Whoever thinks that the Wild West is a thing of the past, doesn’t know about the U.S. Coast Guard’s icebreaker Polar Star and its extreme mission and adventure into the Arctic.

The Polar Star departed from Seattle on December 7, 2020 and headed north. This was the first trip that the Coast Guard has taken to the Arctic, during winter, since 1982.

If the Arctic itself wasn’t cold and daunting enough, just getting there would prove a challenge.

The Polar Star’s commanding officer, Capt. William Woityra said, “The North Pacific and the Gulf of Alaska [and] the Bering Sea in the winter are absolutely treacherous.”

Woityra explained that they encountered steady 15-foot seas in the Gulf of Alaska.

“Anything more than about 10 feet and the crew is basically incapacitated with seasickness because of how much the ship is rolling and rocking and bouncing. So that was just a heck of a start.” Woityra said.

US Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star
Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) navigates heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska Thursday, December 10, 2020. The Polar Star crew is underway for a months-long deployment to the Arctic to protect the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security throughout the region. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer First Class Cynthia Oldham.

During the beginning of the trip, the Polar Star spent several days monitoring the maritime boundary south of the Bering Strait. Their main goal was to provide “an overt presence, monitoring the Russian fishing fleet, making sure there was no illegal fishing going on in U.S. waters” said Woityra.

Typically, the Polar Star goes to Antarctica in January to cut a shipping channel into the ice thus allowing ships to deliver supplies to the McMurdo Sound Research Station. (For Antarctica, January is during the summer season, which is why the Coast Guard chooses that time of year to send the Polar Star.) Nevertheless, because of Covid-19, Polar Star’s Antarctic trip was canceled this year.