Vessel breaks the ice with visit to Baltimore

Coast Guard cutter on display this week

March 22, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

At 420 feet long and 16,000 tons, the Coast Guard cutter Healy has the power to ram through Arctic ice 4 1/2 feet thick at a speed of 3 knots.

It also has 4,200 feet of lab space for scientific study.

This combination of strength and technology makes the Healy the Coast Guard's premier icebreaker, one of three in its class.

"The Healy is a state-of-the-art, world-class ocean vessel," said Commander George DuPree, chief of the Coast Guard's ice-breaking division, a passenger on the Healy, which docked last night at Pier 4 at North Locust Point Marine Terminal.

The Healy will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and Friday and will leave Saturday morning.

FOR THE RECORD - Based on information supplied by officers of the vessel, The Sun incorrectly reported in yesterday's editions that the Coast Guard cutter Healy would have visiting hours yesterday and tomorrow. The cutter will not be open to the public. The Sun regrets the errors.

The Healy was constructed in 1995 by Avondale Industries in New Orleans with input from the scientific community and delivered to the Coast Guard in November 1999. Its chief mission is research.

The Healy left New Orleans in January and will join icebreakers Polar Star and Polar Sea in Seattle, the home port of the three ships, in the summer. Baltimore was one of several stops on the voyage to the Pacific Northwest. The voyage also allows the Coast Guard to conduct tests of the Healy's equipment.

The Healy is scheduled to take researchers to the Arctic Ocean in March 2001. The Polar Star and Polar Sea are assigned to Antarctica.

The Healy doesn't have the ramming power of the other two vessels, which were built in the 1970s, but has more space for scientific research. It is equipped with a main lab, wet lab, biology-chemistry lab, electronics lab, meteorological lab and photo lab. And there's room to carry 50 scientists.

The National Science Foundation, which developed the Healy in partnership with the Coast Guard, has been flooded with applications from scientists seeking time on the vessel.

Jim Swift, chairman of the Arctic Icebreakers Coordinating Committee, said the Healy is the first ice-breaking research vessel in the United States.

"It brings the capability of carrying people and equipment into the Arctic Ocean and not just around it," said Swift, who has twice done research on German and Canadian icebreakers.

Swift said he submitted a proposal to study water that comes from the Arctic Ocean via Greenland. Scientists, he said, have had a recent interest in the Arctic because of the thinning of sea ice in the past 40 years.

"There's a lot of competition for time on this vessel," Swift said.

The ship is named after Capt. Michael A. Healy, who served as commanding officer of the Coast Guard cutter Bear from 1886 to 1895. Healy, born in Macon, Ga., in 1839 and known as "Hell-Roaring Mike," was a navigator and seaman in the waters off Alaska.

For 20 years, he served as a U.S. government official in Alaska, acting as a judge, doctor and policeman to Alaskan natives, merchant seamen and whaling crews.

Bear became known as "Healy's Fire Canoe" for the captain's ice seamanship.

Healy's mission -- and the Coast Guard's -- was to protect natural resources, suppress illegal trade, resupply remote outposts, enforce the law, and conduct search and rescues.

After Baltimore, the Healy is headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then three months of tests in cold waters, said Capt. Jeffrey Garrett, the ship's commander.

"From there, we'll head north and look for ice," Garrett said.

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