Manhattan to Beaufort Sea, 43,000 horsepower marginal

Posted: June 23, 2013 by tchannon in sea ice, Uncategorized

In 1969 an icebreaking oil tanker broke through the North West passage but only with assistance.

A prominent program during this time was CRREL ’s participation in the two test voyages of the icebreaking oil tanker Manhattan. Five CRREL researchers journeyed aboard the Manhattan for the “Arctic Tanker Project,” which was financed mainly by Humble Oil, with some assistance from Atlantic Richfield and British Petroleum. The expedition began in September 1969 with two Canadian icebreakers and one U.S. icebreaker trailing the Manhattan. The arrangements were for the icebreakers to carry out search and rescue operations if needed, but the main icebreaking effort was the task of the supertanker. The objective was to have the Manhattan, the largest U.S. commercial vessel then in service, ram itself into the thickest ice that could be found.

The Manhattan eventually succumbed to the ice of McClure Strait, where ice ridges at that time towered up to 40 ft above the water.

The ship could neither budge forward nor backward, and, for the first time, called for assistance from the icebreakers. With the help of the icebreakers, the Manhattan was ultimately able to throw its tonnage fore and aft until, 18 hours later, it broke free. It then backtracked and rerouted its trek through the Prince of Wales Strait. Finally, 22 days and 800 miles out of port, the expedition reached clear water in the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska. The
Northwest Passage had been conquered.

Page 38 of

This commemorative booklet incorporates much of the material and
personal reflections that have been assembled over the years for use in
preparing the history of CRREL.

A lot of fascinating history in the above PDF about the military ice operations leading to the first deep ice core. It was Century camp which drilled to bed rock.

A brief description of the tanker modifications can be found in this 2010 WordPress blog article. (site is hard on the eyes)

More on early ice cores is here


  1. Sleepalot says:

    According to Wikipedia (which lies), William Parry reached that same location in 1819.

  2. hunter says:

    I had forgotten about the SS Manhattan. She was a specially built tanker, with extra thick hull plates.
    I recall a special magazine from Humble Oil commemorating the ship and its purpose. Sadly I am certain that magazine is long gone.

  3. Brian H says:

    The NW Passage had been conquered? It was more like the NW Smashage. 😛