Renda, Healy Moving Slower Than Expected

Photo by Ben Matheson, KNOM - Nome: The Nome harbor a few days before the Renda is scheduled to arrive.

It has been slower going than anticipated through the rapidly thickening Bering Sea ice for the Russian tanker Renda and the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy.  As of last evening they were still 165 miles from their destination of Nome. They traveled just 15 nautical miles Saturday because the Renda became lodged in thick ice several times and the Healy had to circle back to cut new tracks through the ice. And the crews have become exhausted from the intense work breaking ice. The vessels have stopped the past couple nights to allow the crews to rest up for the next day.

Kathleen Cole, the Sea Ice Program Leader for the National Weather Service in Alaska says the vessels have been working through solid floes of ice, anywhere from 24 to 36 inches thick.  They are also hitting pressure ridges.

Another factor is the pressure built up in the ice.  As the Healy cuts a path, enormous forces from both sides push ice into the Renda.  Marine Pilot Captain Carter Whalen says teamwork and communication are critical at this stage.

Cole says the vessels today will meet a stretch of ice that’s more broken up and thinner in spots.  But that’s not for long, they will soon meet ice that’s up to 42 inches thick.

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Ben Matheson is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.