Saying goodbye to an old friend: The R/V Cape Hatteras returns home from her final voyage

The R/V Cape Hatteras. Photo by Andrew David Thaler.

The R/V Cape Hatteras. Photo by Andrew David Thaler.

AndrewThumbAt 0930, January 30, 2013, the research vessel Cape Hatteras made her final voyage through the Beaufort Inlet to dock at Pivers Island. The Cape Hatteras served as the flagship of the Duke/University of North Carolina Oceanographic Consortium for 31 years. During that time she logged more than 5000 days at sea over the course of hundreds of research cruises.

In a period where science funding for oceanographic research is at an all time low, the decommissioning of the Cape Hatteras represents a significant loss to America’s research capacity. The Hatteras is the only regional class research vessel on the eastern seaboard south of Delaware. She served a region ranging from the mid-Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico and as far east as Bermuda. She can handle equipment as simple as a box core or trawl or as sophisticated as the ROV Nereus.

In my time at Duke, I participated in two cruises aboard the Hatteras. One is described in my most personal blog post: The Importance of Failure in Graduate Student Training. My co-blogger, Amy, dedicated an entire series to her adventures aboard the Cape Hatteras in the Sargasso Sea.

The Hatteras is only one of several research vessels that have been decommissioned in recent years. She joins the R/V Seward-Johnson (and the Johnson Sea Links), the R/V Point Lobos, the R/V Zephyr, the Albatross IV, and numerous coastal and near-shore research vessels. While new, privately funded ships, like the R/V Falcor, have recently entered service, the loss of so many publicly funded vessels is a major blow to scientific research. The folks at Deep Sea News put out a call for an oceanic equivalent of NASA to meet the United States scientific needs.

The Hatteras was more than just another research vessel, she was a home to many and a symbol of pride for Carteret County. It is estimated that she contributed more than $4 million a year to North Carolina’s economy. Beyond that, she was a friend.

This morning, the Beaufort community came together to welcome the Hatteras back from her final voyage.