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SEWARD, Alaska — The name “Healy” carries a lot of history in Alaska and the Arctic. It was Capt. Michael “Roaring Mike” Healy who spent 20 years as judge, doctor and policeman to Alaskan natives as a member of the U.S. Revenue Cutter service in the 19th century and traveled with renowned naturalist John Muir as part of an ambitious scientific program to introduce reindeer from Siberia into Alaska in order to provide food and clothing to Alaska’s people. Nowadays, the 420-foot icebreaker Coast Guard Cutter Healy carries on the legacy of Roaring Mike by providing a platform for scientific discovery in the region.
Built in New Orleans in 1996, the Healy was specially designed to allow a wide range of research activities while conducting the Coast Guard missions of search and rescue, ship escort, environmental protection and enforcement of laws and treaties. Its configuration provides 4,200 square feet of lab space, electronic sensor systems, oceanographic winches and accommodations for up to 50 scientists while supporting a crew of 83 Coast Guardsmen. As part of Arctic Shield 2014, the Healy will once again transport crew and researchers alike into the frozen north.
“The Healy was built with the purpose of servicing the Arctic science community,” said Capt. John Reeves, commanding officer, CGC Healy. “That’s our primary mission, and we’re excited to get back onto the ice and test some new ‘toys’ with our shipmates from the Research and Development Center and their colleagues.”
Members from the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, based in New London, Conn., have only worked aboard the Healy once before, in 2013, but what they learned about the icebreaker and its capabilities left a distinct impression. RDC Chief Scientist Rich Hansen and his team were pleasantly surprised by both the workspaces aboard the Healy and the contributions of the Healy’s crew to their testing.
“The Healy’s crew was able to step up and help us with operational issues and their knowledge of the Arctic conditions,” said Hansen. “They definitely know their ship and they’ve provided a wealth of information that’s led to improvements in how we conduct our research.”
The Healy is powered by four enormous diesel/electric engines which are capable of generating up to 28.8 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a small city. All that power is necessary to not only support the cutter’s systems but for generating the force necessary to smash through thick Arctic ice. The icebreaking capability of the Healy is just one more reason the cutter stands out as an ideal platform for Arctic research.
“During our 2013 cruise, researchers were able to conduct several simultaneous experiments thanks to the configuration of the ship and our ability to get them to a suitable location for their tests,” said Reeves. “No other vessel in the Coast Guard is as suited to scientific research in the polar regions.”
The Healy, its crew and passengers left Seward, Alaska, to begin their Arctic Shield 2014 mission Aug. 8. Their voyage may be the last trip the cutter makes into the Arctic in 2014, but Hansen foresees many more journeys in years to come.
“There’s no doubt the Healy is an invaluable resource when it comes to Arctic exploration and research,” Hansen said. “The possibility of a maritime emergency in the Arctic is growing as more of the region is exposed to shipping and travel, and the Coast Guard’s need to know how to respond to those emergencies is growing with it. The Healy provides us with a tool for making those discoveries.”