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Breaking the Ice

The bang of ice against the ship is a common sound – and feeling – on the Healy. Everything on the ship jiggles when we’re going through the ice. Bangs and jiggles are not normal in the shipgoing world. “Other ships, when you hit something, you’re in ‘general emergency’ right away,” says chief electrician Curt Podhora, who had been in the Coast Guard for 20 years when he was assigned to Healy. “It took me a while to get used to this ship.”

Yep, this is a special ship, with many features that help Healy break ice.

But breaking ice isn't really the point. All that shaking wears out the equipment and the people, and if the ship hits the ice too hard, it can still be damaged. The number one rule of icebreaking, according to chief boatswain's mate Wayne Kidd, is this: "Don't break the ship." Breaking ice is like solving a puzzle that goes on for miles and miles. Ice pilots are constantly figuring - should I go left or right? Can I go around that piece of ice or do I have to drive through it?

And when you do have to break ice, says Kidd, the trick is to hit the ice just right, at the right speed, from the right direction, with the right amount of engine power, so it breaks before you do.

Read on about our adventure in the slideshow below. Can't see the slideshow? Get the Flash plug in »

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