UW News

January 8, 2009

New vessel provides platform to test innovative equipment, conduct research

News and Information

Equipment and instruments developed for use on deep-ocean expeditions, on the seafloor or under the ice at the North Pole need thorough testing before being sent to sea.

The UW Applied Physics Laboratory’s new vessel, delivered this fall, provides just such a platform for testing.

The Research Vessel Robertson, named for the late Jack Robertson, a former associate director of the lab, is 58 feet long and can clip along at 10 knots. It’s a workhorse of a boat able to handle equipment and instruments that will ultimately go on ocean-going vessels that are two, three or more times its size.

It’s already been used by oceanographers and engineers with the Applied Physics Laboratory such as Craig Lee, who tested acoustic modems that will be used to collect data from moorings that will go under the Arctic ice pack. Another example is Mike Gregg, who tried out a new kind of profiler that measures the characteristics of water as it is winched up and down through the ocean.

The vessel also will be used to conduct research. Matthew Alford, for instance, used the vessel for sampling the waters of Hood Canal as part of the lab’s work to understand the low-oxygen waters that create algal blooms that can take a toll on life in the canal.

“The new vessel will provide significant benefit to the APL’s marine research programs in Puget Sound and surrounding regions and it will improve the lab’s ability to test advanced instrumentation before its at-sea deployment in remote regions of the world,” says Jeffrey Simmen, director of the Applied Physics Laboratory. He and Bill Bakamis, an associate director at the lab, were the driving force behind funding for the vessel, which was paid for exclusively by the lab, with Navy approval.

“The vessel replaces a half-century-old boat and is much more versatile, having overnight capability, extended range and duration, and increased space and hoisting capability,” Simmen said.

During design and construction, key Applied Physics Laboratory staff members working with suppliers and contractors were Eric Boget, marine superintendent and one of the vessel operators, Fred Karig, a principal mechanical engineer, and Gordon Glass, head of the resources department. Before construction Boget and Karig took the lead working with lab researchers and staff to determine such things as vessel layout, what size crane was needed, how much electricity was required and other such considerations. The discussions led to general design guidelines. During construction by Little Hoquiam Shipyards, Boget and Karig regularly worked with owner Howard Moe and his staff.

“Fred and the shipyard owner saw eye to eye as engineers,” Boget says.

One major goal was to maximize deck space. Toward that end, the shipbuilder cleverly modified an existing mold so the vessel could be two feet wider than typical, Boget says. Among the results is a work deck with 418 square feet of space.

“I don’t think there’s any way we could get any more work space on a boat this size,” Boget says. Reinforced with aluminum, the deck can handle concentrated loads of 1,000 pounds a square foot. “We tried to build a versatile utility-type vessel rather than a vessel with a specific research mission.”

Among the other features Boget and Karig most like is how the pilot house sits up high, giving the operator good visibility for both navigating and watching the work deck to make sure people are safe. Another feature, having the deck a mere 4 feet above the surface of the water, makes it that much quicker — and therefore safer — when hoisting heavy items in and out of the water.

Robertson, for whom the vessel is named, was with the lab from 1944 to 1969. He was known as a champion of using good environmental science to guide public policy. He is remembered for his efforts to lobby the Washington State Legislature for passage of the Highway Advertising Control Act in 1961 and the Shoreline Management Act. He was a co-founder of the Washington Environmental Coalition in 1968.

Specifications and more details about the RV Robertson, which also is available for use by researchers and groups not affiliated with the Applied Physics Laboratory, are at http://internet.apl.washington.edu/about_apl-uw/robertson_specs.pdf.