Coast Guard’s only active icebreaker stops in Juneau
The icebreaker Healy stopped in Juneau last week after another season’s work, and the ship’s crew invited the public aboard.
The Healy is its own community. Between the bridge and laboratories, narrow flights of stairs connect three levels of living quarters. The crew needs to keep the ship running 24/7. This year, the Healy hosted Weather Channel TV crews twice, rescued a whaling crew from an ice floe and escorted a Russian fuel tanker to Nome. The Healy entered active duty in 2000 and is 20 years newer than the Polar Sea and Polar Star, which are both in Seattle. The Polar Sea could be demolished in 2013, whereas the Polar Star could be reactivated.
Captain Beverly Havlik is the commanding officer of the Healy.
“I was assigned to the ship last April. April 2011 Our deployment has brought us now to Juneau, it’s our last stop before we go back home to Seattle, homeport is Seattle, Washington,” Havlik says.
Earlier this year, the Healy escorted Russian fuel tanker Renda to Nome to provide heating oil and gas to the iced-in community. Havlik says people travelled to Nome just to witness the historic delivery.
While ice breakers perform commercial deliveries down south in the winter, along the East Coast and Great Lakes, the Nome delivery was the first of its kind in Alaska in recent years. The Healy led the Renda across more than 800 miles of sea ice.
The Healy doesn’t normally escort other ships through the ice. Havlik says the hull is designed to do as little damage to the sea ice as possible so scientists can sample ice floes easily.
She says Russian tankers are generally towed through ice:
When the Healy got the call last fall to help with the fuel delivery, it was wrapping up some scientific research – its main mission.
Master Chief Tim Sullivan is the ship’s navigator:
Petty Officer Matthew Emmons came to the Coast Guard from the Navy.
“I’ve been on board here for roughly 4 months and I’m an electronics technician. We fix navigation equipment, radars, radios, GPS, we also maintain the TV system on board. I enjoy it, it’s pretty fun. It’s just different duty than normal Coast Guard duty. It’s not law enforcement, it’s not drug interdiction and such, it’s more science related, so it’s something more out of rate than what people normally do and sometimes that’s a good thing to have a little change-up in your career.”
Last winter, Captain Havlik led the Healy through its first winter science mission. The ship went north-to-south, outracing the edge of the sea ice to track an environmentally sensitive, but abundant type of plankton known as copepods.
This past summer, the icebreaker used high resolution sonar to map parts of the Arctic Ocean’s seafloor. The Healy’s mapping may help the US extend the exclusive economic zone, which is currently 200 nautical miles offshore.
Havlik says the icebreaker will likely do more search-and-rescue in the Arctic as more ecotourism and resource exploration ships make their way to the far north. There will be ice in the Arctic Ocean even as the Northwest Passage becomes more navigable.
Science missions have propelled the ship to Arctic waters for more than a decade. Havlik says the Healy heads north again in July.
“And then in January the ship will go into a dry dock and spend about two months on dry dock. Then we’ll do the load-out for more science research and get underway in July and be back up to the Arctic again.”
Photos by Heather Bryant/KTOO