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The Long Journey of the Nez Perce
Witnessing the American Century
Danger Close
U.S. Military Intervention in the Post-Cold War Era
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After Tippecanoe
The Air Force Way of War
The Rise and Fall of Intelligence

Unknown WatersUnknown Waters

A First-Hand Account of the Historic Under-Ice Survey of the Siberian Continental Shelf by USS Queenfish

Alfred S. McLaren

Receipent of the 2012 Explorer's Club Medal, sponsored by The Explorers Club

Narrated by Jack Chekijian

Available from Audible

Book published by The University of Alabama Press

This book tells the story of the brave officers and men of the nuclear attack submarine USS Queenfish (SSN-651), who made the first survey of an extremely important and remote region of the Artic Ocean. The unpredictability of deep-draft sea ice, shallow water, and possible Soviet discovery, all played a dramatic part in this fascinating 1970 voyage.

Covering 3100 miles over a period of some 20 days at a laborious average speed of 6.5 knots or less, the attack submarine carefully threaded its way through innumerable underwater canyons of ice and over irregular seafloors, at one point becoming entrapped in an "ice garage." Only cool thinking and skillful maneuvering of the nearly 5,000-ton vessel enabled a successful exit. The most hazardous phase of the journey began 240 nautical miles south of the North Pole with a detailed hydrographic survey of an almost totally uncharted Siberian shelf, from the northwestern corner of the heavily glaciated Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago to the Bering Strait via the shallow, thickly-ice-covered Laptev, East Siberian, and Chukchi seas.

The skipper of the Queenfish had been trained and selected by Admiral Hyman Rickover and, inspired by this polar experience, McLaren became one of the world’s foremost Arctic scientists, studying first at Cambridge University and then obtaining his doctorate in physical geography of the Polar Regions from the University of Colorado at Boulder.


Unknown Waters, the story of the hazardous exploration by the USS Queenfish, is a splendid adventure. Captain McLaren’s spellbinding account of his unparalleled voyage into the unknown beneath the ice off Siberia constitutes a treasure house of knowledge never before conceived of a dark and forbidding part of the globe. Audacious as well as entertaining! ”

—Clive Cussler

“Dr. Fred McLaren, former submarine commander and prominent arctic expert, combines a rigorous operational background with extensive academic training to tell us about the early pioneering days in the Arctic Ocean when the Cold War made certain far north research difficult. A four year former President of the Explorers Club, he has achieved an international reputation in Arctic research. It is indeed rare to find a first hand accounting of this work written by a 'dreamer' and 'doer'. Highly recommended reading about a little-known chapter of US explorations of the far north. ”

—Don Walsh, International Maritime Inc.

“Captain McLaren, a highly decorated submarine officer and one of the world’s foremost Arctic scientists, has written a riveting account of the first hydrographic survey of the Soviet Union’s Siberian coastline by a nuclear submarine. Unknown Waters is a valuable addition to the history of arctic operations by United States submarines describing hazardous operations in shallow, ice-covered waters with irregular bottoms and deep ice drafts. Dr. McLaren skillfully weaves into the exciting operations an interesting description of the seas and islands north of Siberia including early explorations of this Northern Sea Route so important to Russia. ”

—VADM. John H. Nicholson, USN (Ret.), commanding officer, USS Sargo (SSN-583)

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University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks