Unknown Waters: A Firsthand Account of the Historic Under-Ice Survey of the Siberian Continental Shelf by USS Queenfish (SSN-651)

By Alfred S. McLaren | Go to book overview

16
Alteration of the Survey Plan in
the Shallow Laptev Sea

After completing our hydrographic survey of the eastern approaches to the Vilkitsky Strait, we proceeded in a generally southerly direction at a keel depth of 150 feet, intending to survey as far south as possible in the Laptev Sea. We had yet to detect a single ship or aircraft of any type; we had not even seen marine life of any size. Our present position was approximately thirty miles north of the northeast coast of the Taymyr Peninsula, well within international waters open to all traffic, according to the international Law of the Sea then in effect.1

By early morning on 13 August, the depth of water beneath our keel had become so shallow that, as Chief Quartermaster Jack Patterson put it, “a submarine couldn't go much farther south without wheels or wings, much less come anywhere near Soviet territorial waters.”

The rapidly shoaling sea bottom forced Queenfish to reverse course to port, toward the northeast, and then ease back to the depth contour of navigation interest. We soon began another short but intense period of under-ice piloting from the IBD display, which required everyone's full attention for most of the morning as we maneuvered beneath or around a considerable number of deep-draft ice floes, some of whose keels reached as deep as fifty-eight feet beneath the sea. Safe to say, the effect on our adrenaline was equivalent to downing an entire pot of coffee.

The planesmen exerted maximum effort to maintain Queenfish at zero bubble as we endeavored to stay at least thirty feet both above the bottom and below the ice. I remarked at the time that exploring shallow water under ice in a submarine was like exploring a subterranean cave in an airplane on instruments. This was

-145-

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