MYRTLE BEACH — The bottle shattered against the bow with a loud thwack Friday, as a new research vessel, the Coastal Explorer, was officially christened to change the course of Coastal Carolina University’s expanding marine science program.
“It’s a great day and such an enormous boost to the program,” said Paul Gayes, director of the university’s School of Coastal and Marine Systems Science, whose wife, Agatha O’Brien Gayes, had christening honors along with Chauncey, CCU’s mascot. “We’ve been so successful in bringing in the expertise and the equipment, and it better supports those than we’ve been able to in the past.”
The vessel fits with the mission of keeping students engaged and hands-on, said Michael Roberts, dean of the College of Science, and of being a place where resources are available to all, including undergraduates. The School of Coastal and Marine Systems Science steadily has been expanding its courses and research capacity, and the university will begin offering the state’s only Ph.D. program in marine science next year.
“It’s incredibly attractive, and to see the progress and scientific opportunity (at CCU) is incredibly exciting,” said Leigha Peterson, a graduate student in coastal marine and wetlands studies who is preparing to return to Antarctica around Christmas to work on another project.
The dedication ceremony at the Grande Dunes Marina was in keeping with a watery theme, with rain drenching the proceedings as guests waited for an opportunity to tour the 54-foot ship, an aluminum catamaran that is 18 feet wide and has a cruising speed of 20 knots. Its A-frame is equipped with an 8,000-pound lift that can put out instrumentation buoys and other equipment that CCU otherwise had to pay for a barge to transport, Gayes said, and there is a specialized mount on the front for multi-beam sonar capability.
The vessel has a lab, a spacious main deck and the bridge, complete with captain’s chairs and data acquisition workstations. Its equipment ranges from state-of-the-art geophysical instruments to devices for water and sediment sampling, seafloor mapping and underwater video. The ship cost $1,100,282 and was paid for with a state grant.
“I think the catamaran design will capture attention, because it’s a different profile than people are used to,” Gayes said. “The design is much more prevalent in research vessels. It’s more stable, good on fuel consumption – there are a lot of advantages.”
Peterson said the vessel will broaden coverage for some students, who have been studying inland and from piers. She said she received her bachelor’s degree at CCU, where she started in seafloor mapping, and said that having a vessel that expands the options for study make the program very attractive for prospective students.
Gayes said the smaller platform on CCU’s other vessel could only take so many students out at a time, but the Coastal Explorer can hold 22 people with a crew of two, allowing the program to engage more students and do more of what it already does so well.
The ship will have homes at North Myrtle Beach’s Harbourgate marina and at the Harborwalk in Georgetown, allowing for projects that span both ends of the Grand Strand, as well as in Georgia. CCU also is in talks to work on projects in New York for the summer.
“So the boat will get around – it’s just ideally suited for the kinds of coastal systems we research,” Gayes said. “We’ve been able to contribute quite a bit to the understanding of the coastal area, and this helps us to expand and do better integrated science looking at it as a system so we can better serve our students, our state and our science.”