a giant white field of ice — acres in size.

Huge slabs bob up and down as the Bollard passes through. The ice is still there, but now there's less of a chance that it will freeze together overnight and make the harbor impassable.

The boat can break ice 12 inches thick. If the first ram doesn't work, the crew uses a technique called "backing and ramming," which is exactly what it sounds like. But even with moves like that, there are times when the ice is just too thick.

"There are plenty of areas where we haven't able to break through," says DeFoggi. "Fortunately we haven't been here long enough to find those areas yet, but back home in Connecticut, there are plenty of areas where we just can't get through the ice — it's just too thick."

The Coast Guard's Operation Reliable Energy for Northeast Winters — or RENEW — is meant to ensure that supplies, energy and emergency resources are available to communities in the region.

The importance of the mission can hardly be understated — especially during winter. The Coast Guard says 75 percent of the heating oil used in the country is transported through New England, New York and New Jersey — and 90 percent of that is delivered by barges. In order for the barges to safely make it to their destinations, the ice in their path needs to be broken up.

It also frees up the waters for other public safety agencies like the Boston Fire Department, which operates its fire boats out of Burroughs Wharf in the North End. The agencies maintain close contact, reporting the buildup of ice so the Coast Guard can best mobilize it's icebreakers.

The Coast Guard also carries out ice reconnaissance flights, and gets up-to-date information from the volunteer pilots of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

"Conditions are pretty good right now," said Defoggi, returning to the facility at Point Allerton in Hull. "The ice is loose, free flowing, so hopefully with the tide, a lot of it will flush out of these small channels and the vessels will keep transiting through it."


Simón Rios, WBUR reporter. He tweets @simonfrios.


The Boston Globe: Icy Waters Halt MBTA Ferry In Hingham Harbor

  • "Within minutes, the 8:20 a.m. ferry got a tow from another Boston Harbor Cruises boat, the Warren Jr., which led the way for about half a mile by breaking the ice in the ferry’s path before setting the boat loose to proceed on its own to Boston."

This segment aired on February 26, 2015.


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