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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.