Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Launch Of The New Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw

It's a beast of a ship and during the weekend, what will become the Biggest Icebreaker on the Great Lakes made quite a splash. The mighty Mackinaw some 3.6 million pounds of metal in a 240-foot-long hull slipped down a special ramp into the Menominee River on Saturday, causing a splash so big it sent onlookers on the other side scrambling for higher ground. The $90 million dollar vessel will replace the old Mackinaw, a bigger but outdated icebreaker that has been clearing shipping lanes and steaming to the aid of distressed vessels since 1944. Months of work still are ahead for the ship's construction crew, followed by months of Coast Guard testing and sea trials. But when it finally is commissioned in summer 2006, the new Mackinaw will be the biggest Coast Guard ship on the Great Lakes, and its icebreaking capabilities will be second to none. Engineers say it should be able to bash through broken ice piled as high as 10 feet. "Absolutely unique -- one of a kind," Coast Guard Lt. William Davis said of the new ship. That the ships share the same name was meant as a tribute to the original. "The primary icebreaker on the Great Lakes has been the Mackinaw, so when the debate over a name came up, everybody said, 'We've got to have another Mackinaw,"' said George Ryan, the retired president of the Lake Carriers' Association, who drove 14 hours from Cleveland for the launch. The old ship, which is 290 feet long, became too costly to operate after decades of wear and tear, and its mission has been restricted primarily to ice-breaking, spending much of its summers as a floating public affairs machine. The new Mackinaw is expected to be busy with year-round missions. It is equipped with a crane to service navigation buoys during the summer months. It will be able to handle law enforcement duties and can be called upon to clean up oil spills. The two ships are scheduled to work together next winter. The following summer the old Mack will be retired, and its future remains unknown. Cheboygan, Mich. boosters are hoping to land it as a museum, but a group from Duluth, Minnesota, also has its eyes on the ship.

Jean Hastert, wife of Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, swings a bottle of champagne towards the bow of the new U.S. Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw to christen the ship as part of her duties as the ship's sponsor. The Mackinaw was launched Saturday in Marinette, Wis., into the Menominee River.

The mighty Mackinaw

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