Riding the Ice Breakers

I never really considered a trip on an ice breaker until I recently read an article in Popular Mechanics detailing just how amazing such an experience would be.

Picture this. Sitting atop one of the strongest machines ever built as it crashes and pounds it way through ice as thick as a man is tall.

Writer Margo Pfeiff recently enjoyed this show of brute force while riding on the Canadian coast guard icebreaker Des Groseilliers as it resupplied a weather station on Ellesmere Island (photo essay here). “This ship is like a big Tonka toy,” she was told by the navigation officer with a certain amount of childish gleam in his eyes. And I can’t blame him. There’s not a man on this planet who could resist the enjoyment of crushing massive sheets of ice into “school bus-size chunks rolling in all directions.”

Since the article was published in Popular Mechanics instead of a travel magazine, Pfeiff also delves into the science behind the icebreaking. I often wondered how ships survived such abuse and now I know how. The following, in Pfeiff’s words, are just a few of the cool modifications that make this happen.

–2-in.-thick steel hull reinforced with a web of steel port-to-starboard stiffeners
–A heeling system [that] can shift 143 tons of water from a tank on one side of the ship to the other in 13 seconds, enabling the vessel to rock free from thick ice
–A bubbler system, in which compressed air is forced through rows of holes across the bow to form a cushion between ship and ice
–an abrasion-resistant, low-friction coating that is only 15 in. thick and feels like Tupperware to the touch