University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 3/1996
At mid-life, UD's research ship at its busiest

     In April 1976, the R/V Cape Henlopen, the College of Marine
Studies research vessel, was almost late for its own christening
ceremony, rounding the bend under threatening skies into the
harbor at Lewes, Del., with just a few hours to spare.
     The ship has undergone many changes over the years, from the
addition of "flopper stoppers"-to diminish a side-to-side roll-to
the latest upgrade of its satellite-directed navigational
     Most ships are used for 30-40 years, and as the Henlopen
approaches mid-life, even more enhancements are planned. Under
Timothy Pfeiffer, director of marine operations, the Cape
Henlopen successfully completed its busiest year yet-198 days at
sea in 1995. Only five fewer days at sea are scheduled
for this year.
     "The biggest single factor that affects the success of the
ship is unquestionably the performance of the crew," Pfeiffer
says. "Our crew is highly skilled, but, even more important than 
that, they also are highly motivated and they make a real effort to
ensure that scientists finish their projects properly."
     The crew, more than anything, accounts for the ship's heavy
schedule and the large number of repeat use requests from
scientists, he says.
     "For example, someone comes aboard our ship, finds that the
crew is a joy to work with, that they were extremely helpful,
overcame all the problems and managed to find a little
whatchamajigit to replace the thingamabob that the scientist
forgot. [The scientist] gets off the ship saying, 'I got more
data and had a more successful cruise than I have ever had before
because your crew was so fantastic. The next time I write a
proposal, I'm going to request to do my work on your ship.'"
     The Henlopen's use is scheduled by the scheduling committee
of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System
(UNOLS), a fleet of academically owned research ships that
receives 70 percent of its funding from the National Science
     "We work locally in the Delaware and Chesapeake bays and
nearby coasts, so our schedule is pretty simple and
straightforward. People who want to use a ship in the Indian
Ocean or the Arctic Sea may have to wait two or three years
before there's an appropriate ship in that area," Pfeiffer
     It costs between $5,500 to $6,000 a day to use the Cape
Henlopen, so only scientists with funded proposals are in the
running for its use.
     "Organizing a field oceanographic experiment is a major
job," Pfeiffer says. "If you're not positive what the
capabilities of the winches are and what services the crew will
be able to provide for you, it makes planning even more
     Six people serve as the Henlopen staff, and the ship sails
with a crew of four.
     "We have the perfect balance of licenses and skills so that
we can maintain a continuing rotation with two people at home and
four people on the ship at all time," Pfeiffer says. "Normally,
we sail for 10 days and have five days off. We usually come into
port in the morning and leave the next morning or that night.
That gives us just enough time to refuel and get food and clean
     In busy 1996, there will be only three 24-hour docks.
     Despite his years at sea, Pfeiffer insists the territory is
too tame to generate any really good sea stories.
     "What you really need for a story like that is for us to
have a cruise where we go out and discover the Titanic or
something like that.
     "That's just not going to happen in our world. We do good,
solid marine science-about evenly split between the biological,
chemical and physical disciplines-but, it's not the stuff of
which great sea stories are made. The level of professionalism
among the crew is sufficiently high that it's rare we have a
cruise that is not just simple, routine work."
                                          -Elizabeth A. Chajes