CHESTER – Out on the Chesapeake’s Prospect Bay, blinding morning sunlight dances off the thick layer of ice that covers the freezing waters for as far as the eye can see. At the docks, local watermen are confined to dry land, their boats frozen in the ice.
Then comes the Sandusky to the rescue.
Throughout the eastern Chesapeake this week, the 80-foot, 120-ton, steel-hulled boat, was breaking ice and setting watermen free to do their business.
The Sandusky, or “the snow plow of the Narrows,” is one of the biggest boats in the area and so the duty falls on it to get life moving again.
Because the watermen depend on the Sandusky to break their boats free from the ice and “bust them out,” they’re always happy to see it coming, said Capt. Shawn Orr.
“It’s like if we were sitting at home for a week stuck in a snow storm,” Orr said. “They’re just anxious to make it out to do something.”
The Sandusky is one of four ice-breaking boats owned by the Department of Natural Resources. The Sandusky’s primary job is to place regulatory buoys establishing speed limit zones and oyster sanctuaries, and marking crab and clam fisheries. Breaking ice is just a seasonal calling.
The boat’s size permits it to either slice through the ice or slide on top of it, cracking the ice under its weight. The boat leaves breaking ice and open water in its wake.
Orr said that while ice had not been much of a problem in the area, when they returned to work after last weekend, “there was solid ice everywhere.”
Without boats like the Sandusky, marine business is literally frozen.
To any normal-size boat, ice can be lethal, either by punching holes in the boat or by severely derailing its path. In some cases sheets of ice can actually crush a boat.
“We’re supporting the watermen and allowing them to work,” said John Gallagher, DNR chief of boating services.
While much of the ice along the Kent Narrows has melted, Orr was surprised by the vast expanse of ice found south of that in the Prospect Bay.
“I was expecting to run into some water way out here, but every time I look it’s like a mirage.”
This isn’t the only time the Sandusky’s services will be needed.
Federal forecasts call for colder-than-average temperatures throughout the mid-Atlantic region this winter.