Alaska or the Hudson? On board a Coast Guard ice-cutter ship in frigid NY

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WEST POINT, N.Y. (PIX11) — This winter, much of the Hudson River has been a frozen tundra.

At the peak of the winter season, thick sheets of ice covered the river from north of the Tappan Zee all the way up to Albany and for the past several months, it has been the job of the U.S. Coast Guard Ice Cutters to clear a path for essential ships.

Captain Ken Sauerbrunn, Commanding Officer of the USCGC Sturgeon Bay, said in the past two years there has been virtually no ice on the river, but this winter they have seen ice almost a foot thick. He says it’s the one of the worst winters they have seen in several years.

Ships traveling up the Hudson River have been slowed down considerably thanks to the ice and some have even gotten stuck, until the Coast Guard steps in. The Sturgeon Bay alone has had to, at times, escort ships to their destination.

The U.S. Coast Guard Ice Cutters are seven days a week. Their work is crucial not only for commerce, but also important home heating oil customers farther up north rely on them.

“Every winter about 10 million barrels of home heating oil flow up and down the Hudson River. That goes out to customers all the way up the northeast.  Also, hundreds of thousands of tons of dry goods such as salt come in,” said Captain Sauerbrunn.

Alaska or the Hudson? On board a Coast Guard ice-cutter ship in frigid NY

The Coast Guard works seven days a week to cut through the winter’s thick ice.

PIX11 got a brief, but first-hand look at their work. We were picked up at West Point and traveled north with the crew of 17, led by Captain Sauerbrunn. They work eight hour shifts, rotate between 4 hour watches and the Sturgeon Bay is their home for a week at a time.  Their journey starts in Bayonne and the crew anchors along the river or ties up at one of the towns along the Hudson for a nights rest through the week.

Numerous navigation systems guide the crew throughout their day. Daily ice reports are calculated by measuring the thickness and percentage of river covered in ice.

Even a Coast Guard air craft will fly overhead to help crews plan their route to where the ice is the biggest problem.  The season itself runs from mid-December to the end of March.

Regardless of how the spring thaw pans out, the Sturgeon Bay crew expects to continue their work for at least a few more weeks.