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Note:  I wrote this a year ago for a print publication, but they’ve not used it.  It’s timely, so here it is in its entirety.  The style is different because of its history and intention.  Here was my post #1 with this title from January 2010.  And HERE was 2.

Line crosses the ice fields covering a chokepoint in the Hudson River like an army tank traversing boulders. The vessel—more than a half century old—pitches and tosses erratically. And the steel hull polishing itself on brash ice—jagged floating ice clumps– is loud, arrhythmic, and almost alarming as the small ice breaker advances through the ice or attempts to, sometimes halting.

“It’s counterintuitive,” said Bosun Mate Chief Bradford Long. “My initial sense was that I was harming the vessel. But it was built for ice up to a foot thick. When it stops, you take care that the rudder position is centered, then power astern before attempting a new track. Having the rudder anywhere but centered could damage it.”


During an average ice season, some 300 vessels from tug/barge units to ocean-going tankers and bulk carriers navigate the Hudson. During the 2012-13 season, Coast Guard crews broke ice and facilitated movement of 7.96 million barrels of petroleum products and 297,000 tons of dry bulk products in the Northeast, with a combined total value of nearly $2 billion. They also answered 17 official requests for assistance and assisted 37 vessels in need.


During “ice season” Line is one of three 65’ ice breaking tugs working in conjunction with 140’ Bay-class ice breakers whose missions include keeping key portions of the Hudson River open. The larger ice breakers like Penobscot Bay can handle ice up to 36” thick and work the chokepoints such as Esopus Meadows and Silver Point, while Line breaks ice at facilities such as petroleum terminals and pilot stations. “Commercial operators notify us about 24 hours in advance of their arrival at a terminal. We break up the ice and –if necessary—a 140-footer comes in and sweeps the ice away just before the tug and barge arrives,” says Long.


WYTL 65611 Line, is homeported in Bayonne, New Jersey, as is its sister vessel WYTL 65610 Hawser. A third sibling WYTL 65612 Wire is based in Saugerties, New York. All three were launched from Barbour Boat Works in New Bern, North Carolina, within two months of each other in 1963, now 52 years ago.


Barbour also made some classy runabouts, like this one seen in their old boat works, now operating as the North Carolina History Center.


Jet Lowe took the photo below of the Barbour work tug Sam.  Click here for more pics of Sam by Jet Lowe.  Can’t you look at wooden Sam and see hints of the WYTL design?  And these 65′ icebreakers . . . what will replace them?


The three WYTLs break ice on a “1 in 3” schedule: one week of Hudson River ice breaking operations, then a second week of patrols and breakouts closer to their homeport, and then a third week of maintenance in port.  Line, currently with a crew of eight, operates during daylight hours only, unless emergency search-and rescue operations dictate otherwise, said Long. At night, the vessel might dock on shore power available only at either West Point or Saugerties, 45 and 90 miles respectively north of the Battery.


The current season is the first breaking Hudson River ice for BMC Long, whose 14-year career has provided prior Coast Guard ice experience on Lake Champlain and the Bering Sea. Line’s current ice breaking duties include maintenance of the “track” followed by commercial vessels, as well as facilities “break-outs,” meaning the WYTL breaks ice in circular patterns or noses up to a dock and uses prop wash to clear out a possible channel. Line has a single four-blade 56” prop turned by a 500 horsepower Caterpillar 34-12.


WYTL crew also communicate with passing commercial vessels gathering data on their vessels, cargoes, and encountered ice conditions. That information is shared with the Coast Guard Sector New York’s “ice officer,” Chief Warrant Officer Kary Moss.   According to Moss, “domestic icebreaking operations are intended to … minimize waterways closures during the winter, enabling commercial vessels to transit through ice-covered critical channels.” Moss manages the information generated by the WYTLS, the 140-footers, and Coast Guard Auxiliary Air, or AuxAir “ice patrols.” These latter are observation flights—daily if weather permits—by civilian aircraft from Sandy Hook to Albany to report on and photograph ice conditions and river traffic.   During the 2012-13 ice season, AuxAir made 37 reconnaissance flights. Moss then issues the daily ice report both broadcast on VHF channel 22 and electronically.

Since their 1963 arrival the WYTLs in the Hudson Valley have had a variety of missions, which did not include breaking ice on the Hudson for the first two decades. Line and the other two New York area WYTLs—Wire and Hawser—have unique extended cabins used to accommodate additional crew, including doctors, who would board passenger vessels for inspection/quarantine in greater New York harbor. The WYTLs also moved empty sanitation scows during instances like the tugboat strike of 1979, as evidenced below in the letter of citation from the commandant of the Coast Guard . . ..


As the winter and ice season of 2013-14 establishes a place in the cold and ice record books, BMC Long and crew feel a sense of accomplishment about their role on this half-century-old boat assisting commercial vessels in getting the heating oil through.


So here we are 12 months later, and it’s deja vu all over again . . . or something.

Here’s Tatiana Schlossberg’s article from today’s NYTimes on the 2015 icebreaking effort.





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