As Captain of the R/V Hugh R. Sharp, Bill Byam is responsible for the operation of the ship as well as the safety of up to 14 scientists and 6-7 crew.
At 146 feet in length, The R/V Hugh R. Sharp has a top speed of 11.5 knots, range of 4,000 miles and has logged over 100,000 miles traveling to destinations as distant as Georges Bank, Canada, the Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas.
Ship technician Wynn Tucker makes a quick repair to the Scanfish, an undulating CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) system. It operates to within 3 meters of the seafloor.
UD scientist Doug Miller (center) examines a worm found in a sediment sample collected from the Atlantic Ocean floor.
UD geoscientist Art Trembanis examines his autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) before it is deployed in the Atlantic Ocean off Delaware.
Jonathan Gutsche (left), Doctoral student Nicole Raineault (center) and her advisor Art Trembanis (right) monitor the AUV's position during a mission.
Research aboard the R/V Sharp continues through a warm August night. As UD's autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) surveys the ocean floor, the instrument's location is monitored and recorded, along with what it sees. The AUV is mapping an artificial reef of sunken subway cars and ships on the seafloor.
As the ship technician aboard the R/V Sharp, Wynn Tucker interacts directly with the scientists on the ship. She is in charge of all data collection, science equipment and deployments. Tucker says she "was destined" for a career at sea. She grew up on the water, traveling the Intercoastal Waterway with her parents. She holds a degree in marine technology.
A native of Lewes, DE., home port of the R/V Sharp, Mary Moore is a deckhand / second engineer. When sailing as second engineer, she completes engine room rounds, repairs systems as needed and operates the deck winches and frames. Moore describes herself as a fourth-generation waterman. Her family does net fishing for sea trout, croaker and perch.
As the ship's cook, Paul Gomez plays a crucial role, making sure the crew and science team are well fed. A chef by training, he buys groceries, does the cooking, the cleaning and laundry. He prepares balanced meals three times a day even in rough seas. His specialty is a delectable seafood pasta made with shrimp, scallops and clams.
As chief engineer, Tim North oversees the four 500 KW diesel generators that supply power for the ship's propulsion and service (electricity for lights, computers, heating / air conditioning, pumping water, etc.). He is also a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain. The Cambridge, Md., native comes from a commercial fishing background on the Eastern Shore.
A native of Freedom, Pa., Oliver Fullard is the second engineer, the officer responsible for assisting the chief engineer in the daily maintenance and operation of the ship's engines. Fullard stands the 11:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. watch. During this watch, he does engine room rounds, operates all deck equipment and repairs systems as needed.
Mary Feen lives in Cape May, N.J., and ferries across the Delaware Bay to Lewes, Del., to work aboard the R/V Sharp as a reliever when the ship's full-time second mate has scheduled time off. During her watch, Fenn is responsible for all ship operations, navigation and safety. She has handled boats all of her life.
UD's research vessel is named in honor of the late Hugh R. Sharp Jr., who served for many years on the University's board of trustees and was a staunch supporter of marine research. The ship is a national resource, available for charter by federally funded scientists through the National Oceanographic Laboratory System.
What’s it like to be captain of UD’s 146-foot flagship, R/V
Hugh R. Sharp? Capt. Bill Byam fills us in on this
state-of-the-art floating laboratory, described by American
Ship Review as one
of the most advanced coastal research vessels in North America. Learn more about the ship and track its location on this website.
How long have you been a captain?
I’m on my seventh issue; each issue is five years, so I’ve been a captain for 35+ years. I’ve been at Delaware for 11 ½ years, and I’m one of the newest in the crew, which gives you some idea of the continuity of
our crew. Before UD, I worked in the oil industry, ran ferries for
International Paper and operated a charter sailing business.
What’s a typical workday run?
It’s six hours on and six off. My watch starts at 5:30 a.m. I’m on from 5:30 in the morning to 11:30/noon; and back on again from 5:30 to
11:30 at night.
How many days is the R/V Sharp typically at sea?
The target is 180–200 days per year. The crew sails two-thirds of the schedule. The captain and
chief engineer can sail over 140 days. We work seven days a week. Christmas and
Thanksgiving are the only holidays we always try not to schedule any cruises.
What’s most unique about this ship?
The design of the ship itself — it’s modular, so we can change as technology does and incorporate new equipment to
support the wide range of researchers we serve from institutions across the
United States. Also, this vessel has diesel electric engines and Z-drives that
enable you to turn 180° or go sideways. You can feather the drives down to very low RPM and rotate the
Z-drives with no stops. It’s also very acoustically quiet, which is a real benefit for studies of marine
mammals and fish.
What kinds of science projects
is the ship currently supporting?
We do a lot of
work with AUVs [autonomous underwater vehicles] with researchers at the
University of Delaware, plus we have projects in Delaware Bay with several
UD scientists. We have a scallop project with NOAA [National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration] that requires doing surveys in the waters from
Virginia to Canada, and we completed two years of marine mammal and bird
observations for the state of New Jersey.
What kind of data do you log?
Once underway, we’re continually pumping water, monitoring temperature, wind, surface water,
fluorescence, with a time-stamp log of all of this. Once an hour, we transmit
the data via the Rolling Deck to Repository, which is a gateway to the national
data centers [National Geophysical Data Center and National Oceanographic Data
Center]. At the end of the cruise, the scientist gets a CD full of all that
data. We have two systems here that allow us to do satellite communication by
phone, fax or Internet. We still keep a captain’s log also. It’s done on all ships and is a legal document.
How has ship technology affected
how science is done?
We’re getting closer to the point where the crew can accomplish the work, and the
scientist can stay back home and give instructions virtually.
How “green” is the ship?
The R/V Sharp is among the cleanest vessels in the fleet. The
engines were designed to meet Tier 1 emissions standards of the EPA, and we
burn a low-sulfur fuel. It also is much more energy-efficient than our old
ship, the 120-foot Cape Henlopen. We use about 100 gallons less fuel per day,
despite the fact that the Sharp is a much larger ship at 146 feet long.
What conservation practices does the ship have?
We have a reverse-osmosis system
for making water. We make 800 – 900 gallons a day and have a 2,200-gallon capacity of potable water. Everybody
can shower daily, but we ask people to be smart about water, such as not
leaving the faucet running. We advocate a “Navy shower” where you wet, turn off, soap up, then turn the water back on to shower off. We
have a washer and drier on board also. The gray water is discharged when the
vessel is offshore.
What’s the most exciting
thing that’s happened at sea?
“Exciting” is a word we don’t like to have in our vocabulary. We try to avoid it.“Uneventful” is the key word — that’s really good in our business.... There is the aspect of seeing sunrises and
sunsets and seeing marine mammals offshore. We caught an 18-pound lobster once
and a pretty good-sized sturgeon at the mouth of Delaware Bay. One of our
moorings off Chesapeake, Virginia, had an octopus on it. We’ve also done projects in the Bahamas with divers on the bottom, and we’ve helped retrieve gliders that fly offshore up to 30 days and then surface for
Are there any ship superstitions?
None specific to this vessel, but in general,
don’t start a cruise on a Friday, and don’t carry bananas.
What do you do during your ‘down time’ at sea?
I’ve always been a fan of sea stories —Ernest Hemingway, John Slocum…. Know the difference between a fairy tale and a sea story? A fairy tale begins
with ‘Once upon a time’ and a sea story starts with ‘I swear this is the truth….’”