Jon Leiby

WHOI Staff Naval Architect 1959-1991


Naval Architecture is part art, part technology and a good deal of precedent. When I joined the Inst. in 1959 to assist with the design of the new ship funded by the National Science Foundation (which became the ATLANTIS II) we had just started to assimilate the conversion of the former Navy salvage tug CHAIN and hence much of the ATLANTIS II design became an effort to “improve” on the CHAIN rather than the original ATLANTIS which was the basis for the funding.
Because the funding had been obtained to replace a much smaller ship than the CHAIN, there was a reluctance to let the ATLANTIS II be longer than the CHAIN and so the ATLANTIS II had too much packed into too short a ship. Also the power plant specified by the engineers we used (Bethlehem Steel’s Central Technical Dept. in Quincy) was so precisely designed that the boilers barely produced enough steam for the engines selected so in service we ended up a 9 knot endurance speed. Note below that these factors had a direct effect in the design of the OCEANUS.
After the ATLANTIS II settled down in the mid-60’s I began a conceptual design for the replacement of the CRAWFORD, a 125 foot ex-USCG cutter built in 1926. At that time there was no funding in sight, but what became the OCEANUS design was thought of as a smaller, single-mission deep sea vessel that was to be less than 300 gross tonnes and fast (or at least would have plenty of margin in the power plant).
In the late 60’s we got deeply involved with the KNORR’s long and complicated design and construction process through the Navy but periodically I worked further on the OCEANUS design.
In both the CHAIN and the ATLANTIS II the machinery was in the center, most comfortable part of the vessel so I patterned the OCEANUS after the long-distance West Coast tuna clippers that roamed the South Pacific with the engine way forward, leaving the area of least motion amidships for laboratory and crew accommodations. Generally engines and their pistons like to up and down anyway so they wouldn’t mind being forward where pitching accelerations were greater.
When design funding finally came though in 1970 from the Fleischman Foundation we employed the Boston firm of John Gilbert, Naval Architects, to do the detailed design engineering and specifications. One main reason for that selection was that among Jack Gilbert’s great interests was the seakeeping characteristics of the British deep-water trawler hull forms (Gilbert was an old friend we had known since his days as a junior engineer at Bethlehem’s CTD design department during the design of the ATLANTIS II).
By some very good fortune Peterson Builders of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, the shipyard that won the construction contract for the OCEANUS (and also the WECOMA for Oregon State and the ENDEAUVOR for Rhode Island) was one of the finest yards in the country and the construction, funded by the National Science Foundation, went very smoothly.
A yard near Peterson’s that commonly built 1000 ft. Great Lakes ore ships delivered one that was constantly in trouble and not all due to the operating personnel. The rumor was that ships shouldn’t be launched on Friday. Peterson said they put no stock in such tales then added they never launched on Fridays.
Perhaps that is why the three OCEANUS class ships have had such success and sometimes just plain “good luck”. An illustration of this is that our contract with Peterson for the first two ships when completed was $40,000 LESS than the original bid price. NSF said never in all their history had a final cost come in at less than the original bid.
Another possible evidence of good luck was that during the delivery trip of the OCEANUS a storm went through the Great Lakes that sunk the 700 foot iron ore ship EDMUND FITZGERALD in Lake Huron. The storm would have caught the OCEANUS somewhere in the Atlantic off Nova Scotia, BUT the OCEANUS had broken down off Quebec City and was safely in a 1,200-foot long, 130’ wide, and 36’ deep drydock across the St. Lawrence River at Levis when the storm went through!
The reason she was drydocked there was that a strut that supported the propeller shaft broke away from the hull and allowed a small oil leak that had to be repaired. Of interest is that during trials at the shipyard the OCEANUS would only go 14.5 knots at full power where the intended design speed was 16 knots, a bit of a disappointment for all, to say the least. Also during trials and on the delivery trip there was a hum in the after part of the ship no one could identify. From Quebec I went back to Peterson’s for the trails of the WECOMA where they made some experiments and found the struts supporting the propeller shaft had such a hum at their natural frequency. Corrections were made on the WECOMA at the yard and at the same power the speed went up to the 16 knots desired. Peterson then directed that we take the OCEANUS to a drydock in Newport after arrival at Woods Hole for the same fix at their cost. More good luck!
Jonathan Leiby,
WHOI Staff Naval Architect