Icebreaker inches toward Bridgeport:
Glacier Society needs $26m to restore ship

By Walter Kita
Correspondent
Connecticut Post, July 7, 2002

 


Photo by Phil Noel/Connecticut Post

THE SMALL SHIP: Ben Koether, Glacier Society chairman,
proudly stands aboard the "Ice Bucket" at the Aquaculture School
in Bridgeport. The 40-foot vessel served as a survey ship
to the USS Glacier, an icebreaker awaiting restoration


BRIDGEPORT - Bernard Koether was a 22-year old Navy officer in 1961 when he stood on the deck of the U.S.S. Glacier, overlooking a jagged expanse of bluish-gray ice off Antarctica.

Suddenly, the massive vessel lurched forward as the frigid mass broke open, revealing an uncharted body of water known as the Bellingshausen Sea. He and the other members of the icebreaker's crew had little time to revel in the moment.

Just as quickly, the channel snapped shut like a mousetrap, threatening to trap Koether and crew for six months behind a barrier of 14-foot thick ice. Days later, the channel reopened and the Glacier - then the world's largest icebreaker at 310 feet - sailed home.

"We had a lot of memorable experiences on that ship," said Koether, 66, a Stratford businessman with a plan to make Captain's Cove Seaport home to a resurrected Glacier. "I'm going to be standing on that deck again before I die."

For now, though, Koether and the other members of the Glacier Society will have to settle for standing aboard the deck of one of the Glacier's support vessels, a 40-foot craft the restorers have dubbed the "Ice Bucket."

The Bucket, as it's called, is now in dry dock at Captain's Cove, undergoing extensive rehabilitation in preparation for the Glacier's arrival, which for the last year or so has been moored in a naval shipyard about 15 miles south of San Francisco.

Koether is working out the final details of plan to find a port willing to accept the Glacier for a stem-to-stern renovation expected to take up to three years. While all that's going on, the Glacier Society is trying to raise the rest of the $26 million needed restore the vessel and outfit it for its next great adventure.

The Glacier Society hopes to transform the ship into a floating educational platform for high school and college students interested in marine sciences. Additionally, Koether would like to see the ship sail back to its roots, this time as a hospital vessel providing free medical care to the indigenous peoples north of the Arctic Circle.

"This is a marvelous opportunity for doctors and medical researchers to study how the environment has changed over the last 1,000 years, because all of those changes are captured and preserved in the ice," he said.

By applying modern diagnostic tools to core samples taken from thousands of feet below the Arctic and Antarctica circles, Koether said scientists will be able to shed new light theories such as evolution and global warming.

Because of restrictions at the naval shipyard, volunteers have been able to work on the ship only about five days a month.

Once the Glacier is moved to a private pier, Koether expects larger teams of volunteers will be free to work on the ship every day.

If all goes according to plan, Koether said the Glacier could be tugged away to a new home in the fall. With enough volunteers and money to complete the work, he said work on the mammoth vessel could be finished in three years.

While the notion of bringing an icebreaker to Bridgeport may strike some as fanciful, Koether points out that a number of people didn't think he and his organization would get as far as it has.

The Glacier Society took possession of the vessel last year, thanks to a piece of federal legislation pushed through with the help of U.S. Rep Christopher Shays, R-4.

The Glacier's former captain, Philip W Porter, said he's excited about the prospect of the ship being returned to service on a new scientific mission.

"Ben [Koether] was a great navigator for us back then and he's the right man for this job," said Porter, 83, who lives in Higganum. "If anyone can make this happen, he's the man to get it done.

 

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