U.S Coast Guard Healy stops in Juneau before returning home

    The U.S Coast Guard Healy (All photo credit to Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The U.S Coast Guard Healy, after a long deployment in the Arctic, visits Juneau until Monday, when it returns to its homeport.

    The U.S Coast Guard Healy (WAGB-20) is in Juneau for a brief period of time, Thursday to Monday, after an approximate 54-day deployment in the Arctic.

    It's common for Healy to be out about 4 and a half to 5 months, and it's regular for the crew to do 30 days underway.

    Other than the U.S Coastguard Polar Star (WAGB-10) that goes South, it's the most duration of deployment by any Coast Guard ship by far.

    They will be back home in Seattle, Washington by next Friday and the crew is to spend Thanksgiving with their families.

    Their next voyage will be to California for 5 months of dry dock repairs.

    In Juneau, Capt. Kenneth Boda said they are working on engine repairs.

    Capt. Boda said he is from Connecticut and this is his fourth time in Juneau.

    Deck Watch Officers and Ice Pilots for the Healy, Bobby Doherty, and Ryan Dunkle gave a detailed tour of the Healy.

    They are in charge of major collateral operations of the ship.

    At 420 feet long, the Healy is the largest U.S Coastguard vessel to date.

    It uses 30,000 horsepower to break through the ice.

    Healy has four main generators, and while most ships have the generator room and engine rooms separate, their power production for the whole boat is in one place.

    According to the crew, it usually takes 3 main generators to push through the ice.

    Dunkle said that in this last deployment they were pushing capacity with about a total of 120 or 130 people on board.

    Around 40 of those people were scientists that got off the Healy at Dutch Harbor a week ago.

    Above: The Healy's Marine Science Technician Computer lab. Below: A diagram of everything the Healy is capable of. The ice knife, the point at the front of the boat, is how they break through ice.

    "We're mapping some floors and things with that. Part of our mission last year, when we were circumnavigating North America, we were looking to find essentially where our continental shelf was with Canada because that determines our EEZ and how much jurisdiction we have up there. That's in the process still," said Dunkle.

    The depth sensor is constantly running, as well as a meteorology sensor for temperatures, wind speeds, and testing for carbon in the atmosphere.

    An uncommon piece of equipment aboard the Healy is a gravimeter, it measures the gravity changes the boat has.

    It measures in small increments and constantly changes in small amounts.

    The Healy consists of five different places to drive the ship from.

    One is rarely used, as it actually drives the ship in reverse, which Dunkle and Doherty said can be complicated.

    Doherty said since they would be looking out the back window when pushing the throttle forward, the ship will go the opposite way, when steering the helm left, the ship would turn right.

    Then, three options are located on the bridge, and one is used while driving the ice.

    The U.S Coastguard makes sure the ship is driving safely on the bridge while the scientists research inside and below.

    Above: These bottles hold the water sample at the same temperature and pressure and longevity, so researchers can pull it up and have what an accurate test would be from the water sampling at that depth.

    There are three cargo holds on board, currently holding 100,000 pounds of scientist equipment inside it.

    Along with that, there are climate control chambers and walk-in refrigerators and freezers.

    This is so the scientists can perform measurements on living organisms in the same temperatures they would in the Arctic region.

    One researcher was studying the respiration rates of clams and was able to pull them up from the bottom and test and sample in the climate chamber so the organism was still alive during studies.

    Above: The main research lab and meeting place. Below: The science-communication whiteboard used for planning, deemed  'Board of Lies'.

    The science party will come down and arrange magnets in the order of their research plans and breaks, and 20 minutes later completely change their schedule. The reason it changes so often is that the Arctic is changing constantly. Hence, 'The Board of Lies'. 

    On the 10th of November, 1989 'Board of Lies' was created, Healy crew attempted to change it in 2020, but the name stuck.

    Below: The Science Seawater wall.

    Most ships have the ability to take in seawater to cool machinery. The Healy has the ability to take in uncontaminated seawater through a sterile pipeline and through the ship, creating water samples. They have the ability to passively monitor the water coming in. Water at such depth in the Arctic has probably been there for around a century as water that deep in the Arctic stays stagnant.

    Above: Equipment on the Healy used to deploy equipment.

    The Healy has the ability to deploy up to 30,000 pounds. Doherty says they don't usually deploy something that heavy but they have the capability.

    Personnel worked on deck for hours this last deployment in -10 degrees Fahrenheit and 20 miles of wind, according to Dunkle.

    This equipment was used every day.

    The Healy has the most A-frames and cranes of any Coastguard cutter with 5 different cranes and 2 A-frames.

    Most of the cutters that use this gear are buoy tenders, but the Healy is not the typical buoy tender, Doherty said. The deck force uses all of the gear constantly, making them extremely proficient in the equipment.

    Above: The helicopter pad.

    The helicopters would scout ahead where is good to go for open pathways around the ice. Although the Healy is an icebreaker, they like to break the ice as least they can so they can get places faster. The Healy uses ice imagery with satellites. They still use the flight deck every time they come to Alaska, as the helicopter crews don't get enough experience in Alaska to work with ships. The Healy does DLQ qualifications with the helicopters.

    At the bridge, people drive the ship. Usually, it is 2 people. In the bridge, people have the ability to set the ship's navigation and leave, called 'track' mode, which is used very often across the Pacific.

    Above: Doherty walks up to the bridge. Below: Doherty said to pass the time they will write on the windows, whether it be researchers sharing methods or the crew just having fun.

    Below: Doherty (left) and Dunkle (right) in the bridge.

    Below: Doherty shows the bridge controls.

    Capt. Boda talked about Healy's mission.

    "So this summer, Healy had a two-phased mission. The first phase was what we call the Arctic Mobile Observing System or AMOS mission. And that was a science mission that was funded by the Office of Naval Research. It took part up in the Beaufort Sea. So we actually sailed from Seattle, went to Seward took on our science party, and then sailed up through the Bering Sea, Bering Strait and up all the way over to the Beaufort Sea by the border between the U.S and Canada. And that mission was focused on autonomous vehicles and interoperability of mooring buoys that are up in there, in the Beaufort Sea. So we placed a number of buoys and we launched some autonomous vehicles as well. In the second phase of the trip, after the AMOS leg, we went to Dutch Harbor, and we swapped out for the Synoptic Arctic Survey or SHS. This is a big international Arctic, Arctic coordinated science mission. And it actually was, this is the American leg of that mission. And we had a huge crew of science folks on board with all different fields from physical oceanography to chemical oceanography, biological. We had people who looked at the pelagic phytoplankton and zooplankton, we had people that did the benthic phytoplankton and zooplankton. And so it was a big group and really neat. The idea behind the Synoptic Arctic Survey was to do it transect through the Arctic Ocean, from Dutch Harbor through the Bering all the way up to the North Pole and back. So we were able to do that, and we reached the North Pole on September 30th. That was a great accomplishment for everyone."

    Boda said how long it took to get to Juneau.

    "So we pulled into Juneau yesterday. We left the North Pole, I want to say in early October, and we got here in early November, so about a month. I've had a lot of long stretches. I'm an icebreaker sailor by trade. But two months with no port calls is a really long time for ships. And really only an icebreaker like Healy that's got the fuel and all the stores and supplies to do that long of a time away from logistics is, you know, really only a ship like us can do that."

    He said what they are specifically focused on research-wise.

    "I would say the main point is looking at how the changing of the climate is impacting the Arctic overall. So while we're researching some things, like the phytoplankton or, or even just the temperature of the water, the salinity changes, all of those things to kind of get a snapshot. And, you know, by synoptic, we mean kind of take as much data all at once as we can. So getting a snapshot of what's happening, and being able to compare that to historical datasets. Other times when the ship's gone to the North Pole, which doesn't happen very often, Healy's only been up to the North Pole four times. The Coast Guard's only been to the North Pole four times. So that's being able to compare from the first time the ship, a Coast Guard ship went up in 1994 to today, and seeing the big changes that are going on in the Arctic is really key."

    Their last time being in the Arctic before this year was in 2015.

    Boda also talked about Healy's namesake.

    "We're named after Hellroaring, Mike Healy, who is an amazing, amazing part of Alaskan history. And, you know, the ship is really proud to bear his name. And we really appreciate the hospitality of the people of Juneau for hosting us here. I know, it's late in the season that we're coming through here. But, you know, we really appreciate everything that Juneau has done for us while we're here. And, you know, look forward to definitely meeting everyone."

    Boda talked about his career.

    "I'm a career icebreaker sailor. I've been in the Coast Guard 26 years and I've done three other ship tours on board icebreakers. I was on the icebreaker Polar Sea and the icebreaker Polar Star. So Healy, really being C.O is kind of the pinnacle of my career. And you know, last summer, we got to go through the Northwest Passage and circumnavigate North America, went back through the Panama Canal. And this year, we got to go to the North Pole. So two things that you know, in any other career would be like a highlight, and I got to do them both as the commanding officer, has been quite an honor and quite a privilege."

    Boda shared the highlight of their North Pole trip.

    "I think everyone will tell you that actually getting to walk out onto the ice at the North Pole is something they'll remember for the rest of their life. You know, you're onboard the ship, and it's a big ship, but you're still onboard the ship, and to get to walk out there and, you know, probably had a couple of football fields that we scouted out, made sure it was nice and solid. But everyone got to run out on the ice and play. You know, we're riding bikes. People are taking a lot of pictures. Santa and Mrs. Claus made an appearance and we had the North Pole rigged up. So yeah, it was a great, great experience."

    Above: Capt. Boda stands with the Healy's namesake, Mike Healy's portrait. Below: Capt. Boda (center) and Deck Watch Officers Bobby Doherty (left) and Ryan Dunkle (right) stand on Juneau's pier in front of the Healy.

    Below: Doherty and Dunkle walk back into the Healy.

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