BEAUFORT — For about five years, the Duke University Marine Lab has been without a large research vessel, but that’s going to change this month.
The R/V Shearwater is on its way to DUML from Bellingham, Wash. The vessel will be the latest in a line of R/Vs stationed at the Duke Lab capable of long-term, offshore projects, taking the place of the R/V Susan Hudson, which was retired in 2014. The vessel is scheduled to arrive in Beaufort by the end of the month, with the first course taught onboard it scheduled for January.
DUML Director’s Assistant and Communications and Development Coordinator Stephanie Hillsgrove said in an email to The News-Times that DUML has two small research vessels, the Richard Barber and the Kirby-Smith.
“Both smaller research vessels are great for taking students and researchers along the local N.C. coastline, nearshore for day-long trips,” Ms. Hillsgrove said, “but neither of these are equipped to travel longer distances offshore or able to support overnight operations.”
All American Marine of Bellingham built the Shearwater. Duke University paid for it with an $11 million gift it received in July 2017. Ms. Hillsgrove said of that amount, $5 million went to build the state-of-the-art vessel, while the other $6 million is being used to pay for operation costs.
“The goals were to design a research vessel that would enhance the education and research activities of the marine lab, strengthen community outreach and support collaborations in academia and the ocean science research community,” she said.
The Shearwater is a 77-foot aluminum catamaran with a Teknicraft Design Hull, a patented hydrofoil-assisted design with low-wake wash energy and fuel economy.
Ms. Hillsgrove said the ship was built and outfitted for year-round operations to support exploring and investigating the marine environment.
“The R/V Shearwater will provide students a unique, hands-on, experience-based opportunity that aligns with the multi-disciplinary nature of ocean science and technology research,” she said in the email. “Functioning as both a research platform and ‘classroom at sea,’ the Shearwater will give students the opportunity for inter-disciplinary studies, with coursework ranging from Biological and Physical Oceanography and Marine Ecology to the Biology of Marine Mammals and Bioacoustics.”
DUML faculty will teach courses onboard the Shearwater, with a “blend of lectures and field-based experiences,” according to Ms. Hillsgrove.
“Living aboard the research vessel provides students a unique life-at-sea experience coupled with a first-class education and front-row seat to cutting edge and innovative oceanographic research,” she said.
At the helm of the Shearwater will be Capt. Matthew Dawson, who joined the staff at DUML in September. Ms. Hillsgrove said prior to joining the lab he was a full-time fisheries technician and captain for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
“Matt has recently traveled to Bellingham to oversee the sea trials (for the Shearwater),” Ms. Hillsgrove said, “as well as the preparation of the research vessel for delivery by freighter.”
Among the trials the Shearwater has undergone was operating on rough seas. According to Ms. Hillsgrove, comfortable high-speed cruising was expected from the vessel, but Capt. Dawson reported being able to run at 20 knots (23.02 mph) through steep, white-capping 4-to-6-foot seas in 20-30 knot (23.02-34.52 mph) winds.
“Matt (said) ‘In those conditions it was hardly necessary to keep an eye on your coffee!’,” Ms. Hillsgrove said. “Matt mentioned he’s looking forward to bringing the Shearwater back to Beaufort, as well as to see first-hand, and be a part of, the research vessel support of the marine lab’s mission of research, education and outreach.”
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