The Star Arrives!

The Star Arrives!

Those of you who have been paying attention since the beginning of this series about Tasmania (and I don’t expect that list to be very long) will know that the timing of my trip was designed to intercept the United States Coast Guard Heavy Icebreaker, the Polar Star, during its last stop before Antarctica. Well, the time for our rendezvous had arrived.

As I touched on in the first article, Where the Devil is Tasmania?, my good friend Kara is a Lieutenant Commander, and actually the first female Engineer Officer (EO) of the Polar Star. That means it’s her job to make sure this somewhat aged ship makes it to Antarctica and back without breaking down. That’s a rather tall order if you think about it. Your ’76 Olds Cutlass breaks down on the highway, you call AAA. The Polar Star breaks down in the ice off the shore of Antarctica, well, there just aren’t a lot of options.

The ship was due to arrive in Hobart, the capitol of Tasmania, just before Christmas. The crew would get to play on shore during the week of Christmas, the ship would load on final supplies and offload, well, stuff, and then they’d be on their way. As for me, I’d get to hang out with my friend Kara and others of the crew that I knew. Essentially, I had already gone around the island and had done most of the photography shoots before they arrived, and had saved the touristy stuff for them.

USCGC Polar Star, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

The USCGC Polar Star is docked in Hobart before its journey to Antarctica, in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

So I got the text from Kara. “In at 1600. At pier 6.” OK, I was still in Derwent Bridge, 185 km (115 mi) west of Hobart, but heading back to Hobart early the next morning.

When I got to Hobart, I parked the car and walked down to the harbor to find the ship. Hobart has a beautiful harbor, and I had spent quite a bit of time there a couple of weeks earlier. In fact, I had already picked out the pier most likely to handle a ship that size. And they’re at Pier 6, not that I had noticed pier numbers previously, but this should be easy.

The Polar Star is one of the largest ships in the US Coast Guard fleet and one of the world’s most powerful non-nuclear ships. It has an overall length of 122 m (400 ft), can accommodate 175 people, houses a diesel-electric plant that can produce 18,000 shaft horsepower (13,425 kilowatts) and a gas turbine plant producing a total of 75,000 shaft horsepower (55,925 kilowatts) And it’s painted bright red and white.

For the life of me I couldn’t find the darned thing!

After some texting back and forth, I was informed that it was at Macquarie Pier 6 (see, everything in Australia is named Macquarie!), which is tucked behind some warehouses and nowhere near where I had been looking, but I eventually found it hiding back there.

Ed and Kara, New Sydney Hotel, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Ed and Kara relax in the New Sydney Hotel, a laid-back watering hole serving craft beer and eclectic pub meals in downtown Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

I was on the visitors’ list, but security at the port being what it was, I had to be escorted out to the ship the first time. (After that I just showed my passport and was buzzed through the gate at the wharf.) Kara gave me a quick briefing about their adventures with a small line some mariner had carelessly left lying in the middle of the ocean to get run over, requiring a dive team to get untangled from their port shaft. She had some emails to complete, so I just sat in her stateroom admiring the spacious accommodations (not so much) while she finished up.

Now when the captain has been on shore and returns to the ship, a general announcement is made over the PA system so that the crew has time to stop all illicit activities. Just kidding, it’s really because…actually, I have no idea why – they just do it. Anyway, Kara jumped up to go brief the caption about the divers’ findings, and I stayed behind. I had my excellent e-book about the very efficient Tasmanian prison system of yesteryear (more on this later), so I was fine.

A few minutes later, one of the crew popped his head into the room and looked surprised to find me there instead of the EO (or an actual crew member, for that matter). I explained that she had gone to brief the captain about the port shaft situation. He thanked me and headed back out. Then I heard off in the distance, “By the way, I am the captain!”. Huh. Who knew?

When Kara got back it was time we got down to serious business. It was time to check out the local bar scene in Hobart!

Our first stop was the New Sydney Hotel, which is neither in Sydney nor a hotel. But when in Rome, or Sydney, or Hobart, as the case may be, you just go with the flow. This is Australia, after all, and trust me, this was nothing compared to some of the potential linguistic challenges that could confound an unprepared visitor! No worries, mate!

Polar Sea Cap, New Sydney Hotel, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

The sister ship Polar Sea has also been to Hobart in its day, as this cap at the New Sydney Hotel shows, in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

We weren’t very far into our beers when Kara looked up and spotted a Polar Sea cap hanging from the ceiling. The Polar Sea is the sister ship of the Polar Star, although it’s not doing quite so well at the moment. Hopefully that will change soon, but the point is that the Polar Sea crew had been through here before, we figure possibly in the early 2000s, though we didn’t bother to check.

We spent the next couple of days either exploring around town or getting the ship ready for the final leg to Antarctica. (Well, personally, I just watched, and of course contributed a bit of color commentary, but Kara did have a few chores to accomplish before the mission.)

And then Christmas day came. Have you ever spent a Christmas where it was 36°? Oh yeah? How about Celsius? That works out to 97°F! It was a bit warm, and because we in the Northern Hemisphere expect it to be cold at Christmas, it was rather difficult to get in the mood, although it wasn’t for lack of Christmas spirit on the part of the Hobartians. And Christmas dinner could have been a serious problem, too, since almost every restaurant closes, and the ones that don’t close expect you to book by June and pay in full by November! (Actually, I’m not kidding.) But fortunately for me, there happened to be a USCG ship in port, ready to serve a delicious prime rib dinner, no reservation required! (Don’t get excited, taxpayers – I payed for it. OK, technically, Kara payed for it. Whatever, you didn’t.) Oh, and they had grilled shrimp, too!

OK, that’s enough for today. I don’t want you falling asleep while I’m showing you all the fun touristy things the officers and I did after Christmas!

See you next week!

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11 Responses to “The Star Arrives!”

  1. Max Pillie says:

    Hi Ed,

    I enjoyed your news letter. I will never get to Tasmania, but after reading all your articles, I will certainly know a lot more about it. Interesting place.


    • Ed Leckert says:

      Thanks, Max!

      Yes, it’s uniformly beautiful, and it has a fascinating history that I haven’t even discussed yet. I loved my trip there, and would certainly go back.

  2. Marie and Garth (Andrew's parents) says:

    Loved reading about kara’s and your Christmas. Looking forward to the next installment!

    • Ed Leckert says:

      Thanks, guys! I had a great time hanging out with Kara and the crew, and I couldn’t have done it without your son’s help, feeding the cats and supervising the contractors working at my place!

  3. Stacey says:

    Hoping a future installment is all about Antartica!

  4. Capt Ron Anderson says:

    Fantastic read, Ed — would love to see more photos of the ship if you get a chance

    • Ed Leckert says:

      They’re coming, Ron! Unfortunately, I don’t have any of the Polar Star breaking through the ice (of my own, anyway), but I hope to fix that someday!

  5. George Maloney says:

    Good article. Kara gave Marie and me a tour when docked at Mare Island–Bay Area–though no craft beer–tea in officers mess. Agree about her stateroom.