By Lt. j.g. Dave Ozeck
, Commander, Submarine Force
, U.S. Atlantic Fleet Public Affairs
The improved-Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Charlotte (SSN 766) arrived in Norfolk, Va., Nov. 29, following an historic transit that began in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and took the boat under the arctic ice cap.
During the transit, Charlotte surfaced at the North Pole, ascending through 61 inches of ice - a record for a Los Angeles-class submarine.
Upon reaching the Pole, the boat commenced a 12-hour underwater search of the ice canopy, utilizing specialized ice avoidance and side scan sonar systems. Once an ideal location was found, the ship performed a flawless vertical ascent.
Even though the wind chill factor reached a low of –50°F while surfaced, the 137 crew members and 17 officers on board reveled in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for "ice liberty." Some of the men took pictures, while others filmed a “Spirit Spot” for the Army/Navy football game. A few even played a game of football themselves.
Charlotte Commanding Officer Cmdr. Dennis Carpenter was thrilled that the crew enjoyed a fun and safe 18 hours of ice liberty.
“Conducting an under-ice transit presented both unique challenges and rewards for the Charlotte team,” Carpenter said. “I am very proud of the men on board who engaged the situation head-on, and I am ecstatic that they were able to experience a North Pole surfacing.”
To ensure safety, several sets of floodlights were arranged on the surface to compensate for the complete lack of sunlight. Also, the submarine’s independent duty corpsman verified that each crew member wore appropriate clothing for the extreme temperature.
Underway for the transit were two guests, Lt. James Winsor, a submarine qualified officer of the Royal Navy, and Travis King, known affectionately by the crew as the “Ice Pirate,” a civilian arctic expert of the U.S. Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory who has made countless under-ice trips throughout his career.
The newly-christened crew of “Bluenoses,” a nickname for Sailors who have crossed the Arctic Circle, had nothing but positive things to say about the whole experience.
“I couldn’t believe how dark it was at the Pole. It was pitch black and incredibly cold, but it was still really exhilarating,” said Yeoman 3rd Class (SS) Guadalupe Deleon, who was one of the first crew members topside. “After all, how many people can say they have been at the North Pole?”
Prior to commencing the transit, the crew underwent a demanding workup period designed to train the crew for the unusual Arctic environment. Specific attention was paid to proper and safe navigation in the polar region and ice avoidance.
Charlotte is undergoing a temporary change of homeport in order to undergo a major Depot Modernization Period (DMP) at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Va.