Sailing the Seas with Nicole Mautino

By KÜHL Editor on June 28, 2023
4 min read

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Meet Nicole Mautino, a midshipman at the United States Merchant Marine Academy and a member of the Navy Reserves. Nicole is currently serving as a deck cadet on the US Coast Guard Cutter POLAR STAR. Over the next several months, Nicole will share her journey as the ship makes its way to Antarctica. You can also follow her on Instagram. Tell us about the Academy: I’m in my 3rd year as a midshipman at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, located in Kings Point, New York. My school is one of five federal service Academies, along with the Naval Academy, Air Force Academy, Military Academy, and the Coast Guard Academy. The Merchant Marines is a smaller, lesser known, branch of the US Navy. Think of it as a smaller version of the Naval Academy. The mission of the USMMA is to educate and graduate officers into the Maritime Service or one of the Armed Forces. I major in Marine Transportation, Logistics, and Security. In simple terms, I study navigation, working on the bridge of a ship to help navigate the vessel. Give me a sextant and I can navigate by the stars! All students must complete 360 days at sea working on a government or privately owned vessel to sit for the US Coast Guard Unlimited Tonnage 3rd Mate (or 3rd Assistant Engineer) License. Upon graduation, we must serve 8 years as an officer in the military to pay back our education. Last winter and spring, I worked as a deck cadet for 115 days on the SS El Yunque and the MV Maersk Wisconsin. This year I was given a very special and coveted assignment on the USCGC POLAR STAR.


What makes the USCGC POLAR STAR so special? Operation Deep Freeze supports Antarctic research and development. Only once per year do merchant vessels make their way to Antarctica to deliver fuel, food, and other supplies. The USCGC POLAR STAR is the ship that breaks the ice and makes it possible for merchant vessels to deliver supplies to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. My grandfather was the Commanding Officer of Operation Deep Freeze 1972, so it’s very special for me to be a part of the same operation my grandfather commanded 43 years ago. He has a mountain named after him in Antarctica near McMurdo Station for his efforts as the commanding officer of the operation. What are your responsibilities on the ship? I’m a deck cadet and stand watch on the bridge and help with navigation. I can also be called to help with any number of smaller evolutions on the ship, such as flight operations. In addition to working eight hours a day on the bridge, I have a number of self-guided tasks for school. I must complete and turn in nine sea projects on various subjects when I return to school in the summer.


Where does the ship stop on its way to and from Antarctica? After sailing from Seattle, we dock in Hawaii, Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand on our way to Antarctica. We will not begin breaking ice for Operation Deep Freeze until mid-January. On the way back, we’ll stop in Chile, Panama, and San Diego before returning to Seattle. I have the opportunity to experience some incredible places during the voyage. The first day we were in Oahu, we ran from the ship to Diamond Head and then hiked to the peak. We also attended a traditional Hawaiian luau and went scuba diving while we were on the island. An important nautical tradition took place when we crossed the International Date Line and Equator at the same time. As part of the “line crossing” ceremony, I walked the plank and swam in the water to officially become a salty sailor. Over Christmas we docked in Hobart, Tasmania. I spent the week with a group of Junior Officers in a house near Mount Wellington. We hiked to Wineglass Bay, one of the world’s top-ranked beaches, to take an icy plunge.

Meeting the locals in Tasmania

How did you learn about KÜHL? I learned about KÜHL while working on a container ship last winter. Since the ship transited an area at high risk for Somali pirate attacks, we carried a security team of Navy SEAL veterans. As we neared the equator on our way to Sri Lanka, the temperatures rose. One day I noticed that one of the SEALs was wearing very nice, lightweight men's pants. The pants I was wearing were not very comfortable on hot days, so I asked him what brand his pants were. He told me that he found his KÜHL pants at an outdoorsy store, and after trying them on, he bought a pair in every color. After checking out KÜHL online, I knew your women's pants would be perfect for everything from hiking to working on a ship. I’m all about multi-functional clothing, and that’s what really sold me on the Kuhl brand. Nicole received KÜHL apparel for her travels at no cost. She received no other compensation and all opinions are her own.

KÜHL Editor
KÜHL Editor


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