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

19
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the Northwestern Chukchi Sea

Queenfish crossed the international date line at longitude 180° early on 25 August, passing from the Eastern into the Western Hemisphere. We were now approximately 150 miles north of Wrangel Island and heading in a generally easterly direction. The pack ice above us remained steadfastly thick and heavily compacted through the night, with few areas of open water in evidence. The depth contour of interest began to lead us gradually toward the southeast, and by mid-morning we found ourselves in the northwestern Chukchi Sea. With the exception of a relatively narrow offshore route along the northern Siberian coast, around the Chukotsky Peninsula, and south to the Bering Strait, these waters were for the most part unexplored and uncharted in 1970.

Reentering the third and last of the three seas that covered the Siberian continental shelf, our feeling was one of suppressed excitement, akin to being only a few days from homeport following a long deployment and looking forward to embracing the familiar and friendly atmosphere of our own world. It was hard to believe. With luck we could be completely clear of the Arctic pack ice and back in ice-free open water within a day or two.

The day-by-day, mile-by-mile routine of having to thread our way through hundreds of miles of uncharted, ice-covered, shallow waters had been exhausting for us all. As we proceeded across the Laptev Sea, over the New Siberian Islands, and through the East Siberian Sea, we had been faced with the ever-present risk of colliding with the jagged keel of an ice massif or a seamount/pingo or of running aground on a rapidly shoaling bottom. There was no respite from such a re

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