It’s February and, while the days are beginning to grow a little bit longer, it’s still way too soon to be packing away the cold weather gear. Maine winters can be fierce – enough to make Queen Elsa herself cringe.
Northern Maine has been experiencing record snowfall this year. In January, the City of Caribou found themselves under 59.8 inches of fluffy stuff – nearly 3 whole feet more than their average January and over 15 inches more than their previous January record of 44.5 inches set in 1994.
This got us reminiscing about the times when Casco Bay has experienced record winter weather. As you know, Casco Bay Lines operates 365 days a year in any kind of weather so long as it’s deemed safe. But on a few occasions throughout the course of history we have faced something rare and challenging – a frozen Casco Bay.
According to a physical oceanographer at the University of Maine, interviewed by the Portland Press Herald, Portland Harbor is normally an ice-free port due to the high salt content in the harbor and the Gulf of Maine’s strong tides. While fresh water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, seawater doesn’t freeze until it reaches about 28.4 degrees. This means the more it snows, the more likely the harbor is to freeze.
Have no fear – large icebreakers are called in to clear a path, and vessels in our current fleet are large enough to handle the frozen buildup. But things weren’t always that easy! In February of 1934, a Casco Bay Lines ferry got stuck in the ice and passengers had to walk more than 200 yards to Chebeague’s shoreline. Our friends on Chebeague Island may have had to battle the ice more than any other. They have a great collection of newspaper clippings on their website to prove it.
This winter isn’t over yet. And, trust us, we understand firsthand the challenges associated with serving as a lifeline to the islands in frozen weather. But we are reminded that our beloved islands wouldn’t be what they are now without the power of ice (in the form of glaciers) and can’t help but feel a sense of awe and appreciation for this beautiful place where we get to work. Stay warm, friends!