Back to the story.
After the linesmen had gathered and released two of the four lines on the dorm side of the bay, the linesmen and Nav-Chaps down on the pier released all of the remaining lines that stabilized the boat at the ice pier. Nav-Chaps is the term used by the Navy to refer to the sailors who are trained specifically for loading and unloading ships. Each year a large group of them come down to McM to assist with the supply vessel and stay at our facility until the ship sails.
The priority is safety first of course. With the winds increasing as the evening progressed and the weather forecast expecting things to only get worse, the cranes were stowed and the mill vans that were not already aboard ship were staying for the rest of the year. Now it was up to the Captain to get his ship out of the bay and into open water where he would be safe. He had purposely left one line on the bollard leading over to the dorm side of the bay so that he could real it in and that would draw the back end of the ship toward the middle of the bay. Now with the narrow aspect of the ship pointing into the rolling waves, he ordered the last line be dropped and he gunned his engines full reverse. The Illinois did well at first moving almost half the distance to the point of the rocks where Scott Hut is on the peninsula. But the tide was too much. She couldn’t get enough speed, and the squared off nature of the rear of the vessel gave too big a target for the waves. She was pushed dangerously close to the rocks and the Captain shut down the engines and wisely allowed the tide to push her back into the bay. The Maersk Illinois ran aground.
Now I am no sailor. I am simply telling things as I saw them happen on that night. I listened carefully to the radio conversations between our base camp and the ship’s captain. I saw the churn of the engines as she tried to power her way into the sea, and I could clearly see from where I was standing that the waves were pushing her back not only into the bay, but sideways toward the rocks on the shoreline. For this day, she was going nowhere.
The Coast Guard Ice Breaker, Polar Star, had been called to assist in getting the Illinois out of the bay. When she arrived, the intention was to shoot a line over to the Illinois and use the strength of both ships with full engines to overcome the waves. But the Polar Star could not get close enough to send a line over. The waves were so strong by this time – nearly 2am – that even the ice breaker was being pushed around by the tide. The Captain of the Star aborted two attempts to get close enough to the Illinois because the Star itself was nearly pushed against the dorm side rock formations. A third try was not attempted.
While it is true the freighter was stuck in the harbor, and her nose was resting on the shore, we can all be grateful that no one was hurt. The Illinois is not damaged, and when the weather changes she should be able to get back underway. This was a very exciting and hurried day. And as you would expect with the horribly strong winds, some gusts up to 50 miles an hour made the temperature feel much colder than is listed above. With the batteries in cameras freezing up and peoples hands doing the same, we all had reason to call it a day. The Illinois is fine for now. And when the weather is better she will be on her way.