Progress at a glacial rate for old ice breaker's move

by John R. Moses, Editor
Benicia Herald
June 25, 2003


The date of the big breakout is not yet set. The hideout will be about 24 miles away from Suisun Bay, but the exact location on San Francisco's sprawling industrial waterfront won't be known until after Independence Day.

But when it happens, the USS/USCG Glacier's getaway will be a very public event. It's hard to hide a red and white, 8915 ton vessel with a large bow designed to crash through six-foot-thick ice sheets.

After decades chained to fellow inmates, the Glacier will soon break away from the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleets neat lines of mothballed vessels and be towed through Carquinez Strait to a new home at a Port of San Francisco pier.

That's when the most serious work will begin on the 1950s vintage ice-breaker. The historic vessel is being restored by volunteers for eventual use as a floating marine classroom and lab.

It will reach Bridgeport, Conn. via the North Pole once cash is raised to repair its ten Fairbanks/Morse Diesel engines. The engines have 21,000 horsepower between them. In its prime, the vessel had a maximum speed of 17 knots.

The voyage to San Francisco will be somewhat less dramatic than the Glacier's historic forays to both poles, especially its first, during "Operation Deep Freeze." It served as flagship for famous polar explorer Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd during that 1955-56 mission. It served for 32 years in the Navy and then the Coast Guard, making its last trip to a pole in 1985. It was decommissioned by 1987.

This time it will move by tug."We've got tug boats, we've got pilots, we've got captains," said Bernard Koether, chairman of the non-profit Glacier Society.

Koether just returned back east from two weeks in Benicia overseeing work crews aboard the vessel and making arrangements in San Francisco for its future berthing.

The Connecticut-based group has seen and overcome many obstacles this past five years. A recent hitch in negotiations with the federal government that stalled an early-July move is being seen as a mere delay.

Negotiations are ongoing with the Port of San Francisco, and Koether isn't even bothered by a growing municipal scandal that may shake up the SF port's management.

It's future home may be shaky, but things aboard the vessel are going well.

The Glacier now has three generators, Koether said. Its ventilation system is functioning and the anchor chain and windlass are up and running. Work has begun on signal flags and other necessities.

Part of Koether's confidence about this venture stems from new structural analysis and inspections that show the ship's interior skeleton is in great shape.

Koether credits Joe Arvizu of Edge Testing and Inspection with performing some hard work during recent audio gauging of the old hull's structural integrity.

The firm, which moved to the Benicia Industrial Park from Vacaville last month, has performed nondestructive testing in the marine, refinery and power plant industries for about a decade. Arvisu said he found the structural integrity of places he and his two sons inspected to be "pretty consistent."

Arvisu used an ultrasound system to check the ship's hull. His business also uses portable radiography in some cases. While radiography provides a photo of an area, he said, using ultrasound allows him to calculate things like hull thickness and provide three-dimensional information that a photo can't provide.

News of the hull's strength "adds confidence to our business plan. Now it's a slam dunk," Koether said confidently. Then, he added, "We just need time, money and volunteers."

The next planned work parties will happen between July 7-18. Call the Glacier Society for information about being on board for one day, several days or the entire time. Contact Vickie Ipacs at or (866) ICE PLAY, ext. 3.

History of the Glacier:
Glacier was designed and built for the US Navy at Ingalls Shipbuilding Company in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Construction began in August 1953 and Glacier was completed and commissioned in May 1955. Her first homeport was Boston, Massachusetts. She was the fourth ship with the name Glacier and the first and only icebreaker.

On her maiden voyage, Glacier sailed south to participate in the first Operation Deepfreeze (1955-1956) in preparation for the International Geophysical Year. Glacier had the honor of being flagship for the noted polar explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd during that first trip to the Antarctic.

In 1966, national responsibility for Icebreaker Operations was transferred from the Navy to the Coast Guard. Glacier shifted services and homeports. From Long Beach, California, she continued to service
both the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

Since that first trip, Glacier has made over two dozen Antarctic trips and more than a dozen Arctic trips in support of scientific research.

The Glacier was responsible for major explorations in the Bellingshausen Sea area (1959-60), an expedition during which the current Chairman of the Glacier Society, Mr. Bernard G. Koether, II, undertook the navigational duties.

During all these expeditions Glacier hosted many scientists who embarked
upon pioneering work in their fields:

  • Dr. James Van Allen of the University of Iowa in 1958 discovered what we now call "The Van Allen Belt." This is a radiation belt of high-energy particles, mainly protons and electrons, held captive by the magnetic influence of the earth.
  • Dr. William Littlewood conducted pioneering work in oceanography (measuring different ocean density layers) for the National Science Foundation during Operation Deep Freeze III.
  • Scientists from the US Geological Survey made probes into the earth's mantle in order to better understand the emerging theory of plate tectonics. It s last of many meritorious unit commendations came in 1985. It was decommissioned in 1987.

- Courtesy of the Glacier Society

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Glacier Society
905 Honeyspot Road
Stratford, CT 06615
(866) ICE PLAY (423-7529) TOLL FREE
(203) 375-6638

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