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Three Ships and a Sub

Three Ships and a Sub

Keeping up with the research vessels Knorr, Atlantis, Oceanus, and the deep-sea submersible Alvin


Knorr passes a milestone: one million miles and counting

Two round trips to the moon. Forty trips around the Earth. That’s how far the research vessel Knorr has cruised in 36 years at sea.

The 279-foot vessel, which was launched in 1970 and travels about 11 nautical miles per hour, passed the million-mile mark on Oct. 6 in the Golfo de Ancud, along the coast of Chile.

Captain A.D. Colburn said Knorr passed the milestone while traveling to Puerto Montt, Chile, after a 46-day science expedition in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica. The crew marked the occasion by ringing the ship’s bell and blowing the whistle. That night on shore, they toasted the event with champagne.

Knorr, capable of traveling around the world for ocean research, is best known for carrying researchers to their discovery of the Titanic wreck in 1985. Knorr and the research vessel Melville are among the ships in the current University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System fleet to have topped one million miles.

Atlantis comes home, alongside an old friend

The research vessel Atlantis is a bit like a Hollywood celebrity—well-known and often talked about, yet rarely seen cruising around town.

In fact, when the 274-foot vessel’s arrived in Woods Hole on Oct. 13, it marked just the third time since its launch in 1996 that it has sailed into its home port.

Since Atlantis’ last visit in July 2003, the vessel has logged more than 50,000 nautical miles on science expeditions, primarily in the Pacific.

The vessel made one short research expedition in the North Atlantic this fall, before settling in for several months of maintenance. The ship is expected to return to work in January.

R/V Oceanus celebrated two anniversaries this fall. On Oct. 28, as the vessel returned from a research cruise in the Gulf of  Maine, WHOI staff greeted the vessel at the pier to celebrate 30 years of hard scientific work.

On Oct. 28, 1975, Oceanus departed the shipyard at Peterson Builders, Inc., in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., sailed through the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the Gulf of  Maine, and arrived Nov. 21, 1975, at its new home in Woods Hole, Mass. After five months of painting and outfitting, Oceanus was officially launched on its first scientific expedition in April 1976, led by then-Associate Scientist Robert Beardsley, now a scientist emeritus.

Alvin goes ashore for routine overhaul

A new robotic arm is just one of the upgrades expected for the submersible Alvin when it gets its periodic overhaul this winter.

During the sub’s six-month check-up, which comes after 511 dives to the seafloor since 2001, “literally every component will be taken apart for cleaning and examination,” said pilot Pat Hickey, one of the leaders of the team of WHOI pilots and engineers who service Alvin’s ballast, battery, and motor systems.

The overhaul, required by the U.S. Navy every three to five years, allows engineers to inspect every component of the sub for damage from bumps on undersea volcanoes and from exposure to the super-heated fluids spewing from hydrothermal vents.

In the 41 years since Alvin was built, each bolt, filter, pump, valve, circuit, tube, light, and battery has been replaced at least once. At sea, maintenance is ongoing; after every dive Alvinpilots scrub off corrosive salt and check nooks for wayward jellyfish to insure that dozens of electronic and mechanical parts function properly.

When Alvin returns to sea in spring 2006, it will travel onboard the research vessel Atlantis to complete recertification dives off Bermuda before returning to service for the science community. You can see the Alvin overhaul on the the Web at

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