For the first time in two years, the USCGC Healy, a United States Coast Guard Cutter, is at port in Juneau for its trip south from an eventful tour up in the Arctic.
The Healy, which is homeported in Seattle, made national headlines last winter when it guided the Russian fuel tanker Renda through sea ice to Nome, as the remote Alaskan port city ran low on its reserves (http://bit.ly/Sj9ikV).
Speaking Thursday afternoon about her ship and its recent missions, Capt. Beverly Havlik described the Renda escort as “the mission of a lifetime.”
“With Nome getting choked off by ice with the early freeze, the tug and the barge carrying the fuel couldn’t make it there,” said Havlik. “We were nearby and then on tap, and delayed in going home waiting to escort this Russian tanker.”
Havlik added, “It was pretty unbelievable, just the whole going through a total of 800 miles of ice with this Russian tanker right behind us to deliver the fuel. It (was) pretty wild.”
The Healy is currently the only active polar icebreaker in the fleet, according to Havlik.
The ship is also relatively new, having been commissioned some 13 years ago. At 420 feet long, it has been the floating home for about 90 people during its latest foray up north.
Living quarters on the ship, unlike on most Coast Guard vessels, are divided into “staterooms” that house two to six people apiece, rather than in “berthing areas” that pack sometimes upwards of 20 people into one barracks-style compartment.
“Living on board is quite comfortable. Second to none, I would venture to say,” said Havlik, whose own cabin is spacious and well-furnished — “pretty sweet,” as she called it.
Senior Chief Brian Apolito said that because those aboard the Healy typically face deployments of about six months — twice as long as that of many other Coast Guard ships, he added — the ship incorporates certain creature comforts.
The ship has an exercise gym, and it carries two shipping containers aboard to store refuse and garbage. Many people on board bring their own bicycles, which are stored in a room off the Healy’s currently vacant helicopter hangar.
“You know, you’re out on the ice for 60 days, and you’re away from home for six months, so (we) make a lot of concessions to keep the morale up,” said Apolito, who said he will retire in January after almost 30 years in the Coast Guard. “Got to keep the folks happy.”
Although the Healy is an icebreaker, its primary role is supporting scientific research, according to Apolito.
“You have icebreakers on the Great Lakes and all that,” Apolito said. “Their primary mission is breaking ice and keeping shipping lanes open. With us, it’s science and research. The icebreaking comes in with, like, when we get up into the Arctic and we’ve got to break the ice and get them to where they want to go.”
This year, Havlik said researchers aboard the Healy have conducted mapping missions of the continental shelf, used special equipment to study the boundary current that separates the Arctic Ocean from the Pacific Ocean, and study the marine life of Hanna Shoal in the Chukchi Sea, near Barrow.
“This is a mission I enjoy, this icebreaking and supporting scientific research,” said Havlik, who is from Iowa and said she “got the bug for icebreaking” after serving aboard a buoy tender on the Great Lakes.
Although this is Havlik’s first time in Juneau, she is connected to the city through a former commanding officer of hers.
From 2007 to 2009, Havlik served as executive officer of the heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Sea, under the command of then-Capt. Carl Uchytil.
Uchytil, who has since retired from the Coast Guard (http://bit.ly/TpkpHz), is now Juneau’s port director. He runs the city agency that manages South Franklin Dock, where the Healy made port Wednesday.
On Thursday, Uchytil called Havlik “very competent,” “intelligent” and “dedicated.”
Uchytil said Havlik served under him “during a difficult time in the icebreaking program, because what we were doing on Polar Sea back then was modernizing the mission. I saw that in the past, the icebreaking mission was typically more Antarctic-focused, and that was where a majority of our resources were going. … But with the opening of the Arctic and the interest from the worldwide Arctic community, I knew that we had to move … almost 180 degrees out with the mission.”
Uchytil added, “She was very paramount in making that happen.”
The Healy was open to members of the public for tours Thursday afternoon, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. It will be open to the public again during the same hours Friday.
While in Juneau, the Healy will also undergo inspection and assessment as part of Command Assessment Readiness Training.
“It’s a big deal, and everyone’s been geeked up about it,” Havlik said. “A lot of our time during this deployment, since we left home port, has been geared toward getting ready for this big inspection. So when we weren’t supporting scientific research, we were making sure that we had all of our stuff on board, all the right materials, all of our documentation is up to speed and everything, checks out properly. So we put a lot of prep work into it. I think we’re going to do pretty well.”
The Healy will depart Wednesday morning, after having spent a full week in Alaska’s capital city, and head back home to Seattle. It will undergo maintenance for the first part of next year before returning up north to Alaska in July.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at email@example.com.