Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay in Great Lakes

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Photo: LCDR Mary Ellen Durley, CO, Thunder Bay

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Before and after hull maintenance - Photo by LCDR Durley



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Photo: MK1 Christopher Wilson, EPO, Tackle


Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum

Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum

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               Photo: MK2 John Hardman - CGC Thunder Bay

Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum

Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum

Photos By David Hardman

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Photo: by MK1 Shannon Riley



U.S. Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay home from Great Lakes ice-breaking mission
  By Holly S. Anderson
NetMedia Online Director

ROCKLAND (May 1): The crew of the Rockland-based U.S. Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay had just 12 days notice to prepare for a trip that would last nearly two months and take them 2,000 nautical miles from their home port.

U.S. Coast Guard

Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay traverses an icy river. (Image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

There was 30 miles of ice jammed against the liquid passage connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie , and persistent cold weather was making an annual opening of March 31 a near impossibility without some attempted human intervention.

According to the wording on the Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation delivered to the ship's captain, Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Crane, three days after arriving back home in Rockland on April 30, "USCG Thunder Bay was identified as the asset best able to assist." The citation was signed by USCG Rear Adm. D.G. Gabel, commander of the First Coast Guard District in Boston , Mass.

Crane received the citation for the ship April 30, but each of Thunder Bay 's 18 crew members received individual commendation citations as well.

Holly S. Anderson

U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Michael K. Sams (First District South Portland Prevention Department head), left, and Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Crane, captain of the Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay . (Photo by Holly S. Anderson)

"You were gone for seven weeks and one day, but who's counting?" said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Michael K. Sams.

Sams, USCG First District South Portland Prevention Department head, was on hand for the honors April 30 along with Master Chief Ron Latronico. Sams told the assembled crew that Capt. James B. McPherson, captain of the port for Coast Guard Sector Northern New England, sent along his regrets for not being present to bestow the commendation himself.

"Overall Capt. McPherson sends regrets and accolades for all that the Thunder Bay was able to do," said Sams. "You guys were the best ambassadors on behalf of the First District ever."

Thunder Bay Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Chase also spoke to the ship's crew, commending them for their hard work and dedication to the ice-breaking mission that took them and the ship from Maine through the international waters of Canada and back into the United States .

"We had no control of the ice conditions over there and you guys were at a different level of preparedness than other cutters and that's why you were sent out there," said Chase. "You should be proud of what you did."

Holly S. Anderson

Thunder Bay Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Chase. (Photo by Holly S. Anderson)

U.S. Coast Guard

More than 750 miles of ice caused a racket on the hull of the Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay that precluded sleep for all but the lucky few who managed to train their bodies to ignore most of the noise. (Image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

Chase also noted that because of their successful and professional work, it's likely the Coast Guard, and Thunder Bay in particular, will be called upon annually to do the job.

"Just before we came in here I was on a conference call about ice still elsewhere, and it's because people know what you did that I got that call," said Chase.

U.S. Coast Guard

The expansive, 30-mile-long ice field on Lake Erie off the bow of Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay last month. In the distant background is Buffalo , N.Y. (Image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

The Thunder Bay and its crew departed from its berth at the end of Tillson Avenue in Rockland Harbor on March 15 en route to the St. Lawrence Seaway , home of the Ninth Coast Guard District. Miles and miles of thick, crusty ice were threatening the safe passage this spring of commercial traffic in the Great Lakes region. And a diversion of local cutters would slow other necessary work to prepare the waterways for the coming shipping season.

As if the cold weather conditions weren't daunting enough, the trip would herald Thunder Bay 's maiden voyage to and on the Great Lakes . It was a trip that would eventually require transiting through a total of 31 lock evolutions.

U.S. Coast Guard

Initial attempts to break through the ice jam that had formed at the northeast tip of Lake Erie at Buffalo , N.Y. , were futile. Eventually, some melting allowed the Thunder Bay to open the pass connecting shipping traffic to Lake Ontario and points east. (Image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)


U.S. Coast Guard

U.S. Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay berthed in Port Colborne , Ontario , alongside the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Griffon, center, and a bulk carrier ship, right. (Image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

Along the way the crew plowed through more than 750 miles of ice, interrupted topside slumbering seals, and saw beluga whales and commercial ships that dwarfed the 140-foot-long Thunder Bay . Upon their eventual arrival in Lake Erie and Cleveland , Ohio , they were visited by Rear Adm. Peter Neffenger, commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District, and got to see Bruce Springsteen and the heavy metal band Metallica inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while berthed adjacent to Brown Stadium.

The trip was apparently a resounding success.

"Once in theatre, Thunder Bay served with distinction, tirelessly breaking drifts, floes and heavy brash breaking ice in over 1,000 miles of navigable seaways and directly assisting multiple ice-blocked vessels," said the citation. "Specifically, Thunder Bay opened the St. Lawrence Seaway to annual commercial shipping, facilitated commercial vessel transits through the Welland Canal , and stood search and rescue guard for the Ninth Coast Guard District allowing other cutters to transition to needed aids to navigation operations."

U.S. Coast Guard

Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay transited 31 locks on its trip from Maine to the Great Lakes region this spring. (Image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

U.S. Coast Guard

With Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay secured in a lock, pipes below the surface open and the incoming water fills the lock, causing the 140-foot-long ship to be lifted upward. (Image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

U.S. Coast Guard

Despite the Thunder Bay 's 140 feet of length, riding inside a filling lock is rough. The resulting whirlpools of incoming water cause the ship to bang on the walls, making for a jarring ride. (Image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

In an e-mail to Crane on April 29, Ninth Coast Guard District Chief of Staff Capt. David Callahan wrote: "The extraordinary professionalism and seamanship you demonstrated in making a safe winter transit to the Great Lakes is commendable. The 325 underway hours and 37 days you have spent away from home port thus far were vital to the overall success of the Great Lakes spring break-out We are proud to call you fellow 'Great Lakes Guardians.' Well done shipmates! Fair winds and a safe journey home."

Latronico called the crew's work impressive, commending them for successfully preparing for departure with only 12 days notice.

Latronico also said, "The one thing I said before you left was to stay out of trouble and be good ambassadors and you did it. Thank you for that."

U.S. Coast Guard

Ninth Coast Guard District Rear Adm. Peter Neffenger, seated left, visits with Lt. Commander Tom Crane, seated right, aboard the Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay . (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard)

In addition, Sams said that numerous captains visited the ship while en route, some official and others not as obvious, but that all had positive reports of a professional crew that was on top of things.

"There has been nothing but positive for the Thunder Bay ," said Sams.

Crane told the assemblage that while he was proud and blessed to receive the recognition, it was the crew that made it possible. He noted the work done "under the radar" by Executive Officer Lt. Tom Przybyla, who worked with Crane on the charts to get through the ice and burn the least amount of fuel in the least amount of time.

"The ship is great in ice, but not off shore," said Crane. "It was a rough trip and we got knocked around, and there was no sleep because it was a hard ride. From voyage planning to speaking French with the locals, there were a lot of challenges but you all handled it well. This may become an annual event and I encourage you to pass on the information you learned. Nobody here had done that trip before and not many do it at all, so it truly was a trip of a lifetime for you all."

U.S. Coast Guard

Pulling back two boat lengths and thrusting forward, the Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay rammed its way to Buffalo , N.Y. , last month. (Image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

Ice breaking can be a daunting task, especially when pressure has created a dense, compact field of ice covering dozens of miles of lake surface. Despite repeated attempts to break up the ice that was the root of the problem at the southwest tip of Lake Ontario , which connects shipping traffic to Lake Erie and Buffalo , N.Y. , the ice proved stronger than the Thunder Bay .

The ship's first attempt to break through, which consisted of ramming the ice by backing up no more than two boat lengths and thrusting forward, wasn't a success, said Crane.

U.S. Coast Guard

Initial attempts to ram through the ice on a mission to open the shipping lane between lakes Erie and Ontario were hampered by the ultra-pressurized ice jam that proved too much for Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay . This is northern Quebec , with windmills in the background. (Image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

"We actually were not able to make it into Buffalo on the first attempt," he said. "This was due to extreme ice pressure being produced by westerly gale force winds pushing all the ice on top of itself and along the Buffalo shore. Ice pressure is one of the most dangerous elements to be concerned with while ice breaking. We let the ice melt since there was no commercial shipping running into Buffalo until April 17."

The following crew members received the Coast Guard Meritorious Commendation: Crane, Przybyla, ENG3 Fred Storen, EMC Meikle Gardner, BMC Kevin Stupca, MK1 Shannon Riley, BM1 Kurt Kuntzmann, EM2 Bill Rohr, FS2 Jacob Grim, BM2 D.J. Holcomb Jr., MK3 Manual Baca, MK3 Justin Stockdill, BM3 Peter Glynn, BM3 Mikah Sallet, SN Gregory Perks, SN Shayne Meadows, FN Kyle Billert and SA Bryan Thomas.

U.S. Coast Guard

A scenic shot taken March 28 from on board the Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay en route through Canada to the Great Lakes region. (Image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)