Tag Archives: icebreaker

Warship Wednesday Oct 1, Of Wind, weather wars, and space junk

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Oct 1, Of Wind, weather wars, and space junk

U.S.S. Atka stands in McMurdo Sound to keep the channel open for Operation Deep Freeze supply ships and the evacuation of the last summer residents.

U.S.S. Atka stands in McMurdo Sound to keep the channel open for Operation Deep Freeze supply ships and the evacuation of the last summer residents.

With things starting to get colder, I figured we should go with an icebreaker. Here we see an amazing image of the Wind-class polar icebreaker USS Atka (AGB-3) holding the line at McMurdo Naval Station in Antarctica.

When World War II started, the Navy was up to the proverbial frozen creek as far as icebreaking went. While some foreign powers (the Soviets) really liked the specialized ships, Uncle Sam did not share the same opinion. However, this soon changed in 1941 when the U.S., even before Pearl Harbor, accepted Greenland and Iceland to their list of protected areas. Now, tasked with having to keep the Nazis out of the frozen extreme North Atlantic/Arctic and the Japanese out of the equally chilly North Pac/Arctic region (anyone heard of the Aleutians?), the Navy needed ice-capable ships yesterday.

The old (read= broken down) 6000-ton British-built Soviet icebreaker Krassin was studied in Bremerton Washington by the Navy and Coast Guard. Although dating back to the Tsar, she was still at the time the most powerful icebreaker in the world. After looking at this ship, the U.S. began work on the Wind-class, the first U.S. ships designed and built specifically as icebreakers.

Set up with an extremely thick (over an inch and a half) steel hull, these ships could endure repeated ramming against hard pack ice. Just in case the hull did break, there were 15-inches of cork behind it, followed by a second inner hull. Now that is serious business. At over 6000-tons, these ships were bulky for their short, 269-foot hulls. They were also bathtub shaped, with a 63-foot beam. For those following along at home, that’s a 1:4 length to beam ratio. Power came from a half-dozen mammoth Fairbanks-Morse 10-cylinder diesel engines that both gave the ship a lot of power on demand, but also an almost unmatched 32,000-mile range (not a misprint, that is 32-thousand). For an idea of how much that is, a Wind-class icebreaker could sail at an economical 11-knots from New York to Antarctica, and back, on the same load of diesel…twice.

USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280) at anchor probably in the vicinity of San Pedro, CA., in July 1944 sometime before or after her commissioning on 15 July 1944. Photo by Navsource

USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280) at anchor probably in the vicinity of San Pedro, CA., in July 1944 sometime before or after her commissioning on 15 July 1944. Note how beamy these ships were. The twin 5″ guns make her seem extremely well-armed. Also, note the J2F Duck seaplane perched amidships. Photo by Navsource

To help them break the ice, the ship had a complicated system of water ballasting, capable of moving hundreds of tons of water from one side of the ship to the other in seconds, which could rock the vessel from side to side in addition to her thick hull and powerful engines. A bow-mounted propeller helped chew up loose ice and pull the ship along if needed.

With a war being on, they just weren’t about murdering ice, but being able to take the fight to polar-bound Axis ships and weather detachments as well. For this, they were given a pair of twin 5″/38 turrets, a dozen 40mm Bofors AAA guns, a half dozen 20mm Oerlikons, as well as depth charge racks and various projectors, plus the newfangled Hedgehog device to slay U-boats and His Imperial Japanese Majesty’s I-boats. Weight and space were also reserved for a catapult-launched and crane-recovered seaplane. Space for an extensive small arms locker, to equip landing parties engaged in searching remote frozen islands and fjords for radio stations and observation posts, rounded out the design.

In all, an impressive eight Wind-class ships were built. USS Atka, named appropriately enough for the largest island in the Andreanof Islands group of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, was the third of these. Laid down at the Western Pipe and Steel Company shipyards in San Pedro, California, seven months after Pearl Harbor, she was actually commissioned as USCGC Southwind (WAG-280) in the service of the US Coast Guard on 15 July 1944. Her wartime service with the Coast Guard, though short, was memorable.

Assigned to the Greenland Patrol, she helped fight a little-known battle remembered as the Weather War. This campaign, though not very bloody, was an enduring cat and mouse game between U.S. maritime assets and those of the Germans, who set up weather stations along the remote coasts of Greenland, Canada, and Spitsbergen to get vital met data on pending fronts headed to Europe from the Arctic. Remember this was before the days of weather satellites. As such, one of the most knowledgeable oceanographers in the service, Commander Richard M. Hoyle, commanded Southwind.

USCG landing parties with captured Nassy battleflag

USCG landing parties with captured Nassy battle flag

While on the Greenland Patrol, Southwind, in conjunction with the USCGC Eastwind, one of her sisterships, trailed the German Naval Auxiliary ship Externsteine, an armed and converted trawler. After a short skirmish in the ice, in which Southwind illuminated the German ship with her searchlights, the trawler surrendered and was boarded by USCG landing parties. Christened the USS Eastbreeze, a salty prize crew made up of Eastbreeze and Southbreeze coasties took the captured ship in to Boston.

The "Eastbreeze"

The “Eastbreeze”

The Germans chased from the Arctic, and the war winding down, Southwind was decommissioned 23 March 1945, largely disarmed, and loaned to the Soviets two days later as the country was, ironically, short on modern icebreakers. She served them well under the name Kaptian Bouleve then later Admiral Makarov for almost five years, only being returned to U.S. service to be commissioned as the USS Atka (AGB-3) just in time for Korea.

From left to right, USS Burton Island (AGB-1), USS Atka (AGB-3) and USS Glacier (AGB-4) pushing an iceberg out of the channel near McMurdo Station, Antarctica, 29 December 1965. US Navy photo from DANFS.

From left to right, USS Burton Island (AGB-1), USS Atka (AGB-3) and USS Glacier (AGB-4) pushing an iceberg out of the channel near McMurdo Station, Antarctica, 29 December 1965. US Navy photo from DANFS.

As Atka, she sailed from Boston for 16 years as part of the Atlantic Fleet. During this time, she made at least three polar trips and was a frequent visitor to Thule Air Force Base, Greenland, breaking ice on the regular resupply runs there.

Then in the 1960s, the Navy decided it was getting out of the icebreaker business and transferred the Atka back to its original owners, the Coast Guard. Not one to rest on a Navy-issued name, the USCG returned to their original moniker for the ship, Southwind, when she was brought back into the fold on Halloween Day 1966. “Trick or Treat” indeed (and another reason for this to be an October Warship Wednesday!).

USCGC Southwind from the Southwind 280 Association

USCGC Southwind from the Southwind 280 Association

The “Polar Prowler,” now in her 20s with her last major refit back in 1951, continued to serve hard time in the frozen Polar Regions, as is the nature of her breed.

Now-USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280) transits the Panama Canal, 28 November 1967. US Coast Guard Historian's Office photo, copy sheet # 112867-13-16

Now-USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280) transits the Panama Canal, 28 November 1967. Note the single 5″ forward and the USN Sea Sprite ASW helicopter aft with the telescoping hangar. US Coast Guard Historian’s Office photo, copy sheet # 112867-13-16. (Click to bigup)

In the next decade, she made at least three Antarctic trips, and six Arctic ones, including a rare 1970 port-call in Murmansk, her old home while in Soviet service. While there, she picked up a NASA Apollo program unmanned training capsule (Boilerplate #-1227), that was lost at sea, found by a Hungarian trawler, then transferred to the Russians, and later collected by the Southwind.

While in Murmansk, from 4 to 7 September 1970, over 700 local citizens visited the ship. CAPT. Cassidy paid homage to Soviet and American dead at a local cemetery where American and other Allied sailors killed near Murmansk were buried. Also, the Soviets returned an Apollo training capsule (BP-1227) that they had recovered at sea. Apparently the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Rescue and Recovery personnel who were using the 9,500 pound capsule for training but lost it at sea near the Azores in February, 1969. It was recovered by a Soviet fishing trawler. Southwind, after first sustaining a “bump” by a Soviet icebreaker while departing Murmansk for home, carried the capsule back to the U.S. and deposited it at Norfolk before ending her cruise at Baltimore on 17 November 1970.

USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280) crew members chip away at ice while in Baffin Bay, November 1970. Note the Apollo capsule on the deck. USCG Photo scanned from Southwind's Arctic East 70 scrapbook.

USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280) crew members chip away at ice while in Baffin Bay, November 1970. Note the Apollo capsule on the deck. USCG Photo scanned from Southwind’s Arctic East 70 scrapbook.

Finally, showing her age and being replaced by the new 399-foot Polar class cutters, she was decommissioned in 1974 and sold for scrap two years later. Today all that remains of her is the light that is kept burning by her veteran’s association.

In 2007, she was memorialized in an official USCG painting, “WAGB Southwind” by Thomas Carr, where she is depicted in the red-hull that she had only briefly towards the end of her career.

 

"A Coast Guard Icebreaker on patrol in the Antarctic, moves through the ice floe." WAGB Southwind by Thomas Carr (ID# 87112) USCG Image. (Click to bigup, very nice image)

“A Coast Guard Icebreaker on patrol in the Antarctic moves through the ice floe.” WAGB Southwind by Thomas Carr (ID# 87112) USCG Image. (Click to bigup, very nice image)

 

Her seven sister-ships have likewise all been retired and scrapped. However, her half-sister, the USCGC Mackinaw, which broke ice on the Great Lakes for six decades, is a floating museum in Michigan and her grandfather, the old now 98-year old Krassin, is preserved at Saint Petersburg.

Icebreaker Krassin survived all of the Wind-class breakers she helped inspire

Icebreaker Krassin survived all of the Wind-class breakers she helped inspire

Also, Apollo BP-1227 is on display at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, where it has been since 1976, courtesy of a cruise on the Southwind, although the capsule continues to be a subject of much discussion and conjecture in the NASA fanboy community.

BP1227 has been on public display and sealed since 1976 as a time capsule to be opened in 2076. Photo by Mark Wade http://www.astronautix.com/articles/sovpsule.htm

BP1227 has been on public display and sealed since 1976 as a time capsule to be opened in 2076. Photo by Mark Wade

Specs:

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Displacement: 6,515 tons (1945)
Length:     269 ft (82 m) oa
Beam:     63 ft 6 in (19.35 m) mb
Draft:     25 ft 9 in (7.85 m) max
Installed power:
6 × Fairbanks-Morse model 8-1/8OP, 10-cylinder opposed piston engines at 2,000 shp (1,500 kW), each driving a Westinghouse DC electric generator.
Propulsion:     2 × Westinghouse Electric DC electric motors driving the 2 aft propellers, 1 × 3,000 shp (2,200 kW) Westinghouse DC electric motor driving the detachable and seldom-used bow propeller.
Speed: Top speed: 13.4 knots (24.8 km/h) (1967)
Economic speed: 11.6 knots (21.5 km/h)
Range: 32,485 nautical miles (60,162 km)
Complement:
21 officers, 295 men (1944)
12 officers, 2 warrants, 205 men (1965 USN service)
13 officers, 2 warrants, 160 men (Post-1967 USCG service)
Sensors and processing systems:
Radar:
SA-2, SL-1 (1944, removed 1949)
SPS-10B; SPS-53A; SPS-6C (1967)
Sonar: QCJ-8 (1944-45)
Armament:     4 × 5″/38 (twin mounts)
12 × 40mm/60 (3 quad mounts)
6 × 20mm/80 (single mounts)
2 × depth charge tracks
6 × “K” guns
1 Hedgehog
M2 Browning machine guns and small arms (1944)
Aircraft carried: 1 Grumman J2F Seaplane, later helicopters in telescoping hangar

(1945-49, Russian Service)
4x 3″/30 single mounts (U.S. Army surplus),
8x 40mm/60 (2 quad mounts)
6 × 20mm/80 (single mounts)
2 × depth charge tracks

(1967)
1 x5″/38 single mount
20mm Mk 16 cannons (singles)

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State of the Coast Guard

Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Bob Papp’s State of the Coast Guard Address
February 23, 2012 Navigating Uncertain and Stormy Seas was just realeased.

http://www.uscg.mil/seniorleadership/DOCS/SOCGA%202012_FINAL_23FEB%20FINAL.pdf

He mentions current building projects:

“Since last year, we have awarded contracts to construct the 4th and 5th National Security Cutters. We’ve also received funding for NSC #6 long lead time materials… two things made this possible: the strong support of the Congress, and the excellent work of our acquisition workforce.
We are also grateful to Secretary Napolitano and the President for requesting full-funding in the 2013 budget to complete NSC # 6 . . . as well as money to continue the Offshore Patrol Cutter, or OPC project.
We have 18 new Fast Response patrol boats on contract, and we’ll commission the first one in April.
Response Boats Medium –
We have delivered 82 boats to date – and we will receive 30 more this year.
We have accepted 13 new “Ocean Sentry” Maritime Patrol Aircraft – and numbers 14 and 15 are under contract . We have six missionized C-130J Maritime Patrol Aircraft numbers 7 and 8 are under contract, and thanks to Congress’ support, we will begin building the 9th later this year.

Patrolling the high seas requires multi-mission cutters and maritime patrol aircraft capable of sustained offshore operations. These assets are the most expensive to acquire and operate. Much of our current fleet of high and medium endurance cutters is beyond 40 years old – costly to repair, and in need of replacement.”

Also the Arctic is growing in importance and the new NSC Bertholf (WMSL-750) will be heading there. This is an important step to sovereignty.

At 4500-tons and armed with a 57 mm gun, 20mm Close-In Weapons System, 4 50 Caliber Machine Guns, 2 M240B 7.62mm Light Machine Guns and space for two helicopters, along with passive EW and SRBOC systems, it is about as heavily armed as current US Coast Guard cutters get. Of course, I'd like to see a few Harpoons, six Mk 32 Torpedo tubes and maybe a RAM missile system on her too, but that's just me.

Papp goes on to say, ” Coast Guard polar ice breakers are the only ships in our national inventory capable of performing this mission, and right now, HEALY is our only operational polar ice breaker. We are working hard to return POLAR STAR to operations in 2013 – and when she returns, we will regain one of the most powerful conventional ice breakers in the world – and another 10 years of service from her.
I want to be clear. This is only a bridging strategy. As I mentioned earlier, this is an example of scaling back where we must in the short term, so that we can do all that our Nation requires of us in the long term.
We need to come to a Whole of Government determination on the capabilities and resourcing our Nation must provide to protect our Arctic interests.”

Its a start. Call your congressman and be sure to tell them we need some new, armed icebreakers in the polar regions, while we still can. How much more shovel ready can you get?

Coast Guard Schooners for Arctic Missions

Today the USCG has a mandate to secure and protect the coasts of the United States of America. This includes its entire coast.

The US has some 2000-miles of Atlantic coastline, 1600-miles of Gulf of Mexico coastline, and 1300-miles of Pacific Coastline. Hawaii has some 700-miles of Pacific Coast and Puerto Rico has 300-miles in the Atlantic/Caribbean.

Then there is Alaska. Seward’s Folly has approximately 5580 miles of coastline, (6640 miles of coastline including its islands.) If every actual mile of coastline including every cove and beach is counted, there are more than 44,000-miles. If you walked one thousand miles a year, it would take forty-four years to hike Alaska’s coastline!

Most of this is in the Northern Pacific; however 1400-miles of it is the sunny US Arctic Coast. From Kotzebue to Barrow to the Yukon it stretches across the north slope of Alaska.

Moreover, not a single military base exists there.

Current US Polar Bases, Stars are DOD bases (Army and Airforce) circles are USCG bases. Note from the Bering Sea to Greenland, thier are no bases on the US Arctic coast

The missions of U.S. polar ship operations are as follows:

  • Conducting and supporting scientific research in the Arctic and Antarctic.
  • Defending U.S. sovereignty in the Arctic by helping to maintain a presence in the region.
  • Defending other U.S. interests in Polar Regions, including economic interests relating to the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) north of Alaska.
  • Monitoring sea traffic in the Arctic, including ships bound for the United States.
  • Conducting other typical Coast Guard missions (search and rescue, law enforcement, etc.) in Arctic waters, including U.S. territorial waters north of Alaska.

Today the only US icestrengthend ship in service with the Coast Guard is a single medium icebreaker that is overworked. With numerous missions for its single icebreaker, how can the US Arctic Coast be patrolled reasonably?

The Northwest Passage

Legions of explorers looked for the Northwest Passage for hundreds of years; this included the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, which perished virtually to a man in the 1850s. The first man to complete the voyage was Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in a small 70-foot long 47-ton herring boat called the Gjoa.

The Northwest Passage has been accomplished 15 times by American vessels, and U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers have been the only American surface combatants to do so, carried out 11 of these voyages. In 1957 the ice-strengthened buoy tenders Storis, Bramble and Spar were the first of these Coast Guard cutters to make the journey through the passage, establishing a tradition that was followed by the Coast Guard icebreakers Northwind and Staten Island (1969), Polar Sea (1985, 1990), Polar Star (1988,1989) and Healy (2000, 2003). The other three American warships to transit fully the Northwest Passage were the submerged nuclear powered submarines USS Nautilus (1958), USS Queenfish (1970) and USS Seadragon (1958). The US-flagged tanker M/V Manhattan was the first commercial vessel to make a full transit (in 1969).

The Northwest Passage is now wide open in some parts during the summer. In 2006, the Hapag-Lloyd cruise ship M/S Bremen sailed through it with passengers. The Bremen, built in 1990, is 6.752 gross tons carries 164 passengers and 100 crewmembers in its non-ice reinforced hull.

On April 9, 2006, Canada’s Joint Task Force North declared that the Canadian military would no longer refer to the region as the Northwest Passage, but as the Canadian Internal Waters. The declaration came after the successful completion of Operation Nunalivut (Inuktitut for “the land is ours”), which was an expedition into the region by five military patrols.

With no US icebreakers to prove otherwise, it looks like Canada is right.

The Schooner fix

In recent years, no less than four privately owned US-flagged yachts have completed the passage in a single season since 1984, showing the feasibility of passing through. This craft were ocean cutter types ranging from 40-60 feet in length and handled the NWP in fine style without an extensive support staff or multi-million dollar budget.

Schooners have long been an excellent source of transportation through the sea ice with minimum support. Remember it was Amundsen himself who used his 70-foot long, 47-ton sailing boat, the Gjoa, to transit the route first.

A model of the humble 104-foot St Roch which patroled the NWP for 14-years, including during World War Two

Built in 1928, the Vancouver-built arctic schooner St. Roch was used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to patrol the NWP in 1940-54. It was the first ship to completely circumnavigate North America, and the second sailing vessel to complete a voyage through the Northwest Passage. It was the first ship to complete the Northwest Passage in the direction west to east, going the same route that Amundsen on the sailing vessel Gjøa went east to west, 38 years earlier. In 1944, St. Roch returned to Vancouver via the more northerly route of the Northwest Passage, making her run in 86 days. The epic voyages of St. Roch demonstrated Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic during the difficult wartime years, and extended Canadian control over its vast northern territories.

The St Roch was 104-feet long, carried three sails on two masts, weighed 323-tons, and was capable of extended patrols in the arctic. Carrying a number of RCMP Mounties who were given a crash course in sailing, they were equipped to perform dog sled patrols from the ship once it was locked inside polar ice. Preserved as a museum ship since 1954, the St Roch was an excellent design.

The closest thing to the St Roch in the US was the arctic schooner Bowdoin. Built at the specifications of famous polar explorer Donald B. MacMillan, the ship was designed by William H. Hand of New Bedford, Massachusetts and built by the Hodgdon Brothers shipyard of East Boothbay, Maine.

The 88-foot Bowdoin, completed more than 26 arctic expeditions and sailed more than 300,000-miles

The 88-feet long, 60-ton Bowdoin is one of the smallest vessels designed for Arctic work. It is a two-masted, baldheaded auxiliary schooner made from double-planked and double-framed white oak. A five-foot belt, one-and-a-half inches thick, made of tough Australian greenheart, protects against ice, and the rudder is overly large for turning easily and quickly when working through narrow stretches of open water between ice packs. The Bowdoin’s single propeller is deep under water to avoid damage, and the hull is rounded, designed to rise up out of the water when caught between ice pans or to crush ice blocking the way. A nosepiece of steel plate weighing 1800 pounds is bolted to the hull to aid in crushing ice and protect from collisions with heavy ice. Its original engine, built to be able to burn whale blubber if needed, was replaced by a 300-hp diesel.

a mock up of the Bowdoin's hull shape, that allowed her to withstand winters iced-in along Canadas frozen coast without damage

The ship completed more than 26 trips to the Arctic and sailed in excess of 300,000-miles in its service life under MacMillan. During World War II, the Navy from May 1941- December 1945 used the Bowdoin to conduct patrols around Greenland before Macmillan resumed his scholarship on the schooner.

The ship is currently owned and maintained, still in sailing condition and on occasional arctic service at nearly 80-years old by the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine, for training runs to Labrador and Greenland.

A modern polar patrol schooner

If a modified version of an arctic patrol schooner could be made today, after study of the successful Bowdoin and St Roch, both of which are perfectly preserved, it could be made of more modern materials and with current SOLAS and Lloyds guidelines.

A strongly built modern schooner configuration can be had for a as low as $1.7-million in Europe  and half that amount in South America. Even if you double the European amount to take into account US shipyard craft costs, and double it again for the custom nature of the design, it can still be expected to get a new 100-foot arctic schooner built for polar operations in a stateside shipyard for under $7-million per copy. If multiple hulls were ordered, the cost for hulls 2, 3, 4, etc. would be amortised out and acquisition costs further reduced.

Composite materials and hi-tech polymers can take the place of wooden planks and beams in the Bowdoin and St Roch. Carbon-epoxy-aluminum sandwich construction yields amazing results in strength with very low weight and can be molded into exotic hull shapes, such as on the original Bowdoin. A tender issued by the USCG allowing current US yacht makers to participate in submitting bids can lead to very appreciable savings realization.

Green Schooners

In 1999 – 2000, two people sailed the 40-foot yacht Rusalka Mist from the island of Jersey in the English Channel, via Tenerife to the Caribbean and back via the Azores without a generator. Using only solar panels and a small towed waterpower generator, they provided self-sufficiency in electrical energy during this trip, both at sea and at anchor during the year. With technology ten years more advanced, commercial off the shelf, technology can be had that increases this today.

Solar panels and wind turbines are often found in DIY rigs on todays modern sailing yachts

In the past decade, solar panels and wind turbines have appeared across boat docks all over the country. Many live-aboard owners of medium to large sailing craft have installed 300-400 watt wind turbines, each about 24-inches in diameter on their craft to power refrigeration, electronics, laptops etc. while in moored away from shore power. Many other owners have installed PV (solar power) panels on flat areas of their decking and pilothouses to provide the same amount of power. Using both of these technologies, a modern arctic patrol schooner can utilize renewable resources by feeding power into a bank of 12-36 marine batteries (as a substitute for ballast) for use at a constant rate. Coupled with energy saving measures on the craft such as the use of low wattage LEDs instead of traditional bulbs from interior lighting, power saving modes on electronics not in use, and other efficiency ideas, the use of a ships gen set and diesel could be minimized.

For auxiliary propulsion when becalmed as well as exiting and entering port, electric thrusters could be used inside the hull and a single efficient diesel electric motor combination rigged to a central prop or water jet in the rear of the craft.

With efficient food service technology and on board, grey water storage, and trash compactor the ecological footprint of such a vessel could be kept low for transiting sensitive biological areas.

The 189-foot ultra modern Rainbow Warrior III. Lets get a few of these built half the size and paint them icebreaker red with a white coast guard racing stripe.

Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior III, a 189-foot steel-hulled, 3 masted ship, classified as a yacht, was built in Bremen for and was billed as being ‘green’. For an estimated 14-million pounds (about $25-million USD), the Germans built a craft that is one of the “greenest” ships afloat. With her sail rigging for propulsion, the engine projected to be needed only for 10% or less of the time. Two 50-metre masts will carry 1,200 square meters of sail and the engine is described as a “state-of-the-art hybrid.” All materials, from the paintwork to the insulation, have been chosen with a view to sustainability, and each component has been supplied with “transparent ethical sourcing.” The 189-footer carries advance communication suites inside an armored citadel safe room, a helipad with support capabilities, RHIB boats, et al.

It is not impossible

Why the USCG?

The USCG has a long and varied sailing history. Founded in 1916 by absorbing the US Revenue Cutter Service with the US Life Saving Service, both of whom had operated sail-powered vessels for nearly 150-years, the USCG is a prime sailor. During World War 2, the Coast Guard maintained a “Corsair Navy” that included hundreds of sail yachts taken up from civilian service. These sail yachts, often classified as WPY’s (Coast Guard-Patrol-Yard) were generally under 100-feet and manned by a 7-man crew. Armed with a couple of machineguns, a depth charge rack and small arms they escorted coastal convoys, conducted harbor patrols, and waved the flag in every small port across the country from 1942-44.

The CG81004, a 81-foot twin masted schooner, one of many that the USCG used during World War Two, heading out on patrol. Armed with a .50 caliber browning on the fordeck over the bowsprit and two short depth charge racks on her stern, the schooner ws a warship that conducted patrols off the US coast from 23 Aug 1942- 19 July 1945 with a crew of coast guard reservists.(from Robert Scienas Coast Guard Cutters of World War Two)

The USCG were very much in the cold-weather schooner biz in the 1940s

 

The Coast Guard also used many full sized sailing ships 150-300-feet in length including the Sea Cloud, Danmark, Hussar, and Joseph Conrad for officer training throughout the war years.  After the war, the USCG acquired the former Nazi sail training vessel SSS Horst Wessel, a 295-foot barque. Recommissioned as the USCGC Eagle in 1946 the ship is well known and sails the world with 19 officers, 56 crew, and 175 USCG Academy cadets and instructors. Eagle has over 6 miles (9.7 km) of running rigging and approximately 22,300 square feet (2,072 m2) of sail area and has broken 19-knots using her sails alone. She is America’s Tall Ship and has represented the country around the world for six decades.

The USCGC Eagle in her training paint. Arctic patrol schooners could be painted the same color as other USCG polar assets- Red with white strips

Besides service on the Eagle, USCGA cadets all undergo the 12-day Coastal Sail Training Program (CSTP) that has been expanded to include 100% of each incoming class. The 12-day program runs all summer long with crews starting each Monday. Cadets sail both the 16 Colgate 26-footers and a fleet of Ludders 44-footers around Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Plans are afoot to replace the Ludders with modern 44’s of a more up-to-date design.

USCGA cadets start in small 26-footers and work thier way up to the Eagle. USCG officers know sailing firsthand.

The coast guard knows sailing craft, and at any given time during warm months, you can be assured that hundreds of its officers, coasties, and cadets are staring up at canvas blowing in the breeze.

Incumbent  enlisted and NCO crew-members assigned to the Arctic Patrol Schooners could cycle through the Coast Guard Academy’s sail program during the off-season to get a feel of life under sail. Its possible that the Bowdoin herself could be leased and used for a year as a workshop vessel to spin up the plankowners of the first schooner crews while their ships are being built.

The Mission

A 100-foot two masted arctic patrol schooner, equipped with renewable energy PVs and wind turbines, could be capable of extended patrols along both the Northwest Passage and the US Arctic Coats during summer months. At least three vessels would be required.

  1. One craft could be detailed to make an eastern pass through the NWP, sailing from Boston to Seattle (both USCG shore bases with support available) on a 60-day timeline from May-June. To satisfy Canadian concerns, a RCMP or Canadian Coast Guard liaison officer, or even a Danish Navy liaison could be embarked, instantly making it a ‘Joint’ NATO patrol. Transient NOAA, USGS, or USF&W researchers could also be carried. Joint operations with Canadian Navy and Army assets, Alaskan National Guard and other DOD assets could be undertaken.
  2. One craft could be detailed to make a western pass through the NWP, sailing from Seattle to Boston on the same timeline. These two vessels could rendezvous along the passage with a small (and photographed) ceremony before breaking off and sailing to their respective destinations.
  3. One craft could undertake an extensive (read- slow) US Arctic coastline survey from May-September from Nome to the Yukon. Along the way, the vessel would stop in coastal towns such as Wales, Kotzebue, Point Hope, Barrow, and Prudhoe Bay for port calls. At each portcall an embarked US Public Health Service healthcare professional could set up one-day clinics to the public, tours could be given of the ship, reports taken from concerned locals etc. Another possibility would be to embark an Alaska State Police members or conservation officers to augment the coasties. This craft would be available for local SAR on the Arctic coast if needed during the summer months, provided it was within range.

During the winter months where the Arctic coast and NWP is iced in, the patrol cutters could tour the US East and West coasts as low-cost public relations exercises with reduced crews. The coastal sailing would keep the ships and crew sharp and spread the information about their mission. The platforms could also be utilized to provide sail training workshops to non-USCGA assets such as cadets of the US Merchant Marine Academy, USCG OCS, and CPO program schools etc. while iced out of the Polar Regions.

Being of an ice-strengthened design, it is possible for the crew; if provision was made for resupply, to remain locked in the NWP, or US Arctic Coast during the winter months should the needed mission arise.

Further vessels could be built and forward deployed to Antarctica to assist National Science Foundation assets there if deemed desirable.

The craft ideally could be operated with the same crew as a current USCG patrol boat. The 87-foot Marine Protector WPBs carry a nine-person crew consisting of a commander (MCPO/O2-3), chief petty officer, engineer, FS, Ops petty officer, two seaman strikers, and two fireman strikers. A similar sized crew with sailing experience could operate a patrol cutter. The Bowdoin had berthing for 14, which included the explorer who built her and his guests. The St Roch sailed with a 10-man crew of RCMP constables but held 19 berths and room for sled dogs.  A similarly sized USCG patrol schooner could embark its 9-man crew as well as have a few additional berths for liaison officers, scientists, public affairs people, USPHS doctors etc., as the mission requires.

For SAR and use as a utility boat a short-range prosecutor 17-foot RIB could be carried by the patrol schooner, launched via davit. A small UAV aircraft could be embarked for ice surveys, wildlife spotting, oil spill reporting and so forth. Similarly, a small ROV submersible could be carried

For defense operations, including possibly escorting tankers from Prudhoe Bay if needed, M2 12.7mm heavy machineguns could be mounted. This, coupled with the small arms locker onboard, reproduces the armament carried either by the current 420-foot USCG icebreaker Healy, or by its fleet of 87-foot patrol boats.  For National Science Foundation missions carrying research scientists, the armament can be secured below decks or disembarked completely.

The total tasking of three patrol schooners, even assuming one Coastie on shore for each embarked, would require less than 60-personnel. With the back-of-an-envelope estimated cost of each schooner to be in the realm of $7-million apiece, the fleet would cost somewhere in the region of $21-$30 million for acquisition when support equipment is accounted for.  With a new USCG full-sized heavy icebreaker estimated at costing $925-million per hull, the program would be a drop in the bucket comparatively.

The USCG still needs a few more large seagoing icebreakers, but a few ice strengthened arctic patrol schooners can help bridge the gap that we have today from almost no dedicated coverage to reliable yearly tasked ships.

What could three 100-foot schooners accomplish?

The bottom line is, they can accomplish more than what is there now. It has been 9-years since the last US warship passed through the NWP (the Healy in 2003.) A yearly patrol by two schooners, one from each direction, coupled with a Joint interaction with NATO allies in the region already, establishes a precedent. With energy resources at a premium and potential non-NATO powers looking to the Arctic, this is important.

The US Arctic Coast is often forgotten. With each of the NWP patrol schooners passing through each year, and the third schooner dedicated to spending its summer poking along the coastline from Nome to the Yukon, a message is sent. A 225 or 175-foot buoy tender from the 13th CG District making aids to navigation repairs or possibly a 110-foot WPB sent from southern Alaska in the summer months could augment this patrol. If those platforms are not available, it is the schooner’s bread and butter.

Lets compare the missons again of the USCG polar forces and see how a trio of arctic patrol schooners could manage:

The missions of U.S. polar ship operations are as follows:

  • Conducting and supporting scientific research in the Arctic and Antarctic (yes).
  • Defending U.S. sovereignty in the Arctic by helping to maintain a presence in the region.(yes)
  • Defending other U.S. interests in Polar Regions, including economic interests relating to the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) north of Alaska.(yes, while its not realistic for a schooner to chase down a third nation fishing trawler or rouge whaler, its UAV and RIB can provided the ship was in range)
  • Monitoring sea traffic in the Arctic, including ships bound for the United States.(yes, with three schooners passing through the arctic every season, it is reasonable that third country ships passing through the NWP may see all 3 of them)
  • Conducting other typical Coast Guard missions (search and rescue, law enforcement, etc.) in Arctic waters, including U.S. territorial waters north of Alaska. (yes, to a limited degree. With thousands of miles of water to cover the schooners would be spread very thin, however it is still an increase over what is there now)

Something to think about anyway.

Nome is Freezing, at least we still have ONE icebreaker left!

The Healy, left, a Coast Guard icebreaker, carves a path in the frozen Bering Sea for the Renda, a Russian tanker carrying 1.3 million gallons of emergency gasoline and diesel for Alaska. Shipping delays and a major storm prevented Nome's winter supply of fuel from arriving in early fall. USCG photo

 

After last week’s artcile on the status of the US Icebreaker fleet as of 2012, this is a stark reminder!

The small town of Nome Alaska is at the mercy of severe winter. Apparently it was avoidable. They are out of gas and the nearest station is more than 700-miles away. With no roads connecting it to the interior, air resupply impractical, and the ocean frozen solid since October, its time to call in the icebreakers

I mean icebreaker…..We only have one and its been deployed around the world for the past eight months. In fact, it should be in the yard right now getting repaired to go to Antarctica in March….but we cant spare it.

From The NYT:

By

 

Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Russian tanker Renda in the frozen Bering Sea.

Benjamin Nocerini/U.S. Coast Guard, via Associated Press

The Russian tanker Renda is slogging through ice behind the Healy, a Coast Guard icebreaker.

Parents still read books to their children about what happened next: Balto, Togo, Fritz and dozens more sled dogs sprinted through subzero temperatures across 674 miles of sea ice and tundra in what became known as the Great Race of Mercy. The medicine made it, Nome was saved and the Siberian huskies became American heroes.

Eighty-seven years later, Nome is again locked in a dark and frigid winter — a record cold spell has pushed temperatures to minus 40 degrees, cracked hotel pipes and even reduced turnout at the Mighty Musk Oxen’s pickup hockey games. And now another historic rescue effort is under way across the frozen sea.

Yet while the dogs needed only five and a half days, Renda the Russian tanker has been en route for nearly a month — and it is unclear whether she will ever arrive. The tanker is slogging through sea ice behind a Coast Guard icebreaker, trying to bring not medicine but another commodity increasingly precious in remote parts of Alaska: fuel, 1.3 million gallons of emergency gasoline and diesel to heat snow-cloaked homes and power the growing number of trucks, sport utility vehicles and snow machines that have long since replaced dogsleds.

For the moment, this latest tale appears less likely to produce a warm children’s book than an embarrassing memo, and maybe a few lawsuits, about how it all could have been avoided.

“People need to get fired over this,” said David Tunley, one of the few Musk Oxen at the outdoor rink on an evening when the temperature was minus 23. “The litigation of whose fault it is will probably go on forever.”

How Nome ended up short on fuel this winter is a complicated issue unto itself, but trying to get the Renda here to help has become a sub-Arctic odyssey — and perhaps a clunky practice run for a future in which climate change and commercial interests make shipping through Arctic routes more common.

“There is a lot of good knowledge that is coming out of this,” said Rear Adm. Thomas P. Ostebo, the officer in charge of the Coast Guard in Alaska.

From CNN:

Coast Guard mission to Nome exposes U.S. limits in ice-breaking capability

January 05, 2012|By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
The USCG Cutter Healy will plow a 300-mile-long path for a Russian-flagged tanker this week.

In what may be the furthest thing from a pleasure cruise, the U.S. Coast Guard’s only operating Arctic icebreaker is escorting a Russian-flagged tanker this week on an emergency fuel run to the ice-blocked town of Nome, Alaska.

The mission: Deliver 1.1 million gallons of diesel fuel and 300,000 gallons of gasoline to Nome (population 3,598), where storms prevented a fuel shipment in the fall.

Midweek, the two ships left Dutch Harbor, in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Friday, the ships are expected to encounter the ice, and USCG Cutter Healy will take the lead, plowing a 300-mile-long path for the Russian-flagged tanker Renda.

The Icebreaker Crisis in the USCG as of 2012

During World War 2, the US Navy and Coast Guard fought what is known as “The Weather War” in which small ice-strengthened US ships searched for German Weather installations in Greenland, Iceland, Canada, and other frozen points above the Arctic Circle. On the opposite side of the world, the same types of ships were needed to patrol the northern pacific to maintain defense over Alaska. Most Americans forget (if they ever knew) that the Alaskan islands of Attu and Kiska were invaded by the Japanese military in 1942 and retained for almost two years. After WWII, the US military found itself still very much in need of an arctic and Antarctic presence, now that the USSR was only a skip and a jump away over the North Pole.

Today, with the Northwest Passage increasingly viable and fuel resources in the Arctic more approachable, the need is still as strong as ever to have a robust Polar capability for the US Military.

The Northwest Passage

The missions of U.S. polar icebreakers are as follows:

  • Conducting and supporting scientific research in the Arctic and Antarctic.
  • Defending U.S. sovereignty in the Arctic by helping to maintain a presence in the region.
  • Defending other U.S. interests in Polar Regions, including economic interests relating to the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) north of Alaska.
  • Monitoring sea traffic in the Arctic, including ships bound for the United States.
  • Conducting other typical Coast Guard missions (search and rescue, law enforcement, etc) in Arctic waters, including U.S. territorial waters north of Alaska.

The height of the US seagoing icebreaker fleet was 1955-1972. In that golden age, the US Navy and the USCG combined maintained 8 heavily armed large icebreakers and 40 ships that could be classified as medium icebreakers. This included:

  • 1×309 foot heavy icebreaker (Glacier) that could break up to 20-feet of sea ice, armed with 5″ guns and capable of carrying two helicopters.
  • 7×269-foot heavy (Wind-class) icebreakers that could break up to 13-feet of sea ice, armed with 5″ guns and capable of carrying a helicopter.
  • 1x 230-foot medium icebreaker (Storis) that could break up to 6-feet of sea ice, armed with 3-inch guns.
  • 39x 180-foot (Balsam Class) buoy tenders with icebreaking bows that could break up to 3-feet of sea ice, armed with a 3-inch gun.
  • Also on the drawing board were as many as 4 mega 399-foot Polar Class heavy Icebreakers and a dozen 140-foot icebreaking tugs, projected for delivery as beginning as early as 1976.

By 1989 the USCG-only (the USN got out of the icebreaking biz in 1966) seagoing icebreaking fleet had largely been disarmed and had shrunk to :

 

The 399-foot Polar Star. Top of the line in icebreakers 1977-2010. However, note no visible weapons. For scientific missions, these are not needed. However, for sovereignty missions, are a must.

  • 2×399-foot, 13,000-ton Polar class icebreakers. These ships were commissioned in 1976 and 1978, painted red, and armed with two 12.7mm machineguns, small arms. They are capable of breaking up to 21-feet of sea ice and carrying two helicopters.
  • 31x remaining 180-foot aging Balsam class buoy tenders, most of which had been disarmed and delisted as being capable of icebreaking.
  • 9x 140-foot Bay Class icebreaking tugboats, armed with two 12.7mm machineguns and capable of breaking up to 3-feet of freshwater ice. These craft are all used on the US East Coast and Great Lakes to keep local waterways open and are therefore unavailable for polar operations.
  • (the 230-foot WWII-era medium icebreaker, Storis, had been retasked as a white-hulled cutter and was no longer used as an icebreaker)

Today, 2012 the USCG is in a pickle barrel full of ice. The 2011 USCG The “High Latitude Region Mission Analysis,”–a summary of which the Coast Guard’s current and future polar missions, stated that the USCG will need at least 3 heavy and 3 medium icebreakers to fulfill its requirements. Today it currently has…one of the above (a medium).

The current (Jan 2012) fleet consists of:

 

The USCGC Healy. One of the largest medium icebreakers in the world. The ship has fantastic labs and support facilities, but can only break 4.5 feet of ice. Compare this to the smaller Polar Star above that can shatter up to 21-feet of ice.

  • The 13-year old 420-foot, 16,000-ton USCGC Healy.  Commissioned in 1999, the ultra-modern red-hulled beast only has 30,000 shp maximum thrust to her shafts, whereas the smaller Polar-class icebreakers had a maximum of 75,000-shp. This means the largest US icebreaker ever commissioned can only break 4.5 feet of sea ice continuously at three knots, classifying her as a medium icebreaker. In 2011, the ship performed a seven-month science cruise in the Arctic Ocean conducting scientific operations. Due to the other large U.S. icebreakers, being either in repair (Polar Star) or in the process of being decommissioned (Polar Sea), the Healy is the only active large icebreaker in the Coast Guard’s fleet. Under the current arrangement, NSF is responsible for funding the Healy’s operations and maintenance while the Coast Guard is responsible for operating the ship and carrying out its maintenance program. Total Healy costs are approximately $24 million annually or about $130,000 per each of the 185 days she at sea. As a research ship, she is largely unarmed except the ship’s small arms locker.
  • The two 399-foot Polar Star-class heavy icebreakers have been used hard and put up wet. At some 30+ years old, they are well past their prime and due for a replacement that never came. Known as “Buildings 10 and 11” because they rarely move from their docks, both ships have been mission in-capable for several years although they are still on the USCG list as active ships. Since April 2010, neither has been deployable and will continue to be in such a condition for the next few years.

WAGB-10, the Polar Star on June 30, 2006, Polar Star was placed in a “Commission-Special” status in Seattle, WA with a reduced 34-man crew. The Coast Guard plans to reactivate her by 2013 after a $6-million refit, at which point she will 37-years old.  As it stands today, she has not been deployed in 7-years. It is expected that she will be deployable again in 2013 after the refit.

WAGB-11, the Polar Sea, is suffering from severe engine issues that could cost more than $400-million to refit the ship. On June 25, 2010, the Coast Guard announced that Polar Sea had suffered an unexpected engine casualty and consequently will likely be unavailable for operation. The report said, “…inspections of the Polar Sea’s main diesel engines revealed excessive wear in 33 cylinder assemblies.” Moreover, that, “…five of [the ship’s] six mighty engines are stilled, some with worn pistons essentially welded to their sleeves.” Unmoving since April 2010, it has been used for parts to assist the Polar Star in her rebuild and is slated for decommissioning. The most recent USCG report on her is concerning whether she should be awarded National Historic Places statuses upon her decommission.

On March 25, 2008, the Navy Times described options for the refit or replacement of the         Polar Star-class vessels. The four options laid out were either:

  1. Replacement at $925 million each
  2. Full refit at $400 million each that would make the vessel good for another 25 years.
  3. Minor refit $56 million each that would make the vessel good for another seven to ten years.
  4. One season refit at $8 million that would enable the ship to be patched together for one more season’s deployment.

Nov. 3, 2011, Congressional Research Service report estimates a new polar-class sized icebreaker would require 8 to 10 years before entering service. If requested in FY 2012, it is unlikely that a new heavy icebreaker will join the fleet before 2022.

The Coast Guard’s own proposed FY2011 budget does not request any funding in the service’s Acquisition, Construction, and Improvements (AC&I) account for polar icebreaker sustainment or for the acquisition of new polar icebreakers.

The Rest of the World’s Polar Fleet Countries with interests in the Polar Regions have differing requirements for polar icebreakers, depending on the nature and extent of their polar activities. According to one source, as of January 2009, Russia had a fleet of 25 polar icebreakers (including six active heavy icebreakers, two heavy icebreakers in caretaker status, 15 other icebreakers, and two additional icebreakers leased from the Netherlands. 7 of these ships are nuclear powered); Finland and Sweden each had seven heavy polar icebreakers, and Canada had 6.

The NSF and leased scientific ships.

 Supporting National Science Foundation (NSF) research activities in the Arctic and Antarctic have accounted for in the past for a significant portion of U.S. polar icebreaker operations. Supporting NSF research in the Antarctic has included performing—or, in more recent years, standing ready to assist in—an annual mission, called Operation Deep Freeze, to break through the Antarctic ice to resupply McMurdo Station, the large U.S. Antarctic research station located on the shore of McMurdo Sound, near the Ross Ice Shelf. The NSF pays for most USCG icebreaking efforts.

Laurence M. Gould at Palmer Station, contractor-operated 300+ days per year for the NSF

Nathaniel B. Palmer, contractor-operated by the NSF 300+ days per year for less than the cost of funding a USCG icebreaker for 185-days per year. Certain members of Congress are very interested in that concept.

Even with the USCG assets, the U.S. Antarctic Program Palmer Station resupply depends primarily on two privately owned vessels, the Laurence M. Gould (LMG) and the Nathaniel B. Palmer (NBP). Both were designed and built based on input from the science community. As leased vessels, the NSF gets a great deal of bang for the buck. Annual costs for the NPB and LMG in 2007 were $16.3M and $7.5M, respectively, resulting in respective day costs of $54.3K and $23.4K for these ships, or less than half what the NSF spends on the Healy.

The NBP is an ABS A2 icebreaker capable of breaking 3 feet of level ice continuously at 3 knots, with 13,000 shaft horsepower and a displacement of 6,800 long tons. It is outfitted with all of the winches and A-frames necessary for deploying and retrieving oceanographic instrumentation. The vessel is outfitted with onboard oceanographic instrumentation and a networked computer suite, including multi-beam sonar, and has 5,900 ft2 of lab space and 4,076 ft2 of open deck space for oceanographic work and staging and a helicopter pad and hanger. The NBP averages 300 days a year underway in support of science.

The LMG was is smaller than the NBP and has less icebreaking capability, as it was designed to operate in the more benign ice regions surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula. The ship is an ABS A1 ice-strengthened vessel with 4,600 shaft horsepower and a displacement of 3,400 long tons and can break one foot of level ice at a continuous 3 knots. It is fully instrumented with onboard oceanographic instruments and a networked computer suite. The LMG has the dual purpose of supporting oceanographic science and providing re-supply to Palmer Station, located on the Antarctic Peninsula. The LMG averages 320 days a year underway in support of scientific research and associated logistics.

The 20,000-ton, 9-engined Russian icebreaker Krasin, chartered by the US NSF with tax dollars to get the job done

In FY 2005 and FY 2006, the NSF chartered the Russian government-owned, contractor-operated, icebreaker Krasin as no the USCG fleet was unable to meet commitments. In FY 2007 and FY 2008, they chartered the Swedish government-owned, contractor-operated, icebreaker Oden at $7.5 million per year, as the icebreakers that the USCG was provided $54-million by the NSF were insufficient. Furthermore, NOAA charters the Russian flagged R/V Yuzhmorgeologiya approximately 100 sea days per year in support of its Antarctic program.

Small Icebreakers

Besides, several smaller platforms were marginally Polar-capable. The 39 180-foot long Balsam-class buoy tenders were built with a notched forefoot, ice-belt at the waterline, reinforced bow, and stern. Capable of clearing through up to 20-inches of sea ice at a steady pace, the 180s could break through harbors and light pack ice.

In 1957, two of these 180-footers, Bramble and Spar with their larger half-sister the 230-foot Storis, circumnavigated the North American continent through hundreds of miles of sea ice. The Coast Guard convoy, known as Task Force 5, sailed to 4500-miles from Seattle to Point Barrow Alaska, then through the Northwest Passage to the East Coast. The three cutters were the first U.S. vessels to complete a circumnavigation of the continent, icebreaking all the way. With a combined crew of more than two hundred and carrying no less than four dual-purpose 3-inch naval guns as well as several 20mm cannons, this was a fairly well-armed force for 1957.

The unit patch of the Bramble, a 180-foot buoy tender. Can you guess what one of her main jobs was? She and her 39 sisters have all been retired and replaced by tenders that, while nicer and more modern, cant crush as much ice.

In the past two decades, the 230-foot medium icebreaking cutter Storis and all 39 of the 180-foot tenders, joined the six ice-strengthened 165-foot ice-strengthened cutters, and the 216-foot long Northland, in retirement.

Minor icebreaking is now the realm of the 19 new 225-foot Juniper class buoy tenders. The 225’s have a limited icebreaking capability of 14-inches of freshwater ice at 3 knots, or 3 feet of ice backing and ramming.  However, this figure is for Great Lakes use and is of very little use in polar ice. The 14 Keeper-class of 175-foot tenders can break 9-inches of freshwater ice at 3-knots and 18 inches by ramming. This is less than the 180-foot Balsam class buoy tenders that they replaced. Nine excellent 140-foot Bay class tugs have been introduced that can break freshwater ice up to 20 inches (51 cm) thick, and break ice up to 3 feet by ramming, but even this is still slightly less than the 180s.

Therefore, in terms of medium icebreaking the 1950s USCG had 47 vessels that could break up to 20-inches of sea ice that have now been replaced by 39 that can break a lesser amount of freshwater ice. These 39 assets are needed vitally along the East Coast and Great Lakes to the extent that it is unlikely that anything other than an occasionally detached 225-foot buoy tender could be detailed to Polar Region operations. Moreover, these craft are armed with only token crew-served low-angle gun mounts, leaving them incapable of projecting sovereignty in any but the most benign of environments.

The Northwest Passage

Legions of explorers looked for the Northwest Passage for hundreds of years, this included the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, which perished virtually to a man in the 1850s. The first man to complete the voyage was Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in a small 70-foot long 47-ton herring boat called the Gjoa.

Amundsen’s 70-foot long Gjoa in 1906. Even with a class of modern sailing yachts and a handful of sailors, the USCG could provide some sort of flag-waving patrol in the Northwest Passage. The route has been covered by no less than 4 US-flagged yachts since 1984.

The Northwest Passage has been accomplished 15 times by American vessels, and U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers have been the only American surface combatants to do so, carried out 11 of these voyages. In 1957 Storis, Bramble and Spar were the first of these Coast Guard cutters to make the journey through the passage, establishing a tradition that was followed by the Coast Guard cutters Northwind and Staten Island (1969), Polar Sea (1985, 1990), Polar Star (1988,1989) and Healy (2000, 2003). The other three American warships to transit fully the Northwest Passage were the submerged nuclear-powered submarines USS Nautilus (1958), USS Queenfish (1970), and USS Seadragon (1958). The US-flagged tanker M/V Manhattan was the first commercial vessel to make a full transit (in 1969).

The Northwest Passage is now wide open in some parts during the summer. In 2006, the Hapag-Lloyd cruise ship M/S Bremen sailed through it with passengers. The Bremen, built in 1990, is 6.752 gross tons carries 164 passengers and 100 crewmembers in its non-ice reinforced hull. No less than four privately owned US-flagged yachts have completed the passage in a single season since 1984, showing the feasibility of passing through.

On April 9, 2006, Canada’s Joint Task Force North declared that the Canadian military would no longer refer to the region as the Northwest Passage, but as the Canadian Internal Waters. The declaration came after the successful completion of Operation Nunavut (Inuktitut for “the land is ours”), which was an expedition into the region by five military patrols.

With no US icebreakers to prove otherwise, it looks like Canada is right.

A look at the Legacy fleet of USN/USCG Icebreakers, from the 1944-1989 Glory days or armed, destroyer-sized, capable, heavy cutters.

USS Glacier (AGB-4) 1955-1966 /USCGC Glacier (WAGB-4) 1966-1987

The proud (and heavily armed) USCGC Glacier. Built in Pascagoula MS, in the same yard as most of the modern US Navy’s destroyers and cruisers. Go figure

Displacement:             8,449 long tons (8,585 t) full load

Length:            309 ft. 6 in (94.34 m)

Complement:   14 officers, 2 warrant officers, 225 enlisted

Armament:      • 1 × twin 5 in (130 mm) guns (removed in 1966 when sent to USCG)

• 3 × twin 3 in (76 mm) guns

• 4 × 20 mm guns

Aircraft carried           2 helicopters. Air detachment: 14 officers and 10 enlisted.

Glacier was capable of breaking ice up to 20 feet (6.1 m) thick, and of continuous breaking of 4-foot (1.2 m) thick ice at 3 knots (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph). Following 29 Antarctic and 10 Arctic deployments, Glacier was decommissioned in 1987

Seven Wind-class Heavy Icebreakers built for the US Navy and US Coast Guard

Northwind, circa 1955, a good example of the Wind class before they were painted red and had their teeth removed

Displacement: 6,500 short tons (5,900 metric tons) full load

Length:            269 ft (82 m)

Complement:   219 officers and men

Armament: Four 5-inch/38 (127 mm) dual-purpose guns (2 twin turrets). Twelve 40 mm/60 AA guns (3 quadruple turrets). Six 20 mm/80 AA; Y-guns. Two depth charge racks. One Hedgehog (weapon) launcher. M2 Browning machine guns and small arms. Reduced to just the M2s and small arms by 1970.  Originally carried a 1 Grumman J2F Duck seaplane, replaced by helicopter in the 1960s. Capable of breaking 13-foot sea ice.

USCGC Staten Island (WAGB-278), Commissioned 1944. Decommissioned 15 November 1974 and scrapped.

USCGC Eastwind (WAGB-279) Commissioned 1944. Decommissioned in 1968, sold in 1972, and scrapped.

USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280) Commissioned 1944. Decommissioned 1974, sold for scrap 1976.

USS Westwind (AGB-6) renamed USCGC Westwind (WAGB-281) in USCG service. Commissioned into USN in 1944. Transferred to USCG 1951. Decommissioned 29 February 1988, sold and scrapped.

USCGC Northwind  (WAGB-282). Commissioned in 1945. Decommissioned 1989 and scrapped.

USS Burton Island (AGB-88) Commissioned into USN in 1947. Transferred to USCG 1966, renamed USCGC Burton Island (WAGB-283) in USCG service. Decommissioned 1978, sold for scrap 1980.

USS Edisto (AGB-89) Commissioned into USN in 1947. Transferred to USCG 1966 and renamed USCGC Edisto (WAGB-284) in USCG service. Decommissioned 1977 and scrapped 1980.

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