The historic Coast Guard icebreaker Mackinaw has docked for the final time. The vessel is scheduled to be decommissioned at the beginning of June, after more than six decades of service on the Great Lakes. The GLRC’s Sarah Hulett visited the ship on its farewell tour of the lakes, and has this report:
The historic Coast Guard icebreaker Mackinaw has docked for the final
time. The vessel is scheduled to be decommissioned at the beginning of
June, after more than six decades of service on the Great Lakes. The
GLRC’s Sarah Hulett visited the ship on its farewell tour of the lakes, and
has this report:
I’m on the bridge of the 290-foot icebreaker, and I’m just in time for the
daily test of the vessel’s alarms and whistles.
(Sound of bell)
After 62 years, they’re still working.
(Sound of alarm)
The Mackinaw was built in Toledo, during World War Two – when
demand for raw materials from the Great Lakes region exploded.
The icebreaker extended the shipping season through the winter, and
helped make sure iron ore and other cargo could get to the industrial
cities at the center of the war effort.
Today, Pat Pietrolungo and his 80 fellow crewmembers are still keeping
the shipping lanes cleared for commercial transport. They can spend up
to two weeks at a time on the ship, cutting ice during the winter months.
But cruising Lake Superior in the dead of winter can get spooky on those
long, cold winter nights.
Pietrolungo says there are some crew members who think there’s a ghost
on board the Mackinaw.
“Certain little weird things happen. Lights will flicker that shouldn’t,
doors will shut, some of the wheels on the scuttle will turn. I guess it
was a former crew member that died on board.”
But that ghost will have a lot less company soon, when the crew moves
to the Mackinaw’s smaller, more efficient replacement this summer.
The old ship isn’t flexible enough to serve other purposes for the Coast
Guard. And Pietrolungo – the Mackinaw’s machinery technician – says
finding parts for the vessel’s huge diesel engines is getting more difficult
by the year.
“It’s more or less along the lines of a locomotive engine. So you’ve got
to go start searching train museums, more or less, to find the big parts if
we needed them.”
A non-profit group based in Cheboygan, Michigan wants to make the
Mackinaw itself a museum.
Hugh O’Connor and his two young children were the first in line to
board the vessel when it docked in Detroit during its farewell tour. He
says he’ll be sad to see the Mackinaw decommissioned, but he says he
would visit the ship as a museum. Like a lot of boys who grew up along
the lakes, O’Connor says he and his friends knew the names of all the
freighters, and looked forward to catching a glimpse of the Mackinaw.
“We always used to ice fish in the winter, and I remember from our ice
shanty you’d get out and see it going by, breaking ice on Lake Saint
Clair for the freighters. That was when they were trying to run the boats
year-round. I don’t think they do that much anymore though. That was
pretty cool. Back then it was all white, though. Painted all white.”
The Mackinaw’s hull – painted red since 1998 – powered through thick
sheets of Great Lakes ice for the last time this past winter.
For the GLRC, I’m Sarah Hulett.