Hold on to your flat hats, the Coastys are here:
A lifetime has almost gone by and a neighbor friend, Mac McClendon who is a retired Coasty RMC all of a sudden reminisces the HighJump days as he was on the Northwind, a USCG Ice Breaker, WAGB-282. It seems that this is the second Ice Breaker Northwind as the original issue from Dec. 42 went to the Ruskys who gave it back around 51 when it became the Staten Island.. This I am putting together from Mac who rode the new NorthStar built in 45 right into Operation HighJump. He recalls the food, lots of rolling, and lots of collisions with pack ice. They used CW for all their comms direct with Arlington, Va. CG RADSTA... Another local, Dave Murphy was stationed on the Stonehorse Lightship in Nanucket Sound used to stay in the wheelhouse nightly during good radio conditions and work the Northwind direct on HF voice and enjoy a little shop talk... Original Deep Freeze Control??
Here is the Feature for April @ www.radiocom.net/vx6 :
Coast Guard assignment to Antarctica brought history alive
By EDWARD COLIMORE
Philadelphia Inquirer/Nate Gudknecht
Nate Gudknecht, 25, on the US Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, in rough seas near the North Pole.
PHILADELPHIA — Nate Gudknecht read the harrowing story of survival over and over. He studied the black-and-white photographs from 1915.
But nothing prepared him for the emotion of actually being there — amid the jostling ice floes and glittering frozen cliffs — where Sir Ernest Shackleton led historic expeditions to Antarctica.
Gudknecht, 25, a Coast Guard boatswain from Medford, N.J., journeyed thousands of miles and braved towering seas to see the small hut that was once home to a group of men in subzero temperatures and shrieking winds.
For him, this was hallowed ground where time stood still. All was preserved in pristine condition by the extreme cold.
"The hut was amazing, as though they were just there," Gudknecht said via e-mail from his ship, scheduled to return to the United States this month. "I saw a board that (Shackleton) signed his name on, and that gave me the chills."
Gudknecht had sailed to the South Pole to resupply an international scientific research center in January, but also ended up realizing his dream of retracing the footsteps of Shackleton.
The British explorer, the subject of a two-part A&E movie scheduled to be televised Sunday and Monday, guided expeditions to Antarctica but was beaten to the South Pole by Norwegian Roald Amundsen in 1911. Shackleton and his crew then attempted, in 1915, to capture one of the last prizes of exploration: the first on-foot crossing of the frozen continent.
They were forced to abandon the mission when their ship was trapped and crushed by the ice, leaving them stranded in one of the most inhospitable regions of the world. But Shackleton's inspiring leadership and his crew's bravery became the stuff of legend that lived on in books.
Gudknecht, a 1995 graduate of Shawnee High School in Medford, said he had "stumbled upon" a copy of one of those books and had become fascinated with the idea of exploration. He had just finished a summer of lifeguarding on Long Beach Island and was looking for a good read.
"The day I picked up the book was a fluke," he said. "It was one of the greatest survival stories of all time. Little did I know I would be going to the place I had been reading about."
Partly inspired by Shackleton's adventures, Gudknecht joined the Coast Guard in 2000 at the urging of friends and family — and volunteered to serve on icebreakers in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
Gudknecht arrived in Antarctica aboard the Polar Star in January, accomplishing a life goal. And there, excited, he wrote an e-mail to his father, Mel, in Medford:
"I've got some really cool news, no pun intended. (The Coast Guard chief aboard the Polar Star) chose me to be `Shackleton's assistant,' which means I will stay at the hut all day and give tours to all my shipmates."
Shackleton named his ship the Endurance after the family motto, Fortitudine Vincimus — "by endurance we conquer."
The 300-ton barquentine was constructed of oak and Norwegian fir up to 2-1/2 feet thick and sheathed in tough greenheart wood. But even its great strength could not withstand the power of the massive ice packs.
Endurance was slowly crushed by the ice in 1915 as members of the expedition salvaged what they could, including three longboats. Leaving the ship for the last time, Shackleton ripped a page from the Bible's Book of Job. Words on the page were chillingly fitting:
Out of whose womb came the ice? And the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it? The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.
A member of Shackleton's team, James Francis Hurley, later wrote in his diary, "It is beyond conception, even to us, that we are dwelling on a colossal ice raft, with but five feet of water separating us from 2,000 fathoms of ocean and drifting along under the caprices of wind and tides, to heaven knows where."
Gudknecht said his close calls during tens of thousands of miles of voyages to both poles seemed only to underscore the treacherous nature of the oceans there — and the obstacles faced by Shackleton on his expeditions.
The mountainous waves and massive icebergs leave him and other seamen in awe — and a little melancholy during final preparations for each new voyage.
Before one of Gudknecht's polar missions in March 2001, he said, he watched a fellow seaman mount the fantail of the Polar Star and begin playing bagpipes.
The strains of "Amazing Grace" filled the cold air, Gudknecht said, and all hands stopped what they were doing to listen in prayerful silence to the hymn, whose words speak of the "dangers, toils and snares."
The crew later sailed out of Seattle for Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, where they spent time with the crew of the fishing vessel Arctic Rose before heading to the Arctic Circle.
The icebreaker was heading through the Bering Sea last April when crew members picked up a distress signal — from their friends on the Arctic Rose. By the time the Polar Star arrived at the scene, Gudknecht said, nothing was left but an oil slick. All 15 seamen were lost.
Soon the Coast Guardsmen faced their own life-and-death struggle. Six to eight inches of ice built up on the Polar Star's surface, causing the bow to dip in the water. Gudknecht said all hands were called on deck to break up the ice with axes and toss it overboard.
More danger lay ahead. Gudknecht's father was watching weather reports on the Internet and sent an e-mail to his son: "Hang on, boy. It's going to get real bad."
Leaving the search area, the Polar Star ran into 75 m.p.h. winds and 55-foot waves that smashed the window of the bridge and flooded the compartment. The ship limped back to Dutch Harbor and was later redeployed to Antarctica — to Shackleton's old stomping grounds.
By 1916, Shackleton's ship had been lost, and the heaving ice underfoot was leaving some members of the 28-man expedition seasick.
They decided to pile into three lifeboats and make their way to Elephant Island, 100 miles away. They arrived seven days later at the desolate location, where they braved winds up to 100 m.p.h.
Shackleton knew the men could not survive there and selected the five strongest and best seamen to sail 800 more miles with him in an open lifeboat to South Georgia Island to find help.
"We gave them three hearty cheers and watched the boat getting smaller and smaller in the distance," said Shackleton's second-in-command, Frank Wild. "Then seeing some of the party in tears, I immediately set them all to work."
After a desperate 17-day journey, Shackleton arrived at South Georgia, where he got help from members of a whaling station to rescue the rest of the party at Elephant Island. After nearly two years of battling the severe cold and depravation, all survived.
"We had seen God in His splendors, heard the text that nature renders," Shackleton wrote. "We reached the naked soul of man."
On Shackleton's trail late last year, Gudknecht said, his ship passed icebergs of every shape and size and smashed through heavy seas.
"Freezing rain blows horizontally," he wrote in an e-mail. "Ice pelts our faces like needles. The ship takes 35-degree rolls. We literally walk the walls to do our jobs."
The Polar Star soon encountered B-15, an iceberg originally the size of Jamaica and the largest to break off the Ross Ice Shelf in modern history.
The ship broke a 15-mile-long channel through nine feet of ice to the international research center, McMurdo Station. Gudknecht said it was "like being in an automobile crash every 10 minutes while driving about 30 miles an hour."
Gudknecht said he had passed the white cliffs of the Ross Ice Shelf, which "rise 200 feet above the water, with the 12,000-foot Mount Erebus — the most active volcano in the Southern Hemisphere — smoking in the background. … It is truly spectacular."
After arriving at the station, Gudknecht took a helicopter ride to Shackleton's hut, built in 1909 during the explorer's first attempt to reach the South Pole.
"My boss approached me one day out of the blue and asked me if I would be interested in being one of the tour guides, and I said yes," the boatswain-turned-curator said. "He knows I have read a lot about the subject, and he hooked me up.
"I had to stand out in the freezing cold all day waiting for the ship's helos to bring groups of the crew for tours."
At the hut, all remained the way Shackleton had left it nearly a century earlier. Visitors found whale blubber, books, cans and food.
"It is said that people in this day and age would not have survived the journey due to modern luxuries," Gudknecht said. "I imagined what I would do, and I think I'd have died `cause it is so cold down there and we were in the summer when the sun never sets."
Gudknecht is still feeling a chill from his Antarctic adventure — but not from the cold.
"I got the heebie-jeebies walking into the hut," he wrote in an e-mail last month from the ship, now headed toward Mexico. "After all I read, I never thought I would be where the whole story took place."
© 2002, The Philadelphia Inquirer.