SS Manhattan and the North-west passage

The icebreaking tanker S.S.Manhattan made an historic voyage to test the feasibility of using the Artic Northwest Passage as a year round trade route. Humble Oil & Refining Co., the sponsor of the project hoped to prove that the passage can be used by special ships to deliver Arctic oil to U.S. East Coast ports. The cost for this project reached $54-Million. Benefits of an open Polar sea route included increasing U.S. self-sufficiency in oil. The converted Manhattan was well equipped for the task. Even before the modifications, the Manhattan was stronger and more powerful than any ship of its type in the world. Built in 1962 in Bethlehem Steels’ shipyard in Quincy, Mass, the Manhattan is the largest merchant ship ever to fly the American flag and the largest commercial ship ever constructed in the U.S. It’s 43,000 shaft horsepower powerplant is nearly 1-1/2 times more powerful than those on ships twice her size. In addition to size, the Manhattan was highly maneuverable, due to twin five-bladed propellers and twin rudders.

In short, the Manhattan is a one-vessel breed of supertanker, more powerful, and more maneuverable than any similar ship on the seas.

To speed the conversion to a icebreaking tanker, the ship was drydocked at Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company and cut into four pieces.

The 65-foot forward bow was stored at Sun, to be replaced by a new 125-foot icebreaking bow which was built in two sections. The forward piece was built by Bath Iron Works and the after piece was built by Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. The forward section, including the No.1 cargo tank, was towed to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company where it was fitted with a heavy 1-1/2″ thick ice belt to protect the sides of the ship from large floes of ice. The midship section, which included the bridge, was towed to Alabma Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company where an ice belt, of steel was also fitted. The stern section remained at Sun to be strengthened internally. While the hull work was being carried on, Sun Ship workers were installing additional quaraters, laboratories and electronic gear.

When the hull sections were returned, Sun rejoined them, sealed off most of the cargo tanks (which were used for ballast) and then put the ship through river trials. As completed, the Manhattan has been lengthened from 940 feet to 1,005 feet, widened by 16 feet to 148 feet, and it weight increased by 9,000 tons.

Accompanying the Manhattan, the first commercial vessel to transit the “Top of the World” route, was the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Westwind and the Canadian icebreaker John A. McDonald.


19 responses to “SS Manhattan and the North-west passage

  1. maryajne jerback

    my grandfather sailed on this tanker i have tings from the ss manhattan. my grand fathers name was kenneth harry baldwin i have his papers and docking pass plus other things any one else sailed this tanker please contact me i would like to know .are these things collectable? thank you maryjane jerback

    • Hello, Maryajne. I have written a book on the SS Manhattan and would like to speak with you about your grandfather. Please contact me at: Thank you, Ross Coen

      • Stephen Tschirhart

        My father, Alton Tschirhart was the radio officer on board the Manhattan during the building period and first passage. I know that this is an older post, but he still has quite a few documents and photos about the voyage. At one time he even had a jar of the original oil brought back in the golden drum that was given to the crew, the only oil brought back from the first voyage. It was a memorable time for me and a bit traumatic, losing my father for all those months. I was only 5 back then.

      • It would be great to see and to publish some “first-hand” picture – I wrote a mail to you.


  2. maryajne jerback

    my grandfather sailed on this tanker i have collecables from this ship looking for any one else who sailed on this tanker

  3. I don’t know if the paper of your father are collectables.
    By the way I am curious about the pictures in order to confirm several details of my drawings.

  4. maryajne jerback

    i dont have pictures only seamen papers did you sailon the ship look in readers digest 1966 north west passage pictures are there

  5. maryajne jerback

    i mean 1969

  6. My father Calvin Chang Yeh Chai was a naval architect at Sun Ship that designed the icebreaking hull

  7. Hi Edward,
    I hope that my drawing is correct but I would be happy fix any mistake.

    • Havent checked this sight for months
      Can’t really comment about he drawing. My late father may have old
      Blueprints at their home
      I will ask my mom next time I

  8. My grandfather was also on the Maiden Voyage of the SS Manhattan. He was the man Wm. Smith identifies as “God Love”, named Jim O’Donnell, in his book called The Northwest Passage. There are black and white photos of the Manhattan in that book. Another book by the same title by Keating has a number of color images. The National Geographic covered the voyage, and there are color images to be found there, I can’t recall the month, as well as the readers digest. There was also a game called “The Northwest Passage”, and I have seen them available on eBay. I personally have 2 documents from the voyage one signed by the crew of the SS Manhattan, and the other by the crew members wives.

  9. My Father, Oscar C. Sewell was a 3rd mate on her in the 60’s and in the 70’s and 80’s he was her Captain doing Grain runs and oil runs to Valdez. I would love to get some things from her if anyone has things they would like to sell. Thanks Dean

  10. Hello,
    My grandfather was the Navigator for this voyage, Homer J Ashley, I am desperate to find any and all info that I can, any chance of help?

  11. my father joseph robert hendershott sr. bob as they knew him was aboard the ss . manhattan on that voyage anybody knowing of that voyage can contact me at 325-792-7297

  12. David T. Arber, Sr.

    My father, Ernest D. Arber, Jr. was the patternmaker who built the patterns for the propellers for the Manhattan at the Van Osten shop in Camden, NJ. He also went on to do the patterns for the SS United States there, and a lot of work for the Navy during and after the war. Near the end of his career, at a shop in Pennsylvania, he did the pattern for the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower.

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