UpDate - Vol. 11, No. 12, Page 3 November 21, 1991 Launching a new era; R/V Cape Henlopen celebrates 15 years at sea By Beth Chajes When the morning of April 4, 1976, dawned, all was ready for the christening of the R/V Cape Henlopen, the College of Marine Studies' new 120-foot research vessel. A special platform had been built and decorated; a caterer hired; sponsors, speakers and the Cape Henlopen High School band invited. The traditional champagne- bottle shattering was set to take place at 2:30 p.m. However, the ship had not yet arrived. To make matters worse, the weather was looking rather stormy. The Cape Henlopen had been under construction for more than a year and a half at Swiftships Inc. in Morgan City, La., and for years before that, the idea of a ship had been occupying the minds of the planners and founders of the College of Marine Studies (CMS). These individuals knew they wanted a ship specially designed for research on the continental shelf. The University of Delaware was already recognized for its work in the coastal ocean. A first- class research vessel could only boost the program to a new level. At about the same time, calls for a new coastal class of research vessel were coming from all quarters. The recently formed University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) organized a committee, whose members were to study the need for such vessels. The committee concluded a new class of vessel was indeed needed, but such a ship had yet to be built. Thus, it fell to the leaders of the new college to determine the characteristics of an ideal coastal research vessel. What were the special requirements of coastal research, and how could they be met within the parameters of availability and cost? Planning for the new vessel began in earnest in 1972. Ocean-going scientists and engineers from CMS and elsewhere responded to surveys regarding their needs and use of existing vessels. A list of criteria, including a profile of a typical coastal research mission, was provided to a panel of naval architects and experts. Three possible designs emerged, with the vessels differing primarily in their speeds. These were tested on hypothetical research voyages of eight hours to five days at research stations located 100 miles from port. The chief measure of effectiveness was total gross cost per trip, taking into account such factors as fuel, food and the crew and scientists' time. The clear winner was the intermediate design, capable of about 20 knots due to its semi-displacement hull (which displaces only a fraction of its weight in water). It offset slightly higher fuel costs with the transit time saved. A number of shipyards in the Gulf of Mexico region already produced similar hulls in a 120-foot size used as personnel carriers by the offshore petroleum industry. The rest of the ship was adapted by naval architect John W. Gilbert of Boston for scientific needs. The ship was to be a trailblazer, and its design reflected this with several features proven in service but innovative in their application to oceanography. Laboratory vans were fully integrated into the design of a ship for the first time. The vans could be mated directly to the main deck laboratories (and to the college's facility in Lewes) with a weather-tight seal. A revolving deck crane provided the means of lifting loaded vans to position them on the ship or a trailer on shore as well as performing many other tasks on deck or over the side of the ship. The van system also ensured that equipment was well-tested on land prior to sailing and facilitated turnaround in port. Another system, the galley, also was designed to minimize time in port. A major airline's food service group assisted with planning the galley. Airline-style food service also cut down on crew time needed to prepare meals, but the system was later replaced by a traditional ship galley configuration. The all-aluminum hull was low maintenance, lightweight and corrosion-resistant, thus more efficient. The crew boat design permitted a lower crew-to-scientist ratio than most research vessels, which translated into economical yet productive operation. Economy and versatility were paramount concerns to the designers and potential users of the Cape Henlopen. The vans and labs could be adapted for biological, chemical, geological or physical oceanography, ocean engineering, diver and submersible support and coring. A variety of winches and support frames were included to accommodate trawling and work over the starboard side. All vessel outflows were located on the post side so as not to interfere with sampling. Throughout the design and construction of the Cape Henlopen, fund-raising was a major concern. Some funds were received from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Navy and private foundations. A group of supporters organized the Society of Plank Owners. Drawing from an old European tradition in which sponsors paid for planks of wooden ships, individuals and families sponsored pieces of the new vessel. This group later evolved into the Marine Associates. The name, Cape Henlopen, was chosen to recognize one of Delaware's most prominent geographical features. Ever since, new ships in the same class have generally followed the convention of being named after capes. As the crowd gathered on the dock after lunch that April day to watch as the Cape Henlopen received its name, the weather took a turn for the worse. The main speaker, Dr. H. Guyford Stever, director of the National Science Foundation, hurried his remarks. He had written two versions of his speech in case the ship did not make it on time. But the ship did make it, albeit with only about three hours to spare. A brief hailstorm sent the band scurrying for cover at the ceremony, but most of the audience bravely remained to witness the launching of a new era in coastal research and in the history of the college.