Coast Guardsmen in hot water as they make their way towards Antarctica

Coast Guardsmen assigned to the Coast Guard cutter Polar Star recently enjoyed a swim call in the Pacific Ocean soon after crossing the equator—getting a short break as they make their way to Antarctica.

The United States’ only heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star heads there every year, breaking miles of ice up to 21-feet thick while supporting Operation Deep Freeze, a joint military mission to resupply U.S. Antarctic stations.

USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) is a United States Coast Guard heavy icebreaker commissioned in 1976, which was built by Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company of Seattle, Washington along with a sister ship, USCGC Polar Sea.

Homeported in Seattle, Polar Star operates under the control of Coast Guard Pacific Area and coordinates her operations through the Ice Operations Section of the United States Coast Guard.

After Polar Sea was deactivated in 2010, Polar Star became the US’s only heavy icebreaker. The Coast Guard’s only other icebreaker, USCGC Healy, despite being classified as a “medium icebreaker”, is actually larger than ‘Polar Star’ (13,623 LT versus 16,000 LT).

Replacement ships for what is called the Polar Security Cutter program have been ordered for a new generation of USCG icebreakers.

Over the course of its service life, Polar Star steamed in all five oceans, made calls in more than 60 ports across six continents; circumnavigated North America, South America, and Antarctica (likely the first such circumnavigation since 1843 as well as the first to do so completely poleward of 60o); rounded Cape Horn, transited the North West Passage, and circumnavigated Earth.

Operational highlights include assisting with waterside security during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, completing the first solo breakout of McMurdo Sound (Operation Deep Freeze 1988), seven consecutive Operation Deep Freeze missions between 2014 and 2020, as well as reaching 72 degrees 11 minutes north (the farthest north any US government surface vessel reached in the winter).

Since her commissioning on January 17, 1976, Polar Star’s 24 deployments in support of Operation Deep Freeze are second only to USCGC Glacier (WAGB-4) and her 29 Deep Freeze missions.

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