WASHINGTON – Charter boat captain David Gulick returned recently from a nice, warm vacation to find the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal outside his Chesapeake City home filling with ice.
Gulick’s reaction was to the point.
“It sucks,” said Gulick, who said the canal is filled with a gel-like slush.
This winter’s bitter cold has ice forming faster than normal on the canal, as well as other Maryland waterways. That poses a challenge for shipping and a potential threat for smaller boats.
In response, the Coast Guard recently imposed an “Ice Condition 2” alert in parts of the bay, and restrictions on traffic through the C&D Canal because of the ice. The restrictions, affecting the upper bay and C&D Canal, went into effect Jan. 27 and run through March 15.
“This (weather) is probably as bad as it was last year. Last year it was worse than normal, and this year is running a pretty close second,” said Lt. Rick Minnich, of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Philadelphia.
Minnich said it is not surprising that the canal would be subject to weather-related restrictions. Because the C&D is more confined, said Minnich, it is more susceptible to icing.
“Especially in the C&D Canal, where it’s a narrower waterway, there’s a lot of vessel traffic going through there so the ice that’s forming tends to get broken up in chunks and build on top of itself,” he said.
“Every time a ship goes through it and breaks it . . . it just kind of piles up on itself,” Minnich said. “It’s kind of packed in there.”
The restrictions limit travel through the canal. Only steel-hull vessels with a minimum 3,000 total shaft horsepower and upper/lower intakes or keel hull coolers can pass through the canal.
Minnich said the difference between the smaller, restricted, boats and the larger boats that are allowed to travel the canal is like the difference between a 4-cylinder car and an 8-cylinder car. The power in the bigger boats — the 8-cylinder car in his example — is definitely going to be needed to cross the canal in its current state, he said.
The ice is so concentrated in some areas of the canal, that neighbors can actually hear it cracking.
Allen Dias, a marine traffic controller with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers C&D Canal Project Office, said he can hear the ice cracking “at night especially if you have a tug boat” crossing the canal.
“But sometimes without (a boat in the canal) you can hear it up against the bulkhead outside,” Dias said. “There’s definitely more ice this year.”
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