One Final Mission
Former Shipmates Hope to Restore Polar Exploration Vessel

By Dirk Perrefort
Hour Staff Writer
The Hour, May 27, 2002

 


George and Jim Rooney accepting their awards,
pictured with Ben Koether and Captain Phil Porter.

WESTPORT - Supporters of the Glacier Society and former shipmates of the USS Glacier, a U.S. Navy polar exploration ship, attended a party in Westport on Saturday afternoon at the home of Ben Koether, the founder of the society.

Koether served as navigator on the ship when it was the first vessel to penetrate the Bellinghausen Sea near Antarctica in 1960. The ship made 29 trips to the South Pole and 10 trips to the North Pole before it was decommissioned in 1987.

During a reunion held in 1997, Koether was convinced by his former shipmates to restore the ship and he founded the Glacier Society for that purpose.

Nearly two and a half years later, with approximately 160 volunteers working on the project, the ship, which is in California, is well on its way to again being seaworthy.

"If we had all the money that's needed, the ship could be done in 15 months," said Koether. He said it would cost an additional $5 million to complete the project.

Koether announced to the crowd during Saturday's party that the agreement between the society and the U.S. Department of Transportation, which still legally owns the ship, to transfer ownership to the society should be signed in June.

"We'll then take the ship off the government mooring it's on and move it to a pier," said Koether, adding that the society is still searching for a pier in the San Francisco area to dock the ship. "It will make it a lot easier to complete the work once it's at a pier."

Jim and George Rooney, two brothers who volunteered countless hours to the renovation effort, were given an award for their service during the event.

"It's a lot of fun," said George, who was an electrician on the ship during its Navy service. "It brings back a lot of memories and a lot of knowledge I thought I had forgotten."

The society is also in the possession of three boats associated with the Glacier, two lifeboats that were recently acquired and a 40-foot survey boat called the Ice Bucket. The Ice Bucket is currently docked at the Compo Beach marina, but the society is looking for another home.

"Our agreement with the marina is running out," said Koether. "We are hoping to find another location for it soon."

Phil Porter, former captain of the Glacier, attended the party on Saturday at Koether's home.

"I'm astonished at all that Ben's been able to accomplish," he said. "It takes a lot of dedication."

Click here for more pictures from the party.

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