An intricate boat ballet plays out each January on the frigid waters of the northern Great Lakes.
Thousand-foot freighters scramble to make final deliveries of iron ore to steel mills. The Coast Guard carves paths through ice-clogged shipping routes. And the Soo Locks, the engineering marvel connecting Lake Superior with points to the south and east, shut down for 10 weeks of maintenance while the weather is at its most brutal.
Last Friday, with the locks’ annual closing looming and temperatures hovering in the single digits, the crew members of the United States Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw were at work before dawn. The day’s first mission: Guide their ship through the locks to free a hulking westbound freighter marooned on the ice.