Remote-controlled Mini Cooper drives over frozen harbor

Fri, 01/10/2014 - 7:00pm

When the southwest winds a blowin’ and the temperature’s just right, the salty seas turn to ice in Boothbay Harbor.

January's bitter wind chills have hardened the inner harbor into sheets of ice, three inches thick in some spots. The ice is not strong enough to support a person, but just thick enough for a brave little remote-controlled Mini Cooper named “Silver,” equipped with a video camera.

What the locals think

While the old timers recall the days of the harbor freezing as a normal occurrence, the younger fishermen are finding out really quick what it's like to captain an ice breaker.

“It's pretty tough,” said local lobsterman Jeremy McLellan. “You just idle through it and hope for the best, I guess.”

Navigating a 36-foot lobster boat through the harbor to the town landing can be a hassle for McLellan and other fishermen, but at least there's no damage to his fiberglass hull.

During the days when wooden hulled lobster boats populated the harbor, fishermen weren't so lucky.

Douglas Carter, owner of Sea Pier, said the ice would stick to caulking between the planking of the wooden hulls. The caulking would get pulled out of the wood and destroy boats, Carter said.

Carter said he’s seen the harbor freeze hundreds of times. He remembers walking from the pier, across the harbor to the town float in the 1950s and ’60s.

“All it takes is a good southwest wind and the cold to freeze the harbor,” Carter said. “I haven't seen it in the last 18 years or so. The young guys haven't seen it like this, but any of the older fishermen have.”

Carter said he's even seen an old photo from the early 1900s of a horse and buggy supposedly headed to Squirrel Island. In 1918 the ice was so bad, it destroyed the footbridge. By the 1960s the Coast Guard would get called in to break up the ice.  Rusty Court used to captain the ice breaker. 

“When I was in the Coast Guard here in 1964, I used to break ice in a 44-footer. I would start at Tumbler Island and I would break ice all the way to the footbridge,” Court said.

The harbor ice currently has not reached Tumbler Island, which is about mile south of the footbridge, nor is the ice thick enough to call in the Coast Guard. Carter and Court both think the warmer temperatures this weekend will melt all the ice by Sunday. While it may be a nuisance for local fishermen headed to sea, for the moment it makes a good photo-op, especially for a remote controlled Mini-Cooper named “Silver.”