16 August, 2002
Captain David Visneski has served many roles (i.e. Executive Officer on the Polar Sea, Chief Engineer on the Polar Star, Assistant Engineer on the Polar Sea, and Assistant Engineer on the Westwind) in his more than 26 years in the Coast Guard, and he currently serves as the Captain of the United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Healy. He has always worked in the Polar Regions, and has been on fourteen Arctic missions and four missions to Antarctica. Although most Coast Guard officers are capable of any mission, most also have a specialty, and Captain Visneski is a licensed engineer. His other specialty is ship operations which means anything to do with running the ship. Although most people assume that the Coast Guard stays close to home and the United States, Captain Visneski joined not only because he wanted to be in the Coast Guard but because he was interested in seeing other parts of the world. He has certainly done that as he has traveled to all parts of the world except the Middle East. He has also had the unique opportunity to travel to both poles, something few people have done. As a matter of fact, in 2001, the Healy was the second United States ship to make it to the North Pole and the first ship U.S. ship to get there unassisted. On that trip, the captain traveled around the world (the North Pole) in half an hour!
What is a typical day like for the captain of a Coast Guard ice breaker? When I asked that question, Capt. Visneski told me there is no such thing as a typical day, parcticularly when the ship is in ice. Much of what he does depends on ice conditions and what science is going on that day (or night). I found it interesting that he must be notified for any operations. That includes things such as personnel issues, weather changes, any equipment that is not working properly, and other ships in the area. The phone in his quarters rings on a regular basis! I found out that, when science is going on, even the Captain likes the "pump boys!" (Remember that their work involves four straight hours of pumping water and nothing else can happen during that time. (See the journal for July 23.) He told me that he has learned to sleep in 2-3 hour blocks of time, and he looks forward to open ocean transits when he can sleep a bit longer without being woken up. Even when the ship is in its home port of Seattle, the Captain is on board doing all that is necessary to plan for the next mission.
When I asked the Captain how the Healy compares to other ships he has been on, he said the biggest difference is that it is brand new and "it still has that new car smell!" All the equipment is state of the art and highly technical. Due to automation and computerization, the ship can run with 45-50% less crewmembers than other icebreakers. The bridge navigation systems are fully integrated. As a result, the Healy is certified to have only one person on the bridge at a time. The Healy always has two people on the bridge, but some ships require as many as six at a time. The engine room and all machinery spaces are unmanned. That watch is also designed for one person, but the Healy always has two in the Engineering Control Center. (See my journal for August 4.)
Alexander Hamilton started the United States Coast Guard in 1790 when the Coast Guard consisted of sailing ships and was named the Revenue Cutter Service. In the Coast Guard today, any vessel more than 65 feet long is called a "cutter." Captain Visneski also gave me some interesting facts about the Healy. The Healy can sustain a crew on board for up to eight months, and it has enough fuel on board to go around the world once at the equator. While many ships carry a single helicopter, the Healy carries two. The ship essentially serves as an airport, a fire department, a hospital, a restaurant and a floating science research laboratory! You can learn more about the USCGC Healy at their website at www.uscg.mil/pacarea/healy.
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