By Naomi Klouda
The M/V Augustine and John Crandall, owner of Cook Inlet Marine, worked to break ice choking off the English Bay Barge Basin on Monday to make room for a barge recently rescued from a near-tragic grounding at Cold Bay.
The stranded crabbing barge, Unimak Trader, was rescued after nearly sinking on Nov. 13 while working 40 miles from Cold Bay. Aboard were 1.4 million pounds of crab that other vessels lightered off to be delivered to Dutch Harbor or Cold Bay seafood processors. The U.S. Coast Guard, meanwhile, supervised the removal of 20,500 gallons of fuel.
Once stabilized, the 250-foot vessel began the journey to Homer, towed by the Ocean Ranger. Here, it will be salvaged by Peninsula Scrap and Metal, said Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins, since the cost to repair the barge is exceeded by its value.
In order to make room for the enormous barge, the M/V Augustine cleared a channel of ice in Mud Bay and the basin where three other barges were moored. The Monday-morning clearing provided the 150-foot Polar Bear barge a chance to break free on a high tide, thanks to warmer temperatures after several days of being iced in Homer.
Crandall, who owns the only ice-breaker in Kachemak Bay, the heavy-duty M/V Redoubt, said the deep cold that took ahold this winter so far is unseasonably early. Redoubt’s sister vessel, the M/V Augustine isn’t an icebreaker, but she’s a tough ship that spent just a little over an hour breaking paths free for the Unimak Trader.
“This year, there’s more ice earlier than in normal years,” Crandall said. “Now, with the arrival of warmer temperatures this weekend, the thawing broke the ice up quickly. We had some good cooperation in the weather.”
Augustine and Redoubt are called out to bust through ice for the U.S. Coast Guard vessels stationed at Homer, and for other large vessels as well. Usually, the ice-breaking work comes much later in the winter — in January, February and March.
November and December this year brought a preponderance of low-temperature days which left the small boat harbor socked in. Only larger commercial vessels and tugs could get in and out, Hawkins said.
As for the Unimak Trader’s new presence, beached below the Pier One Theatre, its journey was nothing short of a miracle, said Carey Walsh, of Global Diving. It was floated here using a pressure blower the entire journey to pump water out as it penetrated the holds. “We had horrendous conditions; 80-mph winds to get it to Sand Point, then through Shelikov Strait with terrible sea conditions,” Walsh said.
Thanks to local knowledge and advice provided at Sand Point and King Cove, the crew was able to tackle the journey to Homer and made it safely.
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