The U.S. Coast Guard’s aging Polar Star icebreaker reached the world’s southernmost navigable waters Feb. 17 during a visit to Antarctic Whale Bay.
North Star reached a position of 78° 44.022′ south latitude at about 1 p.m. local time, keeping a distance of about 500 meters from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf.
It is further south than the current Guinness World Record holder. In 2017, the residential liner The world claims to have reached 78°43.997′, about 0.025 minutes north of The polar stars position claimed. Crew members aboard the cutter are working with Guinness World Records staff to officially certify the icebreaker’s new record.
The new record was made possible by the gradual shrinking of the pack ice. Along the way, North Star navigated in waters previously charted as part of the pack ice that are now navigable waters. Today, portions of the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf lie up to 12 nautical miles from positions depicted on official charts. These graphs may soon be revised: during The polar stars Transiting to and from Whale Bay, the ship sailed 396 nautical miles from the ice shelf in preparation for possible future navigational use.
In 1997 US Coast Guard Cutter polar sea, polar star sister ship, reached 78 degrees, 29 minutes south latitude – far north of The polar stars spot this year.
In 1908 Ernest Shackleton named Whale Bay after him during the Nimrod Expedition, reflecting the many whales he and his crew sighted. Three years later, Roald Amundsen established a base camp in the bay, and he used it as a starting point for his successful attempt to become the first person to reach the South Pole. Years later, US Navy Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd established Little America in Whale Bay on his first, second, and third Antarctic expeditions, exploring over 60% of the Antarctic continent.
“The crew of North Star is proud to follow in the footsteps of legendary Antarctic explorers like Shackleton, Amundsen and Byrd,” said Captain William Woityra, Commander of the icebreaker. “Even today, more than a century later, we continue this legacy of exploration, reaching new places and expanding human understanding of our planet.”