C. William Bailey
Throughout her life the polar icebreaker EASTWIND had a history of being first: First of her class to go around the world and first to circumnavigate the Antarctic Continent. At one time she had the record for going farthest north and sighting the tallest iceberg on record. So, once again, on her final cruise she became the first polar-class icebreaker to navigate to the Great Lakes, setting the stage for WESTWIND’s eventual homeport.
EASTWIND’s normal draft was deeper than channels in the St. Lawrence Seaway could accommodate. A vessel that is lightened may find herself in a precarious balancing situation to remain stable, so much thought was required to determine the feasibility of taking a polar-class Cutter into the Lakes. In some places we had only inches of water under the keel.
Coast Guard has many times in the past been called on to prove that the motto Semper
Paratus is not just a phrase for public relations. While preparing for the
forthcoming summer arctic operations, an emergency developed, which seriously
impaired the U.S. Early Warning Missile Defense, in that a cable off Labrador
was cut. EASTWIND was ordered out immediately to assist the Western Union
cable repair ship Swenson, an elderly steam vessel laid down in 1922 and
was not ice-strengthened. She looked like the J.P. Morgan’s yacht Corsair,
clipper bow and all.
the operation of locating the broken cable ends, EASTWIND was given the
opportunity of acting like a buoy tender—Swenson
wanted us to take aboard one end of the broken cable while they steamed off to
search for the other end. EASTWIND was not equipped for this kind of
seamanship, but it was accomplished in the dead of night surrounded by “bergy
bits,” strong current, and high wind. Holding EASTWIND alongside the
old cable ship for quite a time, using our deep sea anchor wire for the
transfer, made me thankful for a warm parka and bridge engine controls. We were
sure that if the ships touched each other, even lightly, we’d probably sink
the old girl.
we had the cable end, Swenson sailed off with the parting admonition,
“Don’t let the ship pull too hard on the cable or you’ll lose it.”
didn’t see her for a day and a half as we stemmed the current with nothing but
poor Loran lines to help determine position. Fortunately, the ice cooperated and
stayed clear of us as it drifted by. We were happy to see the tall black stack
of the Swenson heave over the horizon, towing her spliced-on end of the
cable. Once the transfer was again accomplished, we breathed a sigh of relief
and settled down to routine circles around the cable ship to keep the ice away
from her as they did the usual eight-hour splice.
Canadian icebreaker joined us and together we alternated our steaming circle
patrol, which required us to come close aboard the bow of Swenson, than
hard right to swing the stern up current to sweep the ice away from her bow. EASTWIND’s
deck officers got their fill of close-aboard ship handling. And our Arctic
cruise had not even yet begun. On our way back from this operation, we wondered
if anyone back home realized how close the U.S. had been to an impaired Early
The voyage through Canada was largely uneventful, once we got used to the requirement that we had to put our own line handlers on the lock wall. Ships that use this route regularly have a horizontal boom installed that allows them to quickly swing out with a man to drop him off. We used the ship’s crane, which was slow motion personified. Making up a wooden bucket to hold four men was the only way we could get the job done before the ship drifted out of position.
was a moment of terror when dirty fuel caused a complete power shut down
throughout the ship while we were in a narrow channel. Taking the conn quickly
away from the nonplussed pilot, EASTWIND steered like the lady she
usually wasn’t, and we were able to get over to the windward channel edge and
anchor. Two hours later we got power back on the windlass and went on our way.
This was before the navigation season, so there were no buoys or other
navigational aids put out yet.
fueling in Cleveland with 1,000,000 gallons of oil from a tank truck, we gave
the crew time for liberty. We based in Buffalo, where the ice is heaviest and
where the ‘Lakers’ wintered.
extensive to detail here, but EASTWIND developed a comprehensive report
of lessons learned, occasionally the hard way, about Great Lakes-style
icebreaking, especially when encumbered by crusty Chief Engineers who refused to
develop more than half their available horsepower on freshly overhauled engines
on ships that were low-powered to begin with. Slab-sided Lakers become very
sticky in the ice and require the breaker to operate in close proximity. As
might be expected, a collision hung like the Sword of Damocles over our head
much of the time. 1968 was reputed to be one of the worst ice years and the
worth of a polar breaker was proved in moving lake traffic two weeks earlier
repairs and replenishment, EASTWIND left Boston early in June for Arctic
’68. We did not know then that it was to be her swan song. Breakers
traditionally arrive at Thule AFB on the 4th of July, and 1968 was no
exception. In fact, we were early and had to loaf along to keep to the schedule.
We had duties to perform en route, such as the annual courtesy call on the
admiral commanding NATO Forces, Greenland, RADM Peterson, who made us welcome as
we arrived on their mid-summer holiday.
We were tasked with a number of events in addition to escorting the supply ships into Thule. We were to host a Navy motion picture unit making an oceanographic training film, and of course, to do oceanographic duties of our own, together with a glacier study that had not been done since 1940. Passengers and guests were coming and going throughout the summer.
task in which we were much interested was to locate and exhume the body of a
1871 polar explorer, Charles Francis Hall, who died under mysterious
circumstances. We were to have a Smithsonian pathologist with us to attempt to
determine if he had been poisoned. The grave was located well above the Humboldt
Glacier, and would require EASTWIND to travel well north.
voyage to Thule was routine, if an icebreaker’s travels can ever be called
routine. Arriving on time on the day appointed, we were welcomed with the
enthusiasm of those who have been isolated and were looking for renewed supplies
of beer, mimeograph paper, and bathroom tissue, all essential to military
completion of our primary task of escorting the supply ships, we embarked on
Glacier Survey duty. Again, another first for EASTWIND: To navigate a
motor-propelled boat up the isolated Karrets Fiord (where only a German
scientist has once paddled a kayak many years ago) to Rinks Glacier, one of the
two largest ice-producing glaciers in Greenland. Air reconnaissance indicated
that ice conditions might permit a small boat to run to the glacier at the head
of the fiord. However, we only attempted it after making sure there was a way
out in case the ice bottled up the fiord after all.
in the tiny harbor of Jacobshavn, our survey party flew off for an inspection. A
few large bergs were drifting near the harbor mouth, which we were watching
closely. It was time for our diving officer to make a qualification dive, so we
off-handedly said, “Well, while you are down there, take a look at our
unexpectedly reported a near disaster for us: The starboard shaft strut bearing
had worked out, shearing off fourteen massive bolts and leaving only a couple of
inches of bearing supporting the heavy shaft. The Chief Engineer said, “Not
another turn on that shaft or we’ll drop a $50,000 propeller in Davy Jone’s
to continue the season on one shaft did not amuse us in the least, so I
recommended to the Navy command that with EDISTO having rudder stem
problems and WESTWIND drinking from a glacier ice pool often due to
evaporator failures, “At least one of these three elderly Casualty
Report-prone ships should go back to civilization for repairs.”
next problem was to get out of Jacobshavn before the bergs closed the harbor.
This was gingerly done with much backing and filling, and EASTWIND was on
her way to drydock.
from Boston early in September to resume oceanographic duty, EASTWIND
proceeded far north to 80-15 latitude before being recalled to evacuate a group
of sick Eskimos to hospital at Thule. We arrived in what the called Phase One
weather; we called it a hell-of-a-blow, and time to get on home.
Starting south we still had oceanographic obligations almost all the way to Labrador. However, we were once again were diverted to help a Canadian cable ship, this time for a break near Greenland.
reached Boston on 3 November to greet families on the dock and were told we were
to be decommissioned. It seemed that EASTWIND was always the last of her
class to receive Ship Alterations and improvements, and so she was far behind
the other breakers. Thus the pencil pushers and budget analysts brought a
gallant ship to her end.
we had been directed to turn over all remaining funds to Headquarters from our
Ship’s Store, we felt that the final crew, representing all the shipmates who
through the years had provided EASTWIND with her fine history, deserved a
royal bash, complete with suckling pig and apple for ALL HANDS and their
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