August 18, 1957 – The USCG Storis in Uncharted Waters

Roald Amundsen’s sloop, the Gjoa, which ran aground in James Ross Strait in 1906. Painting by Roger Morris, available at seapainter.com.

On August 18, 1957, the USCG cutter Storis was hard at work on a major task, erecting shore aids-to-navigation and charting a usable channel across Queen Maud Gulf to Simpson Strait.  The survey work, Captain Harold Wood wrote in his records of the voyage, was a “humdrum job of miles and miles of soundings, each recorded on our charts, and each obtained under adverse conditions of weather, with fog and ice making further complications”.

The Storis, along with cutters Spar and Bramble, formed a Hydrographic Survey Unit (HSU) supporting construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line of radar posts lining the far Northwest Passage.  DEW line sites, manned and unmanned, were put in place to provide advance notice of a potential Soviet land or air invasion of North America.  Over several days in mid-August, 1957, the HSU painstakingly charted Simpson Strait, Rae Strait, and James Ross Strait.  Except for two earlier small vessels, James Ross Strait was previously untraveled, and one of those small vessels had run aground there in 1906.  “We might have trouble getting through ourselves, ” Wood wrote.

Ice recco support by plane and helicopter kept the Storis advised of conditions ahead.  Even so, she ran aground on a rock shoal at one point, eventually needing to rely on the incoming tide to lift her entirely clear.  The HSU were pioneers, “conducting a reconnaissance survey which would be of future value, and erecting aids to navigation which would facilitate use of the charts we were making by ships to follow in later years”.

After successful completion of survey work in James Ross Strait, Capt. Wood and his team went on to survey Franklin Strait and the western approaches to Bellot Strait.  Their adventure at the top of the world continued.

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