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New research vessel takes shape

The new, 146-foot ship, designed by Bay Marine Inc., in Barrington, R.I., is being built in Anacortes, Wash.
5:24 p.m., April 28, 2005--The University of Delaware’s research fleet, stationed at the College of Marine Studies’ Sharp Campus, in Lewes, is about to enter the exciting world of 21st-Century oceanographic vessel technology when its newest research vessel becomes operational next year.

The new, 146-foot ship, designed by Bay Marine Inc., in Barrington, R.I., is being built by Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Wash. The company has been in business since 1975 and specializes in the construction and repair of steel and aluminum ships, ranging from fishing and recovery vessels to ferries and barges.

“The new ship will greatly strengthen the research opportunities available to faculty and students in the College of Marine Studies, as well as researchers from other universities,” Provost Dan Rich said.

With an “endurance” or maximum length of time at sea of approximately 20 days and a range of 3,000 nautical miles, the ship will replace the Cape Henlopen, UD’s current flagship research vessel that has served the oceanographic research community faithfully for nearly 30 years.

Nancy Targett, interim dean of the College of Marine Studies, said that when the new ship comes online it will place UD and the College of Marine Studies at the forefront of shipboard technology for coastal research vessels.

“The enthusiasm is reflected not only here, but also within the oceanographic community by the list of scientific users who have already signed on for research trips in 2008,” Targett said. “It is a model for the next generation of shipboard science and I am excited that Marine Studies can be part of that.”

Matthew Hawkins, director of marine operations in the College of Marine Studies, said the new vessel is needed to pursue research opportunities made possible by technological advances that have occurred over the past three decades. During that time, the Cape Henlopen has served as an oceangoing research laboratory to more than 30,000 scientists working in the mid-Atlantic region, operating in an area that extends from the Gulf of Maine to Florida, and eastward to Bermuda.

“The Cape Henlopen is approaching 30 years of service, and that is about the limit for what you can expect from a vessel of this size,” Hawkins said. ”Science has changed dramatically, and there is very little comparison to what is being attempted these days compared to 30 years ago. The new ship will be a huge step forward.”

The total cost of constructing the vessel and outfitting it with scientific instrumentation and communications systems is estimated at $18.6 million. Funding for the new ship will be provided by the University of Delaware, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Office of Naval Research and private donations.

“We serve all disciplines in oceanography, and each discipline has certain needs, which range from measuring the characteristics of a water column to taking water samples,” Hawkins said. “We can collect enough data in two or three days to keep researchers busy for several months, if not a year.”

Hawkins said that several features on the new vessel, including its diesel electronic propulsion power plant and a 360-degree thrusting capability, make the ship an ideal research platform for conducting sensitive data-and-specimen-gathering experiments.

“Station-keeping is what happens when we get onto a sampling site and want to stay put,” Hawkins said. “We need to stay at a site so we can lock in our GPS coordinates for many minutes, if not for an hour. The Cape Henlopen is a conventional diesel-driven vessel with two propellers and two rudders and no bow thrusters, and it can drift around a lot with the current.”

Like its predecessor, the new vessel will draw only 10 feet of water, something that will allow it to operate in the shallow waters of the mid-Atlantic coastal zone.

With 30 tons of carrying capacity, the ship will provide accommodations for 22 scientists, as well as housing a pair of portable lab vans, Hawkins said.

“It’s really a very large step forward,” Hawkins said. “Our researchers will be able to work more efficiently and much more safely because it will be a larger, more modern ship, with a more stable platform for working at sea, where conditions can get a little rough.”

Because it is being built to very high underwater-radiated noise standards, the new vessel will be much quieter acoustically, something that will prove very effective when it comes to doing marine mammal surveys, Hawkins said.

“The vessel is being built to an international standard known as ICES 209, which is based on the amount of noise that the ship itself puts into the water. The level has to be below a certain limit, so that the behavior of the fish being studied is not influenced,” Hawkins said. “The ship will be very effective in doing acoustic and fisheries research.”

The new vessel will continue to operate as a member of the U.S. academic research fleet via the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), a consortium of 64 academic institutions and national research laboratories. One of UNOLS’ chief functions is to ensure the efficient scheduling of scientific cruises aboard the 28 research vessels shared by 21 of its member institutions.

Construction of the new ship is expected to be completed this fall. The hull is being assembled from five steel modules that fit together like a huge jigsaw puzzle. A lighter aluminum superstructure that includes a pilothouse will sit atop the completed hull.

To save on any wear-and-tear that might result from a journey through the Panama Canal and up the East Coast, the new vessel will be transported aboard a larger commercial ship.

Hawkins noted that members of his staff and researchers in the College of Marine Studies are looking forward to the exciting new research opportunities that the new ship affords.

“The Cape Henlopen has served the research community well,” Hawkins said. We will be sorry to see her go, but it’s time for a new ship because of the changing needs of oceanographic research.”

Article by Jerry Rhodes

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