In Chicago, the 18 men -- a captain, officers and staff -- worked to clear lanes for ship and barge traffic through the southern Great Lakes. They have been doing this non-stop since November
"You can see some of the plates that are broken up over there. Once that starts piling up on itself it creates a wind-row and that makes it difficult for us to get through," Chief Boatswains mate Mike Singleton, USCGC Biscayne Bay, said.
Mostly it feels like the vessel is gliding, but when the windrows appear, the Biscayne Bay goes to work, cutting the path along the western shore southbound to Burns Harbor, Ind.
"The Lake Carrier's Association, which represents a bunch of the companies here, has these established tracks in the lake that what the lakers take. So, in general, we try to follow those, especially in the winter and the ice because that is where they want to go and we are going to break a track where they want to go," Lt. Paul Junghans said.
Currently, the ice on Lake Michigan is between 2 and 6 feet thick. The boat can cut through up to 9 feet of ice.
"The ice coverage of the Great Lakes is about 75% and there is not much open water out here and the ice that has formed, just keeps getting thicker and thicker," Captain Tom Przybyla, USCGC Biscayne Bay, said.
Approaching Calumet City Harbor, barges need a path to open water, and the Biscayne Bay executes a series of twists and turns to chop through the frozen lake.