Antarctic Adventure

The following is a story by Glacier Society member Ross Hatch that details his time aboard the Glacier. It was written for his writing group and is adapted from letters that he wrote to his then-fiancée. The views expressed in this piece may not reflect those of the Glacier Society.

This was my second trip to the Antarctic, and DEEPFREEZE 61 became quite an adventure. Our first mission was to lead the supply ship to McMurdo Station, keep the channel open, and then return to New Zealand. Mission accomplished, and Glacier headed back to the ice to explore.

We entered the pack on 4 February. The ship worked its way to Thurston Island, which we visited last year, and then headed along the Eight’s Coast. No ship had been in that area before, so it was another first for the Glacier.

Three events were particularly memorable. First, a party was detailed to go ashore and survey a new point – LCDR Peeler- Staff, Doc Savage – Dentist, Vaughn – a National Geographic Society photographer and me, Ops Officer. Our first task was chose a campsite and set up our tent. We had excellent equipment for foul weather camping, but, unfortunately, had never practiced assembling it while we were on the warm ship. It was a challenge to do so with a temperature of 10 degrees F and a wind speed of 35 knots. After we raised the tent, we set up the theodolite (used for navigation). That was when we discovered the chronometer was in error by six hours. We gave up and went to sleep in our sleeping bags that had been tested to minus 50 degrees F. At least they proved satisfactory…

In the morning, Peeler flew back to the ship to have the chronometer reset. When he returned, he found the theodolite frozen up so the elevation data couldn’t be read. Back to the ship he went to have it repaired. We started readings when he returned and then realized that we would have to build a windscreen to stay out in the rising wind. By 2000 we had completed our readings, eaten some rations, and had even gotten some rest. At 0430 AM we were up and taking more readings in clear, cold weather.

Our last readings were taken at 2:30 PM., and, when we finished, we went off to look at a deep crevasse. After I got in position to look down, I realized I was on a projection hanging out over the edge. I beat a very hasty retreat to safety. This mission was beginning to look like a comedy of errors!

We successfully built a rock cairn at the site and, when the helo delivered a flagpole, erected it complete with a streaming red banner and a bottle containing a note with our names, the date and a motto, “US Navy, Seapower Supports Science.”

We looked down on the ship from our vantage point as it struggled in the high wind and was beset for eight hours. Gazing over miles and miles of nothing was awe inspiring and made me realize how small we are in the great plan of things.

On 9 February, the helo took us back to the ship, and Glacier continued along the coast.

Another four-man team went out on 12 February. They were trapped for two days in sub-zero temperatures with winds reaching 100 mph. This team reported that only three of the four men could fit in the shelter. Dr. Roberts, UK Official Observer DF61, had room inside for only his head. By the second day they were all suffering from cramps, and their food and water had frozen solid because they couldn’t light the stove. The winds calmed, and the helo was able to get them back safely.

The third event involved me getting the Glacier stuck “bigger than hell” as I noted in my log book. The only way to get free was to rock the ship until she got loose. Fortunately, we had a “heeling system” that could move 522 tons of water from one side of the ship to the other and could cause rocking of ten degrees over an 8.2 minute period. It was obviously needed.

We got the system in operation, but we couldn’t move forward.. Several days later we were still stuck, and the question had become “Will we have to winter over?” Horrifying thought…

On 6 March we blasted a crack in the floe but were still stuck fast. The next day a huge crack appeared 500 yards north of us, and we tried blasting again. That evening I was able to break sections off the floe, and we made the 500 yards forward. Finally we were able to head north toward home. Visibility was poor, but we stayed parallel to the Palmer Peninsula and were close enough to see some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.

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