At True North’s End

This blog is part of a series of posts following Coast Guard Cutter Healy on their journey through the Arctic to the North Pole in support of Geotraces 2015. Stay tuned to learn more about the mission, the cutter and the crew!

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory Mendenhall

ARCTIC OCEAN -- An optical phenomenon known as a sun dog or halo, which is produced by light interacting with suspended ice crystals in the atmosphere, appears off Coast Guard Cutter Healy's port bow at the North Pole Sept. 5, 2015.

ARCTIC OCEAN — An optical phenomenon known as a sun dog or halo, which is produced by light interacting with suspended ice crystals in the atmosphere, appears off Coast Guard Cutter Healy’s port bow at the North Pole Sept. 5, 2015.
Healy is underway in the Arctic Ocean in support of Geotraces, an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world’s oceans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

On Sept. 5, 2015, Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a 420-foot icebreaker homeported in Seattle, became the first U.S. surface vessel to reach the North Pole unaccompanied, and the fourth U.S. surface vessel to reach the pole, a transit so difficult it is only possible for Healy to accomplish during the summer Arctic months.

Healy arrived at 90 degrees north latitude, the northernmost point on the globe, at approximately 7:47 a.m., marking an historic accomplishment for both cutter and crew.

“The United States is a proud Arctic nation,” said Capt. Jason Hamilton, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Healy. “Since the acquisition of Alaska in the 1860s, the U.S. Coast Guard has and continues to provide presence and access throughout the Arctic region.”

Healy is underway on a National Science Foundation funded mission in support of Geotraces, a global endeavor to study the geochemistry of the world’s oceans. This research cruise has taken the cutter’s crew and 50 scientists from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to the North Pole, after which Healy will head south to return to Dutch Harbor along a different route, making several stops to gather water and sediment samples.

ARCTIC OCEAN -- Coast Guard Cutter Healy crewmembers and scientists deploy a rosette device to collect water samples at the North Pole, Sept. 5, 2015.

ARCTIC OCEAN — Coast Guard Cutter Healy crewmembers and scientists deploy a rosette device to collect water samples at the North Pole, Sept. 5, 2015.
Healy is underway in the Arctic Ocean in support of Geotraces, an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world’s oceans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

After arriving at the pole, the Coast Guard crew and science party disembarked onto the ice and held quarters where Hamilton congratulated the group on achieving this historic goal and reminded them of the Coast Guard’s Arctic legacy and the significance of their presence at the pole.

“By becoming the first unaccompanied U.S. surface vessel to reach the North Pole, Healy has clearly demonstrated our capability to operate throughout one of the most challenging operational environments on the planet,” said Hamilton.

Following an official crew photograph with Healy in the background, the group was granted ice liberty. Smiling people, bundled up in everything from fur-lined parkas to foul-weather coveralls, could be seen spread out across the ice taking photos, socializing, and reveling in a sublime sense of accomplishment.

ARCTIC OCEAN -- Left to right, Cmdr. Karl Lander, executive officer of Coast Guard Cutter Healy, Dr. David Kadko, Healy's chief scientist for Geotraces, Capt. Jason Hamilton, commanding officer of Healy, and Cmdr. William Woityra, operations officer of Healy, have their photograph taken at the North Pole Sept. 7, 2015.

ARCTIC OCEAN — Left to right, Cmdr. Karl Lander, executive officer of Coast Guard Cutter Healy, Dr. David Kadko, Healy’s chief scientist for Geotraces, Capt. Jason Hamilton, commanding officer of Healy, and Cmdr. William Woityra, operations officer of Healy, have their photograph taken at the North Pole Sept. 7, 2015.
Healy is underway in the Arctic Ocean in support of Geotraces, an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world’s oceans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Chief Petty Officer Shannon Riley, a machinery technician aboard Healy, donned a traditional Santa Claus costume and posed for photos with crew members as they held up letters to Santa written by their children. Others posed holding the National Ensign and the Coast Guard flag. A large, red and white spiraled “north pole” capped with a golden ball was another popular backdrop for photos.

“I’m proud of the crew,” said Hamilton. “Reaching this milestone is a testament to the initiative and cooperation of a crew that continually strives for excellence. By striving for excellence we have risen to meet every challenge on this arduous expedition that culminated with our arrival here at the top of the world.”

ARCTIC OCEAN -- Scientists aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy collect ice cores and other data on an ice floe Sept. 11, 2015, while underway in the Arctic Ocean.

ARCTIC OCEAN — Scientists aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy collect ice cores and other data on an ice floe Sept. 11, 2015, while underway in the Arctic Ocean.
Healy is underway in support of Geotraces, an international endeavor to study the geochemistry of the world’s oceans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

On Sept. 7, Healy was joined at the North Pole by Polarstern, a German icebreaker homeported in Bremerhaven, Germany. The scientists aboard Polarstern are also underway in the Arctic gathering data in support of Geotraces. The crews and science parties of both icebreakers enjoyed several hours of camaraderie, touring each other’s ships, reconnecting with old friends, and making new ones.

“I particularly enjoyed hosting Kapitaen Stefan Schwaize and senior scientist Ursula Schauer aboard Healy where we discussed ice conditions as well as the data each of us has collected thus far,” said Hamilton.

Many countries were represented in the gathering, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and Italy, among others. It was inspiring to witness this impromptu meeting of individuals from many countries, united by a shared scientific drive to study, understand, and care for our planet’s oceans.

“Conducting an international engagement with one of our closest allies at the North Pole is a day all of us will remember with pride,” said Hamilton.

Reaching the North Pole is no easy task. It requires transiting hundreds of miles of sea ice of varying thicknesses, some floes reaching over 10 feet.

“It takes a highly capable icebreaker optimally operated by a team of professional mariners,” said Hamilton. “Aboard Healy our crew embodies the command philosophy of ‘initiative and cooperation leading to excellence’ (ICE).”

Like the running cracks in the ice that shoot out beneath Healy’s hull, the commanding officer and crew hope the effects of this historic expedition reach far and wide.

ARCTIC OCEAN — Chief Petty Officer John Lobherr and Petty Officer 3rd Class Dan Gomes, boatswain’s mates aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy, demonstrate ice rescue techniques at the North Pole Sept. 7, 2015.

ARCTIC OCEAN — Chief Petty Officer John Lobherr and Petty Officer 3rd Class Dan Gomes, boatswain’s mates aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy, demonstrate ice rescue techniques at the North Pole Sept. 7, 2015.
Healy is underway in the Arctic Ocean in support of Geotraces, an international scientific endeavor to study the geochemistry of the world’s ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

“Let this expedition serve as a reminder of the Coast Guard’s proud history of Arctic service and our continued commitment to ensure safe, secure, and environmentally responsible maritime activity throughout the Arctic,” said Hamilton. “Polar icebreaking is an important mission that enables access for all of the Coast Guard’s statutory missions, including the facilitation of groundbreaking science. It is a great time to be a polar icebreaker sailor, especially considering the strong backing President Obama and the Commandant of the Coast Guard have recently given the polar icebreaking program.”

As Healy’s crew and science party now turn their gaze southward, they can sail proudly knowing each did their part to successfully push their cutter to the furthest regions of the Arctic. While much science remains to be conducted on the return route to Dutch Harbor, an historic milestone was reached by these 145 souls, and the memory of a formidable goal achieved will be carried with them for all time, wherever they may go.

ARCTIC OCEAN — Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew members demonstrate ice rescue and survival techniques at the North Pole Sept. 7, 2015.

ARCTIC OCEAN — Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew members demonstrate ice rescue and survival techniques at the North Pole Sept. 7, 2015.
Healy is underway in the Arctic Ocean in support of Geotraces, an international scientific endeavor to study the geochemistry of the world’s ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

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7 Responses

  1. John Bateman-Ferry says:

    I have always been a die hard fan of our U.S. Coast Guard. Only a paralyzingly vehicle wreck led me to pass on an alternate’s appointment to th U.S. Coast Guard Academy. I would have waited forever to get in. So I have been thrilled to read about The Healy’s success on this momentous mission. Congratulations!
    I did have a question. Was it any easier for The Healy to make this trek to the pole due to global warming and the significant melting of the Arctic and Antarctic polar ice caps?
    I take nothing away from The Healy herself nor her officers and crew, but the hair on the back of my neck stood up just a bit as I was reading this post. All the more important of this mission to learn much more about our oceans and the North Pole.
    Bravo Coast Guard! Bravo Healy!

  2. Christopher Jensen ( Aux.) says:

    WOW! Great stuff! When I win the megabux I’ll get me a little icebreaker, and y’all can show me how to run it! Looks like a hoot! Baloney aside, you pulled off a superb feat of seamanship in a very unforgiving environment. Well done, and best wishes for an easy passage home!
    All the best! CJensen

  3. Hope Wright says:

    CONGRATULATIONS! What an accomplishment! BZ to Commander and Crew!

  4. R. S. Simmons says:

    Great photographs – - thanks for publishing them!

  5. Debora Otto says:

    I love my niece Julia she is a great mom and loves being in the Coast Guard:) hope all of the Healy crew stays safe.

  6. Pat Smears says:

    Inspiring story. This globe trotting crew exemplifies the spirit of adventure and the zen for travel that differentiates humanity. Congratulations to all the crew of the Healy.

  7. Carolyn Fota says:

    Dear United States Coast Guard: My name is Carolyn Fota and I am Program Analyst on the Communications Team, DTIC. With your permission I would like to post your story onto our DTIC Facebook site and use your picture of your five Coast Guard Personnel in the ocean. I would like to highlight your mission of research. VR Carolyn e. Fota, Defense Technical Information Center, FT. Belvoir, VA, 703.767.9603