New Ice Breaker Ship Ready for Commissioning

It has been an interesting winter on the Upper Great Lakes for the U.S. Coast Guard. For most of the winter, there was very little ice, meaning the Coast Guard’s newest ice breaker didn’t get much of a work-out during its winter trials. The new Cutter Mackinaw was in the news over the winter though, when the ship rammed the seawall in Coast Guard City, USA – aka Grand Haven, Mich. – during its first visit there. The incident in Grand Haven, which left a clearly visible dent, er, ding, er – whatever the word is for a roughly 10 foot by 10 foot indentation – near the bow of the $90 million metal-hulled ship.

The Grand Haven incident, which lead to the firing of the ship’s captain, Capt. Donald Triner, happened Dec. 12, 2005, just five days before the new Mackinaw, hull number WLBB-30, arrived for the first time in its homeport of Cheboygan, Mich. There, the Coast Guard said, after the Dec. 17 celebration to welcome in the ship, Triner and some of the crew made “inappropriate use of alcohol” – a factor that led to Rear Adm. Robert Papp’s decision to relieve Triner of command and replace him with Capt. Michael Hudson.

The early days of leadership are a marked difference from the history of the first ship named Mackinaw, a 290-foot long brute that has kept the Upper Great Lakes open to year-round navigation since World War II. The original Mackinaw, hull number WAGB-83, was launched in 1944 at a cost of $10 million. The cutter’s first skipper, Edwin J. Roland, would conclude his Coast Guard career by serving as the Commandant of the Coast Guard from 1962-66. Cmdr. Joseph C. McGuiness is the current captain of the original Mackinaw. That ship is to be decommissioned in June 2006. The ship, which has been based in Cheboygan since the 1940s, is expected to become a floating museum in Chevoygan after it is decommissioned.

The fact that there’s been little ice for the new ship to practice on during the 2005-2006 winter season is hardly a surprise, according to some. “There’s no ice. Certainly not five-foot-thick ice, necessitating an ice cutter,” wrote F. Ned Dikmen, founder and the publisher of Great Lakes Boating Magazine and chairman of the Great Lakes Boating Federation, in a recent opinion piece. “Even if one does not concur that global climate change is warming up the lakes (for which there is overwhelming proof), the Great Lakes Ice Atlas shows a clear and obvious long-term reduction in the amount of ice on the lakes, even in usual trouble spots like the Straits of Mackinaw,” Dikemen said.

The Coast Guard, however, is required by federal law to operate at least one heavy ice breaker on the Great Lakes. Thus, the new Mackinaw. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jeff Hall said the new ship will operate at considerable savings to the older ship – the new ship carries only about half the crew of what the older ship was originally designed for – and will be much more functional than the older ship. “The original Mackinaw is great at breaking ice, but that is about all it can do. The new ship will also be able to function as a bouy tender outside of ice season,” he said. The official decommissioning of the older cutter and the commissioning of the new cutter is expected to take place in ceremonies in Cheboygan in June 2006.

Old Mackinaw
Hull: WAGB-83
Displacement: 5,252 tons
Length: 290 feet
Beam: 74.3 ft
Draft: 19.5 ft
Speed: 15 knots
Propulsion: Six Fairbanks-Morse, 10 cylinder diesel engines
Crew: 8 Officers, 67 Enlisted

New Mackinaw
Hull: WLBB-30
Displacement: 3,500 tons
Length: 240 ft
Beam: 58 ft. 6 in.
Draft: 16 ft.
Speed 15 knots
Propulsion: Integrated Main Propulsion & Electrical Plant
Crew: 9 Officers, 46 Enlisted

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