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The following is a collection of letters that one of our members, Ross Hatch, wrote to his then-fiancée while aboard the Glacier during Operation Deepfreeze. The views expressed in these letters may not reflect those of the Glacier Society.
Number 1 (2 Nov 1959 -165 days until we return)
GLACIER left Boston and passed through New York where my father waved to us from the pier near his office. Captain Porter gave him three toots on the ship’s whistle in return. Now we are on our way to New Zealand and the ice… A NY Times reporter is on board, so please save any articles about us.
With mail coming at odd times and in batches, it’s good we are numbering our letters so we can read them in order.
Number 18 ( 145 more days)
It was great talking to you. – but I hope I didn’t wake up the whole dorm. In my defense, we had been trying to raise the East Coast since 3PM. They say that the ham radio is a great morale builder. I know I feel less lonely after that call.
Please send me your ring size, and let me know if you still want a miniature Academy ring for our official engagement.
Number 21 (133 more days)
We left New Zealand at midnight when we heard that the plane carrying mail would arrive early at Little America. It might be a problem getting there before the plane leaves because we are in the middle of pack ice which will slow us down.
This morning we had our first glimpse of Mt. Erebus, the volcano near McMurdo Base. It was 44 miles away, but optical inversions made it visible to us at that distance.
The scenery is impressive. – The pack with blue glacial pieces, the ice shelf towering up a hundred feet and stretching for miles, the glaciers with their vast crevasses – and Mt. Erebus, thirteen thousand feet high, rising above everything.
We’ve been in a few whiteouts, and they are unbelievable. The sunlight reflects back and forth between the ice and the clouds, and I feel as though I’m in the middle of a huge white sphere – like being in a snow globe. There is no horizon, just a white sheet everywhere…
Although it is hard to be away from you, I wouldn’t swap this experience for any other duty I can name.
Number 28 (114 more days)
We put a boat in the water for an inspection and found bent and broken blades on both propellors. We’ll have to replace them when we refuel in Wellington. The crew is excited about staying longer because they had quite a time there last year.
If you see anything in the NY Times about GLACIER wintering over ( June- Aug), don’t worry. The only way that could happen is if we got seriously stuck in the ice, and the chance of that is about one in a thousand. The journalists know we are being provisioned, and they may sensationalize the story.
On Feb.14th we steamed deeper into the Ammundsen Sea than anyone ever has and continued on to the Thurston Peninsula. We reached the coast, and the helo put an automatic weather station ashore. This operation will involve lots of data collection.
It was getting dark, and, as we neared land, we came slightly left to avoid what looked like a small berg. Thank God we did, because after we passed, we could see that it was an ice- covered rock pinnacle. That could have caused serious damage. I had the watch and was responsible for the ship, so I worried that we might hit another hazard or go aground. I felt very relieved when the Captain said we should stop for the night…
In the morning, we edged through a narrow pass that ran between a huge berg and a glacial ice shelf. Towering ice on either side, the ship moving dead slow, and all eyes on the fathometer. We reached the easternmost point, and then rode into uncharted waters…
It’s Feb.17,1960, and GLACIER is the first ship of any nation to have penetrated the Bellinghausen Sea!
The area is desolate – Not many animals near land, but penguins, orcas and seals in the pack where there is plankton to start the food chain..
The ice is continually moving. There may be huge stretches of open water, then the wind shifts and moves the pack so the whole area becomes a solid mass of ice. We are built for breaking ice, but it can be a challenge. The coast is a rolling plain of virgin snow with bare rocks sticking up. It’s beautiful in a weird way, and I wish you could see it with me
We’ve received congratulatory messages from Secretary of Defense, the Chief of Naval Operations, and some Russian whalers. The word is out that we’ve made history – but we know we’ve just started. The journalists have been sending copy back, so you’ll be seeing articles.
Last night we received a message that Queen Elizabeth of England has a new son, and we started kidding the Commodore about sending congratulations. He picked up on the idea, so I drafted a message that went out this morning.
It started in a grandiose way: “From the frozen wastes of the Bellinghausen Sea, first penetrated this week, by the USS GLACIER…” We were pleased to get a gracious reply from Her Majesty.
It’s now Feb 25th. As we left the Bellinghausen, we got orders to aid an Argentinian icebreaker, the San Martin. She’s stuck hard in the ice north of us. I’ll tell you all about it in the next letter. There will probably be more rescues – and certainly more exploring.
Keep studying. I’d hate to have your parents think I lowered your grades when I’m not even there.
All my love, Ross
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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