The country’s only heavy polar icebreaker has pulled it off again..despite the flooding, engine failure, you know, the regular.
The 42-year-old 399-foot USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) last week finished cutting a resupply channel through 15 miles of Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea and escorting supply vessels to the frozen continent to resupply McMurdo Station at the tip of Ross Island, the epicenter of the U.S. Antarctic Program (pop. 1200).
The trip was not without drama for the elderly cutter.
From the USCG:
“Although we had less ice this year than last year, we had several engineering challenges to overcome to get to the point where we could position ourselves to moor in McMurdo,” said Capt. Michael Davanzo, the commanding officer of the Polar Star. “Our arrival was delayed due to these challenges, but the crew and I are certainly excited to be here. It’s a unique opportunity for our crewmembers to visit the most remote continent in the world, and in many respects, it makes the hard work worth it.”
On Jan. 16, Polar Star’s shaft seal failed causing flooding in the cutter’s engine room at a rate of approximately 20-gallons per minute. The crew responded quickly, using an emergency shaft seal to stop the flow of freezing, Antarctic water into the vessel. The crew was able dewater the engineering space and effect more permanent repairs to the seal to ensure the watertight integrity of the vessel. There were no injuries as a result of the malfunction.
Flooding was not the only engineering challenge the crew of Polar Star faced during their trek through the thick ice. On Jan. 11, their progress was slowed after the one of the cutter’s three main gas turbines failed. The crew uses the cutter’s main gas turbine power to breakup thick multi-year ice using its propellers. The crew was able to troubleshoot the turbine finding a programming issue between the engine and the cutter’s 1970s-era electrical system. The crew was able to continue their mission in the current ice conditions without the turbine.
“If the Polar Star were to suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure, the Nation would not be able to support heavy icebreaker missions like Operation Deep Freeze, and our Nation has no vessel capable of rescuing the crew if the icebreakers were to fail in the ice,” said Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area in Alameda, California. “The crewmembers aboard Polar Star not only accomplished their mission, but they did so despite extreme weather and numerous engineering challenges. This is a testament to their dedication and devotion to duty.”
The cutter refueled at McMurdo Station Jan. 18 and continued to develop and maintain the ice channel in preparation for two resupply ships from U.S. Military Sealift Command, Ocean Giant, and Maersk Peary. The crew of Polar Star escorted the vessels to the ice pier at McMurdo Station, an evolution that requires the cutter to travel about 300 yards in front of the supply ships to ensure they safely make it through the narrow ice channel. The crew escorted the Ocean Giant to the ice pier at McMurdo Jan. 27 and conducted their final escort of the Maersk Peary to Antarctica Feb. 2. The crew escorted Maersk Peary safely out of the ice Feb. 6 after supply vessel’s crew transferred their cargo.
The Navy was already experienced in marine salvage prior to World War II. However, the Navy did not have ships specifically designed and built for salvage work when it entered WWII, and it was not until the start of the war that salvage ships become a distinct vessel type.
Then came the purpose-built Diver-class.
Built at Basalt Rock Co., Napa, Calif. — a gravel company who was in the barge building biz– 17 of the new 213-foot vessels were constructed during WWII. Fitted with a 20-ton capacity boom forward and 10-ton capacity booms aft, they had automatic towing machines, two fixed fire pumps rated at 1,000 gallons per minute, four portable fire pumps, and eight sets of “beach gear,” pre-rigged anchors, chains and cables for use in refloating grounded vessels. And of course, they were excellently equipped to support divers in the water with one double re-compression chamber and two complete diving stations aft for air diving and two 35-foot workboats.
They had a surprisingly long life and, even though they almost all left U.S. Navy service fairly rapidly in the 1970s, several gained a second career. Two went to South Korea where one, ex- USS Grapple (ARS-7) is still active as ROCS Da Hu (ARS-552) in Taiwan and another, ex-USS Safeguard (ARS-25), went to Turkey. The latter is supposedly still active as TCG Isin (A-589) though her replacement is nearing.
Three, Escape (ARS-6), Seize (ARS-26) and USS Shackle (ARS-9) went to the Coast Guard as USCGC Escape (WMEC-6), USCGC Yocona (WMEC-168) and USCGC Acushnet (WMEC-167) respectively.
Escape was sold for scrap in 2009, Seize/Yocona was sunk as a target in 2006 and Shackle/Acushnet, decommissioned in 2011 as the last Diver-class vessel in U.S. service then put up for sale for years in Anacortes, Wash with efforts afoot to save her in one form or another.
Well it looks like Shackle/Acushnet was in fact picked up last summer by a non-profit group called Ocean Guardian, who intend to keep the Coast Guard name and put her back to work as a research ship/museum/education vessel in conjunction with the National Maritime Law Enforcement Academy.
Seems like you can’t keep a good old salvage ship down.
The 50-year-old Hamilton-class 378-foot high endurance cutter USCGC Sherman (WHEC-720) has returned from her final trip under a U.S. flag last week following a 76-day patrol in the Bering Sea. She is scheduled to decommission in March.
From USCG Public Affairs:
During the three-month patrol, the crew supported the safe transit of a disabled vessel over 800 miles to Dutch Harbor, enforced fisheries regulations in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. They also provided a command and control platform capable of embarking a helicopter, thus providing search and rescue coverage to those operating in the Bering Sea.
Sherman has a storied history including being the last remaining U.S. Warship in the Coast Guard or Navy to have sunk an enemy vessel. It is also one of only two cutters to hold the Vietnam Service Award and the only cutter to hold the Combat Action Ribbon for action in the Vietnam War.
In 2001 it became the first cutter to circumnavigate the world, after conducting U.N. sanctions enforcement duty in the Persian Gulf and goodwill projects in Madagascar, South Africa and Cape Verde.
Adding to Sherman’s history, in March of 2007, a boarding team dispatched from the cutter discovered 17 metric tons of cocaine on the Panamanian-flagged freighter, Gatun. This seizure remains the largest drug bust in U.S. history with an estimated street value of $600 million. As the record holder, Sherman proudly wears the Golden Snowflake.
The crew rounded out the cutter’s storied career in the Bering Sea; conducting 16 fisheries boardings, issuing four fisheries violations and one safety violation, ensuring the integrity of the $6 billion fishing industry. As the primary search and rescue asset in the region at the time, Sherman also ensured the safe transit of the crew of the Resolve Pioneer, a Dutch Harbor-based ocean-going tug, following a severe casualty at the far end of the Aleutian chain, restricting their speed and maneuverability.
“As Sherman and her crew return home from this final patrol, it is humbling to look back on the history and the accomplishments of this crew and the previous,” said Capt. Steve Wittrock, commanding officer of Sherman. “This final patrol has been significant in that the Bering Sea mission is one of the most demanding and historically important in the Coast Guard and I am very proud of the way that the crew has performed throughout the last two challenging months.”
Sherman is one of the Coast Guard’s four remaining 378-foot high endurance cutters still in operation. The 1960s era fleet of cutters is presently being replaced by the 413-foot national security cutters, which will soon serve as the Coast Guard’s primary, long-range asset. Honolulu will serve as a homeport to two of the national security cutters, replacing Sherman and the already decommissioned Morgenthau.
So far, the State Department has passed on three of the stricken “378s” to the Philippines (USCGC Hamilton, Boutwell, Dallas), two to the Nigerian Navy (Gallatin and Chase) and two to the Bangladesh Navy (Jarvis and Rush). Morgenthau went to the Vietnam Coast Guard last year. With Sherman decommissioned, only USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717) and Midgett (WHEC-726) based in Seattle, and Munro (WHEC-724) in Kodiak remain in U.S. service and are expected to be replaced by the National Security Cutter program by 2021.
Beginning on 6 May 1965, the U.S. Coast Guard began ordering the first cutters and men to the U.S. 7th Fleet AOR to participate in the Vietnam conflict, namely as part of Operation Market Time.
Over a half-decade later, the participation came to an end when the last of over 30 cutters large and small had been transferred to the South Vietnamese Navy, on this day in 1971.
From Adm. Chester R. Bender, then Commandant of the service:
TURNOVER R212250Z DEC 71
FM COMDT COGARD
COMDT NOTE 5700
VESSEL SQUADRON THREE TURNOVER
ON 21 DECEMBER 1971 THE CASTLE ROCK AND COOK INLET WILL BE TURNED OVER TO THE REP OF VIETNAM NAVY. THIS WILL END OUR PARTICIPATION IN SEVENTH FLEET SOUTHEAST ASIA OPERATIONS AFTER SIX AND ONE HALF YEARS OF ASSISTING THE NAVY IN OPERATION MARKET TIME. DURING THESE YEARS 31 HECS AND 26 82-FT PATROL BOATS AND A NUMBER OF SPECIALIZED UNITS HAVE SEEN VIETNAM SERVICE. THEY HAVE COMPILED AN ENVIABLE RECORD. COAST GUARDSMEN BOARDED OR INSPECTED OVER 510,000 BOATS IN PERFORMANCE OF THEIR PATROL MISSION. THEY TOOK PART IN NEARLY 6,OOO NGFS MISSIONS IN SUPPORT OF ARMY AND MARINE CORPS TROOPS ASHORE. THE CUTTERS CRUISED NEARLY 5.5 MILLION MILES SINCE 1965. WE LOST SEVEN OF OUR BRAVE MEN WHILE 59 WERE WOUNDED. OVER 500 PERSONAL DECORATIONS WERE AWARDED TO COAST GUARDSMEN FOR VIETNAM SERVICE. AND DURING ALL THIS TIME I KNOW FIRST HAND THAT OUR MEN, TRUE TO THEIR HUMANITARIAN IDEALS, DID NOT FORGET THEIR FELLOW MAN. THIS IS EVIDENCED BY THE MANY CIVIC ACTION PROJECTS, MEDICAL MISSIONS, AND SEARCH AND RESCUE CASES. NOT TO MENTION THE PRIVIATE ASSISTANCE MADE TO CHARITABLE WORKS SUCH AS THE SAIGON SCHOOL FOR BLIND GIRLS. THE COAST GUARD RECORD IN VIETNAM IS A RECORD OF WHICH YOU ALL CAN BE JUSTLY PROUD. TO THE LAST MEN LEAVING SQUADRON THREE GO WITH MY BEST WISHES FOR A SPEEDY RETURN HOME. TO ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE SERVED YOUR COUNTRY IN VIETNAM GO MY SINCERE THANKS AND ADMIRATION.
ADMIRAL BENDER, SENDS
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017: Not just a figurehead
Here we see the one-of-a-kind full-rigged sail training ship Joseph Conrad in her career as a U.S. Merchant Marine schoolship during World War II where she minted enough new bluejackets to man a veritable fleet. Like her namesake, she has been around the world and sailed the seven seas.
“There is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea,” said Polish-born British author and longtime seaman Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) in the first paragraph of chapter two of his 1900 novel, Lord Jim, which revolves around the abandonment of a stricken ship in distress.
Our ship was crafted in 1882, four years after Conrad, born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, joined the British merchant marine. Our subject vessel, of course, wasn’t named for Conrad from the start– at the time he was but a lowly second-mate on the old barque Palestine— which he later immortalized as Judea in his short story “Youth.”
No, our vessel was built by Burmeister & Wain, København, Denmark, specifically for the Stiftelsen Georg Stages Minde foundation (which is still around) to be employed as a sailing schoolship. Founded the same year by wealthy shipowner Frederik Stage to train youth for a life at sea, the foundation and their flagship were named for their son, Georg, who had died from tuberculosis two years prior.
Some 100-feet long (111-oal) with a displacement of just 400-tons, Georg Stages was a small ship for high seas mercantile service to be sure, but she was very accommodating and perfect for use in training as many as 80 cadets at a time, stretching 10,000 sq. ft. of sail as she went.
She was generally a happy vessel and, from 1882 until 1934, a period which covered the Great War where Denmark walked a thin and often dangerous line of neutrality, Stages reportedly trained more than 4,000 young men in the art of working aloft, on deck and below while underway.
Sold in agreement with the Handelsradet (Danish Board of Trade) to one Capt. Alan Villiers and company, she was renamed Joseph Conrad and registered with Lloyds under a British flag.
Villers, an Australian-born author (of at least 44 published books) mariner (CDR in the RNVR during WWII after first going to sea on a merchantman at age 15), and overall adventurer, he gave the aging ship– which had been destined for the breakers– a quick refit and signed a 32-strong amateur crew of lads to sail her around the world on an epic voyage that took nearly two years and rounded both Cape Horn one way and the Cape of Good Hope the other.
Moving on to other adventures in Arabia, in 1936 a bankrupt Villiers sold the Joseph Conrad to George Huntington Hartford, the 25-year-old heir to the A&P supermarket fortune. Hartford converted the ship to an American-flagged yacht, added a diesel engine (“iron topsail”) and sailed her until the beginning of World War II.
Hartford, a different kind of patriot that what is afloat these days in the business world, promptly donated Conrad to the U.S. Maritime Commission for use as they saw fit, sought out a commission in the Coast Guard and later commanded a Mister Roberts-style Army supply ship— FS-179 — during the Pacific War.
Conrad would be used to train seamen for the merchant service. From the United States Maritime Commission Report to Congress for the Period Ended October 25, 1939:
There, at St. Petersburg’s Coast Guard wharf, USMSTS Joseph Conrad became the centerpiece of the brand new U.S. Maritime Service Training Station, arriving in November to later be joined by the old white-hulled training ship Tusitala (which maintained the school for cooks and bakers) the tugs Tickfaw and Morganza for training coal burning firemen; SS Vigil for enginemen, and American Sailor for advanced training.
Conrad held school in basic training and schools that lasted up to eight weeks in good old Division 01-style deck work.
In all, more than 25,000 merchant seamen learned their trade at St. Petersburg’s Bayboro Harbor between 1939 and 1945, with most of them at one point or another walking Conrad‘s decks. Today, the facility is incorporated into the University of South Florida.
For Conrad, VJ Day looked like the end was once more upon her. She had spent 52 years working for the Danes, sailed around the world with a scratch crew, was a young yachtsman’s pride and joy, and spent 6 more years working for Uncle Sam.
However, Mystic Seaport, one of the nation’s leading maritime museums, reached out to add the hard-used Conrad to their extensive collection. In July 1947, the 80th Congress agreed with the caveat that St. Petersburg get the ship back if they couldn’t handle her.
Today, Mystic Seaport still has both the old girl’s records and her, and, though she does not sail anymore, Conrad remains very much in use as a training ship for the Mystic Mariner Program, and the Museum’s educational programs.
According to the museum, since 1949, the Joseph Conrad Summer Sailing Camp has been the overnight summer camp of choice for more than 350 campers annually.
Mr. Conrad would likely be proud.
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Naval and merchant ships have used line-throwing rifles (and shotguns, as well as small cannon) for centuries to heave lines from ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore to greater distances than what could be done with a deck division guy and a slungshot. Currently, the Navy uses M14s and M16s with blank-firing adapters for this task, but this post is about the USCG and their slightly more elegant 1903s.
The old Revenue Cutter Service/Revenue Marine used Coston Shoulder Guns– a converted U.S. Springfield Trapdoor Model 1884 rifle in .45-70 (and the similar Winchester Model 1886 Line Throwing Guns, in a 14-5 inch smoothbore of the same caliber)– from the late 19th Century through, in some cases, WWII (and by some accounts, remained in armories for a couple generations longer).Don’t get me wrong, the .45-70 line thrower was always a good gun for its purpose, even if dated. Today the Bridger Shoulder Line Gun uses a single-shot H&R Handi Rifle for the same concept and it is very popular.
However, around the 1930s these began to be supplemented by a series of line throwing 1903s. These 30.06-caliber rifles were converted by having the barrel rifling and sights removed to produce a 24-inch smoothbore with the handguard wood shortened to match. Two-pounds of lead was placed in the butt under a modified padded butt plate. The line bucket is mounted under the abbreviated forend and, as noted by Brophy, these were used with three different projectile rods in light (13 ounces) heavy (15 ounces) and illuminated buoyant types.
They show up at auction from time to time, being replaced by M16s and shotguns years ago, and are very curious.
The serial number on the above Port Clinton gun, #1211224, makes it a Springfield Armory-manufactured receiver made in 1920, so the gun has very likely been in the Coast Guard’s stocks since Prohibition when a number of brand new BARs, 1911s and 1903s were transferred to help arm the cutters patrolling Rum Row against often well-armed bootleggers. As the service used the .45-70 single shot line thrower through WWII, this Springer was probably converted post-1945 using the old rope bucket from retired black powder guns.
And the last Coasties to use them probably haven’t been born yet.
Here we see some great shots by the very talented USCG LCDR Krystyn Pecora of the Boston-based 270-foot medium endurance cutter USCGC Seneca (WMEC-906) as she nears the end of her periodic drydock availability.
A “Bear” or “Famous” class cutter, her keel was laid on 16 September 1982 at Robert Derecktor Shipyard, Middletown, RI, and she was commissioned in 1986, making her 31 years young.
She shares the name of the old USRC Seneca, commissioned in 1908, a former Warship Wednesday alum.
You can expect Seneca to put another decade or so under her hull before she is ultimately replaced by one of the new, larger Offshore Patrol Cutters, currently in the works. However, with her 76mm OTO Melara, helicopter hangar, economical diesel plant– and originally designed with weight and space reserved for Harpoon, Mk32, a towed array and CIWS– you can expect that she will likely be passed on to a third world ally for a second career.