FERRISBURGH — After a decade of planning, a $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation and a 8,000-mile sea journey from a boat-builder in Washington State to the Basin Harbor Club on Lake Champlain, Middlebury College’s new research vessel has finally arrived home.
The R/V David Folger, named for a beloved geology professor who launched the college’s marine studies and lake research component of his department’s curriculum, was officially dedicated this past Saturday.
The 45-foot, twin-hulled catamaran boasts a large laboratory, six computer workstations, a new navigational system, smart classrooms, a system that enables bottom bathymetric mapping, and a remotely operated vehicle that can take up-close photos of underwater features of the lake.
“It’s absolutely fabulous, it’s everything we hoped for,” said geology professor Tom Manley, who heads up the college’s marine studies program along with wife and fellow geology professor Patricia Manley.
“It’s turning into a wonderful educational platform.”
Patricia Manley described the Folger as a “floating classroom.”
The ship, which can motor along at speeds up to 24 knots, went through quite the epic odyssey to get to Lake Champlain. Custom-built for the college in Bellingham, Wash., it became clear early on that the vessel was too large to be transported over land. In August, it was put aboard a cargo ship, the Panthea, which carried it down the West Coast and through the Panama Canal on a 6,700-nautical-mile journey to Port Everglades, Fla., where the Folger was offloaded. After some delays, a four-person crew comprised of Capt. Richard Furbish (who will continue as the vessel’s full-time captain), Capt. Tom Manley, electronics specialist Chris Goodrich and mate Pat Manley sailed the boat 1,300-nautical miles up the coast to its new Lake Champlain home.
Dave Folger, now retired, was aboard his namesake when it pulled into the Basin Harbor Club marina last month. When not docked in Ferrisburgh, the ship is being housed at the nearby Point Bay Marina in Charlotte.
The vessel replaces the R/V Baldwin, which had served as the college’s marine research vessel since 1985. The Baldwin “was starting to show its age,” Pat Manley said. Space was limited, the technology was dated, and the professor aboard also had to also serve as the captain, which made it difficult to go into detailed analysis while classes were on board.
Supriti Jaya Ghosh, who graduated with honors in May, worked as a teaching assistant with the Manleys’ classes and did her senior thesis research on the Baldwin. She noted that Middlebury College would occasionally borrow the University of Vermont’s research vessel because it had more advanced technology.
“This will be a lot more in-house,” she said of the Folger.
The new ship not only features more galley and bunk space that the Baldwin, it also is equipped with all the latest technology. The college has hired a captain to manage the vessel when classes are on board so that professors can dedicate their energy to teaching.
Nevertheless, Ghosh said she would miss the Baldwin.
“I liked it,” she said. “It’s the one I had all of my experiences on (as a student).”
It will serve two popular courses in the geography department, “Oceanography” and “Marine Biology,” as well as independent senior research projects. The Manleys said the vessel will also be used by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, with which the college has a longstanding relationship. The Alumni College will offer courses onboard, as well.
The geology department’s research vessels have been used creatively in the past, too: classes by Professor of Dance Andrea Olsen have been held aboard the Baldwin, Manley noted, and Music Professor Peter Hamlin had expressed interest in doing the same. In addition, Manley said other colleges in the Northeast whose natural sciences programs don’t have proximity to a lake, or the kind of research equipment that the Folger can boast of, would likely borrow it to give their students some hands-on experience.
Ghosh was on hand to lead tours of the Folger last weekend.
“It’s really exciting the boat is here,” she said.
She said that her courses with the Manleys and the experience of being on board the research vessel, having hands-on interactions with the lake, were “life changing.”
“With geology, if you’re not seeing it, you’re not understanding how things are coming together,” Ghosh said.