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Fri June 26, 2009
RV Dan Moore Fate in Limbo
By Michael Tomsic
Wilmington, NC – Cape Fear Community College's research vessel the RV Dan Moore comes into port Friday from what could be its last voyage for the foreseeable future.
The vessel's state funding is in limbo after being cut from the House version of next year's budget. Because the Senate and Governor's versions of the budget spared the cut, the RV Dan Moore's fate will be decided by conference committee.
With rust stains along the bow showing its years the RV Dan Moore's off-white hull rocks gently in two to three foot seas as Marine Tech students sift through flopping fish. They identify one of each species before shoveling the rest back into the ocean. They do keep all the shrimp, which they use to feed their aquaria back at Cape Fear Community College. The catch is from fifteen minutes of trawling off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina.
"This is workforce training. So we're out here giving them experience in skills that they'll have to master if they want to get a job in fisheries, seismic offshore, surveying, water quality, you name it."
That's Jason Rogers Department Chair of the Marine Tech Program. On each voyage students are divided into two groups. One group covers weather and navigation which includes charting the conditions, the boat's location, and even driving the boat. The other group conducts marine science exercises trawling is one of many examples.
Halfway through the voyage, these groups switch roles so that students such as Eddie Fetter, who's on his third trip aboard the Dan Moore get experience in every job on board.
"When you're working on a crew of a vessel everybody needs to know at least a little bit about everybody else's job, because you never know if somebody gets sick or heaven forbid something happens to somebody, you have to have somebody to be able to fill in his spot."
Marine Tech students at Cape Fear Community College have to take five voyages. By the time they graduate they have spent at least 32 days at sea.
Steve Beuth has captained the R-V Dan Moore on every trip it's made in nearly 30 years.
"Most days are beautiful. With most days, the weather is nice, but then the next day can be sheer misery, discomfort, terror. You can't open the refrigerator door without the pandora's box, everything flying out at you, of course you don't feel like eating anyway."
The science group uses cables to lift a sidescan sonar into the water. It's not one of the terrifying days. But even with the ship rolling gently, the students' job is not easy.
The sidescan sonar weighs about forty pounds and looks like a yellow torpedo. It's banged against the back of the boat. But it's undamaged, and the students successfully lower it into the water. The sonar creates an image of the ocean floor by sending out signals from two sides. Department Chair Jason Rogers says they are examining a shipwreck that is now part of an artificial reef.
"All we're doing is just showing them how it's deployed, how it's retrieved, how to configure the computer, and then how to interpret an image."
This is exactly the kind of training that has landed a former student a job with a London treasure hunting company. After the sidescan sonar the boat takes off towards its next location. While they steam from one place to the next the students get to cast their reels.
Everyone congratulates their peer Justin McDonald on catching a mahi mahi fish. Although he gets to keep the edible part the catch is another learning opportunity for the students.
They dissect McDonald's mahi mahi right on the deck. Rogers says workers for marine fisheries have to identify major organs in a fish on the spot. The students are unphased by the smell or the blood they've been through this drill a couple times.
"You can't look in there and tell me where the stomach is if you haven't practiced it time and time again," Rogers says. "So now we have practiced it, right Mr. Fetter? Where's the stomach? That's right, that's exactly right. This big lobe structure right here is the stomach."
That's the RV Dan Moore's technician Mitchell Gilliland telling Rogers the the signal to the ADCP is working. It stands for Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler.
They dropped it about 15 miles offshore near an area called Frying Pan tower four days ago where it's been collecting data on the irregular current. It's the last day of the trip and retrieving the device is the science group's last task. They send an acoustic signal that releases the ADCP from an anchor and the large floats attached to it send it quickly to the surface.
There's a strong wind and current on this early morning. The group hooks the roughly forty pound contraption on its second attempt.
Once the students pull in all of their research equipment they begin the six-hour trip back to their dock on the Cape Fear River. Because of a proposed cut to the program's funding it could be one of the RV Dan Moore's last trips.
Student Justin McDonald says he is constantly learning aboard the research vessel, but for him and his peers - it is more than an educational tool.
"Without it, I can't possibly imagine what I would do. This boat means the world to all of us."
Next year's state budget should be finalized by the end of the month. Cape Fear Community College's Marine Tech program anxiously waits to see if funding for the RV Dan Moore will be included.
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