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WHOI Waypoints: $5M Gift Enables WHOI to Build a "Dream" Ship

The idea was exciting, but it waited like a ship in the doldrums—until Gratia “Topsy” Rinehart Montgomery arrived to put wind in the sails.

Her $5 million gift enables WHOI to move full speed ahead with a long-sought dream: building an economical vessel that can accommodate a wide range of research operations, in the open oceans and in coastal waters as shallow as 18 feet, and in all seasons—even nasty New England winters.

“This wonderful gift helps us solve one of the greatest challenges facing researchers in the coastal zone—keeping alive the dream of suitable research vessels from which to work,” said WHOI Associate Director for Marine Operations Richard Pittenger. “Most are small and lack the seaworthiness and general capabilities to accomplish essential scientific tasks, particularly in the long winter season when routine operations can be very difficult and often dangerous. Larger ships are too expensive to operate and are usually assigned by federal agencies to work in more distant waters, making them unavailable for rapid response to study environmental events like major fish kills, hurricanes, and ship or barge groundings.”
Previous donations enabled WHOI to design an ideal coastal research ship—with the hope of actually building it one day. It is a SWATH (Small-Waterplane-Area Twin Hull) vessel with two semi-submerged hulls that do not follow surface wave motion like regular mono- or single-hull ships. Thin struts supporting an above-water platform have small cross sections, or waterplanes, that significantly reduce the pitch and roll that make many types of research difficult or impossible on standard research vessels. The 105-foot SWATH will accommodate an economical crew of six, as well as 10 scientists. It will have a large working deck, 500 square feet of laboratory space, and built-in quietness for conducting high-quality acoustic measurements. Operating in bays and estuaries from the Gulf of Maine to Long Island Sound and offshore on Georges Bank, the Gulf Stream, or continental shelf, the SWATH vessel will be perfectly suited for research on red tides, beach erosion, coastal pollution, and declining fisheries.

 “Going to sea is critical to making the observations necessary to advance our understanding of the coastal environment,” said Mrs. Montgomery, who lives on the southeastern Massachusetts coast. “Fewer ships today provide essential access to the sea for scientists and students, our future scientists. More and more people are moving to the coast, and, as a society increasingly dependent on the sea, we must use the coastal zone wisely. I want future generations to be able to enjoy our coast as much as I have.”

“We are extremely grateful for Topsy Montgomery’s support of this project and for her long-term commitment to students and to coastal research in general,” WHOI Director Bob Gagosian said. “She is a visionary whose love of the New England coast will be shared with countless students and scientists for decades to come. Her contributions to this Institution are allowing us to advance coastal oceanography in a major way. Several years ago her commitment to coastal research was reflected in a $5 million grant to the Gratia Houghton Rinehart Coastal Research Center. Her new gift will add immensely to our capabilities to work safely and productively at sea, especially in coastal waters.”

Originally published: October 1, 2000