Hi, my shipmate and I just completed Operation Deep Freeze 2017 aboard the Coast Guard Cutter (CGC) POLAR STAR (wikipedia link below). We spent ~1.5 months breaking 70 miles of Antarctic ice to clear the way for resupply vessels to McMurdo Station and allow the U. S. Antarctic Research Program to continue for another year. Along our way, we stopped in Honolulu, Sydney (for New Year's nonetheless), New Zealand (where we fought wildfires*), and Tahiti.

Great things we saw on the trip:

Whales eating penguins Bio-Luminescent plankton Stood in the hut Shackleton built Lived through a month long earthquake (icebreaking) Stood in a ~200MPH Snowstorm

Please note that the views expressed herein are our own and don't represent those of the Coast Guard, the Commandant, or the U.S. Government. Please don't fire me for this? Please do promote me for this...

Proof: imgur.com/a/5ebDB


Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USCGC_Polar_Star_(WAGB-10)

Local News covering our return: http://q13fox.com/2017/03/16/seattle-based-polar-star-icebreaker-returning-home-following-antarctic-mission/

Official Coast Guard News on our return: http://coastguardnews.com/seattle-based-coast-guard-polar-icebreaker-returns-home-following-antarctic-mission/2017/03/17/

Comments: 151 • Responses: 46  • Date: 

relearninglifestuff11 karma


Humak21 karma

Well, stuff doesn't rot. We went into Shackleton's hut where they left things kinda as they were when they left Antarctica 100 years ago. There is a seal carcass in there that is older than mine. You could cook and eat it today (so I'm told).

RTHoe6 karma

Shackleton's hut is still there??? That's amazing. One of the best books I've read.

Humak6 karma

Check out photos of it. If you can't find any message me and I'll link you to my Instagram.

reeses_fleas10 karma

How many penguins did you manage to kidnap and what are their names?

Humak20 karma

Penguins I kidnapped: 9

In order of precedence:

  1. Sir Winston
  2. Emperor Norton
  3. Kaiser Wilhelm
  4. Theodore Rex
  5. Millicent Moneybags
  6. Charlie Chaplain (he doesn't squak alot)
  7. This is a sore subject, he died in route. Thanks for not bringing up this tragic memory.
  8. Hugin
  9. Shhh, he is legend.

lekobe_rose5 karma

Number 9 is the one that dances isnt it?

Humak1 karma

Only on the head of a pin.

lekobe_rose2 karma

Ever unload a six shooter at its feet?

Humak2 karma

No, only on one through six.

lekobe_rose2 karma

Lmao fuckin legend. Great work bud! From reading your responses to other questions, it seems like a hell of an experience. Would you do it again?

Humak5 karma

Haha, glad you enjoyed the responses.

Dude/Dudette, I'd (still) give me left arm to go back. There are very few work experiences that provide the same sense of purpose. Everything we did seem to have weight and meaning to it. For the last eight years of my life, it's been my goal to go to Antarctica. I think I have to try for the moon next? And I'm not sure I want to bring any fauna back from there.

1800fullytorqued9 karma

Do you guys use "shipmate" as a derogatory term like we do in the Navy?

Humak8 karma

Depending on context but usually yes. In this case it seemed a good way to imply another Coastie was sitting next to me.

Also, my Dad would be incredibly disappointed with me if I didn't call you a squid. As a former signalman, he misses no opportunity to make fun of his son the puddle pirate and be made fun of in return.

1800fullytorqued10 karma

Haha did your dad ever call you precum, since you're not quite a seaman?

All jokes aside, thanks for doing what you do. We're all on the same team.

Humak7 karma

First time I've heard that but next time the kid shows up from boot camp I'm going to break this out.

Cheers dude! I work with squids daily and y'all work harder than we give you credit. Atleast you're not Airforce.

TheMatadoro0 karma

That's funny considering one of the Air Forces saving graces is that it isn't the coast guard.

Humak2 karma

And one of the Coast Guard's is in knowing how to avoid throwing money down holes.

Brickick5 karma

What's it like to fuck a penguin?

Humak14 karma

Cold and strangely fishy.

ReubenZWeiner5 karma

As kids, did you want to be pirates?

Humak12 karma

As a kid, I wanted to be a writer. Clearly I fucked up somewhere.

shitmonkey165 karma

Did you spit into the air and if so did it freeze before hitting the ground?

Humak11 karma

It's Summer in Antarctica.

hunterlarious5 karma

Did you see any immediate impacts of climate change?

Humak6 karma

Well, not being scientists I don't think we have the ability to say whether we did or did not. We were there for the hottest day on record or so we're told. MASSXJ did get some pretty awesome Antarctic sunburn.

dottmatrix5 karma

Unrelated wildfires?

Humak6 karma

Wildfires unrelated to the trash burning.

The NZ government requested the help of the ship fighting the wildfires in and around Christchurch. We helped to enforce the evacuation zone and patrol where fires were likely.

box994 karma

Who rescues an ice-breaking ship if it is stuck in the ice? And have you ever been on a stuck ship?

Humak21 karma

If we get stuck I'm calling Boaty McBoatface.

ladyscientist563 karma

How much trash did you burn? Why didn't you dump it in the ocean? (as I understand, its a choice between two evils that doesn't have many other options)

Humak3 karma

We burned a few Conex (metal containers you see on shipping vessels) boxes worth of trash in the ice or so.

The Antarctic treaty prevents us from dumping trash of sewage within a certain range of the continent. We can burn it for some reason (I'll never be a diplomat nor scientist). So, in order to not overflow we burn it down until we can dump it.

gordonsgibs3 karma

As someone who has traveled to Antarctica, what is your opinion on the "recent" resurgence of the flat Earth theory (I hesitate to use "theory")?

Humak7 karma

Earth isn't flat in my opinion. I can see the curvature of the earth from the crows nest. Having traveled from the ends of the Earth (Seattle to Antarctica) and seen the shift in daylight it seems pretty obvious that the Earth is round. I'm not a scientist though so I take everything I think with a grain of salt.

asteriskitall3 karma

What do you eat during a trip like that?

Humak16 karma

Well, not fresh fruit and vegetables unfortunately. The CSs, that's Culinary Specialists, do a great job varying the menu and trying to make each day special. That being said, everything has been stored for a month or so while we're actually in the ice. We had four meals a day:

Breakfast: Typically omelets and pancakes/french toast with the option for eggs made to order. Lunch: This would vary but is usually the most important meal of the day because it's the one everyone is up for. Meatloaf, shepherds pie, flank steak, or some other popular American dish. Hamburgers and the like were pretty common. Dinner: This would usually be fish and the big meats. Steak, pork loin, etc. You'd also get your spaghetti and stuff here. Midrats (Midnight Rations): This is anything the cook felt like. Sometimes we'd get hand rolled pyrogis and other times we'd have chicken nuggets. No telling.

CRVCK2 karma

What about some of the worst meals?

Humak2 karma

They tried to get creative with grilled chicken a few times. A few times I ate ramen instead of the prepared meal.

Physiogonomik3 karma

Hi! Thanks for doing this. I have to two questions. 1- I don't know much about ocean travel, so forgive me. Is it normal for these kinds of trips to be taken on 40 year old one? I assumed that voyages this far would be taken on newer ones.
2- What was the scariest part of being there?

Humak7 karma

To be honest it's because congress hasn't approved any new icebreakers since the Polar Star and Polar Sea were built. We got the Healy more recently but it goes north to the arctic. There is also the Mackinaw but she's too big to ever leave the great lakes.

Quick google search revealed we've got the first 150 million towards a new one woohoo!

Reference: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/trump-budget-to-include-first-payment-toward-a-coast-guard-icebreaker/

Scariest Part: For me, the scariest part was one night on deck near the equator. Staring off into the sky at the incomparable stars above me, it occurred to me that if I fell that's it. I'd be done despite a lifejacket.

So, the Coast Guard sends a perenially broken cutter down to the Antarcitc to break ice.

st_owly3 karma

What did you do for fun? Did you have access to the Internet or was it more like books and boardgames?

Humak9 karma

Board games are incredibly popular. I learned how to play Catan and got to be pretty damn good at it (I think). Morale also put on trivia nights, bingo, and movie screenings against the hanger door. Holidays always had events (ugly sweater contest, gingerbread house building contest).

There was limited access to the Armed Forces Network (AFN) which let us keep up with the news until we got to the ice. Once we were on the ice, the ship had six channels they played music videos and movies on. We had pretty recent movies thanks to a deal the Navy had worked out with Hollywood.

I had my kindle and blew through 100+ books personally. Plus Boardwalk Empire, Luther, and Preacher.

Maninahouse2 karma

Would you travel to the ISS if you could? Do you think it would be a similar voyage?

Humak2 karma

I'd happily take a swing at zero g. The Dramamine patch ensured I didn't get seasick this trip despite the terrible design of the boat for open water. I imagine I could stomach space and slightly more cramped environment.

My life has been pretty weird. Seems like I should continue on that vein for now. I don't imagine it would be remotely similar except for the penchant for discipline.

Being on a boat where you are expected to contribute isn't the same as a road trip. I expect space is an order of magnitude beyond that.

standup_comedian2 karma

Did you meet any pirates?

Humak1 karma

Any other pirates you mean.

fantasticbruh2 karma

What type of food was most prominent aboard the ship and did you grow sick of it at any point?

Humak3 karma

We had a strange amount of salmon which I don't care for to begin with.

It gets to the point where you start fantasizing about salads. Fresh apples. Any fruit but an orange.

blue_bedbug2 karma

What was the quality of the food? Is it like high school cafeteria level?

Humak1 karma

Definitely above high school and cafeteria/buffet style restuarants. The only complaint you can make IMO is that they don't go edgy enough. They try and please ~150 odd sailors so you don't get spicy food often. So it goes, I guess.

Beta15481 karma

My cousin told me that when he was on a long deployment, hot sauce was basically as good as hard currency. Still true?

Humak1 karma

Not really. Being on a boat means tons of storage which means the boat brought tons of hot sauce. It's just different when it's not cooked into the food.

fantasticbruh2 karma

Not a big fish eater either and after spending 6 months in Hawaii, I started to look pretty famished.

Humak2 karma

Yeah but poke dude. Fucking poke almost makes Hawaii worth it.

fantasticbruh2 karma

I didn't care for it. However those sugar donuts called Malasadas, those are killer!

Humak1 karma

Well, I'll have to give em a try next time I'm there.

KushNuggies2 karma

See any UFOs?

Humak1 karma

I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of Antarctic Extraterrestrials.

ChocoWafflePie2 karma

Do you like pancakes?

Humak2 karma

For you, I'll say waffles coupled with chocolate pie.

EagleWings192 karma

Was there any situation/emergency that you ran into during your cruise that had you thinking, "well, we're fucked." And if so, how'd it turn out?

Humak4 karma

When we left the pier we had a few issues with steering while still in the Puget Sound. Before we made it out of the sound, we had a massive lube oil leak and another GE (flooding I think?). As a sailor new to the cutter I thought we weren't going to make it to Hawaii.

We made it obviously. A former Command Master Chief summed it up pretty well. "We get underway with a boat that we know is broken and just trust that we are going to be able to fix it in the most inhospitable place on Earth with absolutely no support". That's a rough paraphrasing so forgive me if you're reading this Masterchief.

FishICanWalk2 karma

What type/brand of clothing do you all wear? Must be pretty robust to endure the weather y'all go through.

Humak2 karma

Uh, I hate to admit this and if anyone ever asks I'll deny it but NorthFace.

Please don't tell my mother.

coryrenton2 karma

what's the fanciest, most high-tech vessel you've seen or heard of making an antarctic trip?

Humak3 karma

The cruise ships that sneak down there. 12k USD and you can ride in luxury to Antarctica!

pagesniffer2 karma

Has anyone you know been frostbitten during your stay there? How do you deal with the cold? How many layers of clothes do you have to wear? Do you guys have special pyajamas you wear to bed?

Humak6 karma

Inside of the skin of the ship, the boiler keeps us pretty warm. Warm enough that I wore less in Antarctica to bed than I did at the equator.

Outside being a different story. You are issued thermal underwear, gloves, a fur lined thermal coat, and balaclava. Outside it was thirty at it's warmest and we generally had an easy time this year because there were no storms. The few days we had storms, there was no amount of clothing that would keep you warm outside. -45 with wind howling around you in excess of 100MPH.

Does that fully answer your question?

pagesniffer2 karma

You did! Thanks!

Interesting. I wasnt expecting your ships to be warmer than the equator most nights. Also, I learned from you what to call ninja facemasks now: a balaclava! You guys seem like interesting folks with equally interesting jobs. Keep safe and take care on your next adventure! :)

Humak2 karma

And you as well! Be well friend.

facethehorizon2 karma

what was the best and worst parts of your whole voyage?

Humak7 karma

The best part: We were let out for a day of ice liberty (free time on the ice shelf) and got to hang out around penguins. The penguins are extremely curious of people and would come up and check us out. Seals would just kinda stare at you, throw their head up, and huff like a teenager. Add in a couple of Orcas "Spy Hopping" (hunting for penguins) in the channel the boat had cleared and you have a magical experience.

Worst Experience (copied from previous comment):

Well, we had more shipboard emergencies than we had days with full access to potable water. Shipboard emergencies are referred to as "GEs", or General Emergencies, and consist of the big three Fs (Fire, Flooding, and Fornication). When you have a GE, the whole ship turns out to fight the fire, oil leak, fuel leak, toxic gas, or flooding. Not sure what we'd do to fight fornication.

Anyway, most days we couldn't do laundry and we had extremely limited or no showers. Despite bringing two weeks of clothes in my 20 cubic feet of storage space wearing the same outfits wears on you (pun intended).

blue_bedbug2 karma

What was the worst part of your cruise?

Humak2 karma

Well, we had more shipboard emergencies than we had days with full access to potable water. Shipboard emergencies are referred to as "GEs", or General Emergencies, and consist of the big three Fs (Fire, Flooding, and Fornication). When you have a GE, the whole ship turns out to fight the fire, oil leak, fuel leak, toxic gas, or flooding. Not sure what we'd do to fight fornication.

Anyway, most days we couldn't do laundry and we had extremely limited or no showers. Despite bringing two weeks of clothes in my 20 cubic feet of storage space wearing the same outfits wears on you (pun intended).

Bodark433 karma

You look inside old ships- like Liberty ships, old subs -and they even had machine shops on board so they could make repair parts. What kind of spare gear do you guys have to haul with you? Which systems are the biggest headaches, need the most work?

Humak2 karma

To start with, I'm the farthest from an engineer. If I ever have to fix something, we've already sunk.

I probably shouldn't go into the capabilities beyond what's publicly available but I will say that our Machinery Technicians (MKs) and Damage Controlmen (DCs) are freaking geniuses. The cutter is always experiencing some issue and those folks work 20 hour days routinely keeping her running. I have nothing but mad respect for them.

The system I will bitch about though are our evaporators. We have two evaporators onboard that came factory standard with Noah's Ark and show their age. They were constantly breaking down and led to nice long stinky stretches of no bathing for everyone. I don't think we ever really had laundry except for short stints. Some days we didn't have real food because we couldn't wash the cooking dishes.

MaybeAngela2 karma

The worst three weeks of my life was being a Fireman on the CGC Mellon WHEC-717 when our Evap broke hard. No showers if you are a Yoeman or Storekeeper is one thing, but no shower after eight hours of watch in the engine room off the coast of Central America is pretty cruel.

Humak1 karma

Yeah. I'm still trying to see the upside to being an engineer. Y'all get the shortest stick I can imagine. There's a reason I try and buy snipes drinks whenever we hit port.

MrNiceTurtle2 karma

What's McMurdo like?

Humak4 karma

McMurdo is a weird little city that is entirely focused inward. Every placard on the wall, every bit of graffiti in the bathroom, and every person you talk to seems to think that McMurdo is the beginning and the end. The Alpha and the Omega as it were. There's the central hub where admin, the gift shop/exchange, and cafeteria is and boasts the arrival/departures board of all Antarctic flights from Scott Base. There's a coffee shop and trio of bars in the out buildings. Then everything else seems like an industrial complex as each building seems either purpose built or is housing. The vehicles are as likely to have tracks as tires.

The people were equal parts frightened of strangers and intensely interested to talk to someone that doesn't belong "to the tribe". One of the most memorable bits of graffiti was a bit in the urinal next to admin that said "Don't treat us as if we're normal". It seemed like everyone reveled in it.

Going to Antarctica is a strange experience and one that captures the imagination of most folks. Forever, it's a brand you can choose to display. McMurdo embodies that sentiment if it makes sense.

There's a road leading from McMurdo to Scott Base after ~1.5KM. Scott Base is the smaller New Zealand base on Ross Island. There's an official "border" with no gate guard but you can go to the post office to stamp your passport. Scott base is a few prefap buildings with some accented folks and wood carvings.

AStrangerWCandy2 karma

Haha as a Polie it is much worse but perhaps more warranted. We winterovers give the McMurdoites the same attitude they gave you. It mostly has to do with the inability for people who haven't lived there to relate to those who have so we become quote clannish.

Humak1 karma

So much for finding common ground, eh?

Seriously though I get it. It took me awhile to "turn off" after four months with the same people.

AStrangerWCandy2 karma

It's similar in that people what haven't lived on a ship don't really "get" what it's like. They don't get the jargon, experiences, inside jokes etc... It's not intentional. I'm quite gregarious and friendlier than most but we all are usually a little standoffish at first meeting of someone. Quite frankly there's also a general somewhat negative view of military types among the civilian scientists and contractors there because the Air National Guard and Air Force will sometimes do things like make "military only" tables in the galley and get to have WiFi in their dorms etc...

I'm not a McMurdoite so I can't comment further than that but our crew experienced it going through McMurdo on our way to Pole. I suggest coming to Pole when you get out of the military if you want to come back. We're such a small community that the scientists, contractors, firefighters, military etc... all blend in together much better IMO.

Humak1 karma

We're in agreement and I hope you don't think I was attacking the folks down there. It's just an interesting perspective and probably worth some anthropologist's time.

Some military folks are dicks so I can see where the impression of cliqueishness is appropriate. That being said, there's a pronounced tendency to bond over storytelling in the military (or atleast the seagoing services) that I don't find as often in civilian circles. It's one of my favorite qualities about shard service.

Y'all don't get the same luxuries as military folks? How's that work? Or is it heirachy based there?

Maybe that's the next step. I made it to McMurdo so I might as well push the boundaries.

When's your AMA? "I live at the South Pole and... AMA!"

Modestbrad2 karma

What was the most fun city you visited? Did you hear and good music or meet any weirdos?

Humak2 karma

Oh Christchruch. I would happily emigrate once I retire. It's a very hip city that seems aware of itself and what it wants to be. There are scars everywhere of the 2011 earthquake. Buildings either in ruin or being demolished for structural damage. There are numerous bars, restaurants, and shops that operate out of a connex box because of the lack of space downtown.

The people were ridiculously friendly especially away from the city center. We were the second US military ship to visit in ~30 years so folks weren't used to having a bunch of military around. I don't carry my passport while drinking so everytime I'd order a drink at a bar I'd have to show my US military ID. Which prompted me to explain that we didn't use our passport to enter the country. Which led to a discussion of where we had been, what we had been doing, and where to go in Christchurch. On several occasions, the bartender actually stepped away from the bar and shot the shit with us.

Outside the city was beautiful. The people were beautiful. The food was great. The coffee was great. 10/10 city.

We met the Wizard of New Zealand and his blues playing apprentice.

Wizard of NZ: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wizard_of_New_Zealand

His Official Website (warning, annoying background noise): http://wizard.gen.nz/

olmikeyy1 karma

I know I'm late, but did ice skating/hockey in the Antarctic sounds awesome. Did you do this? If not, what the fuck?! /s

Were there any Army personnel with you?

Humak2 karma

Thee were no army personnel assigned to the cutter but there were a few army uniforms I saw at McMurdo.

As for ice skating, there was one set of skates brought out. The ice was very rough though so I don't think they were used much.

No hockey games but there was a pretty rousing football game

24backstabMcNugget1 karma


Humak1 karma


ElScreecho1 karma

Are penguins cuddly?

I hope they're cuddly. I want to hug one one day.

Humak2 karma

Well, they're friendly and curious. Not sure if you could sneak a hug but let me know how it goes!