SHEARWATER - Speedy Shearwater creates new opportunities for offshore research
Professional Mariner|Annual American Ship Review 2021
The scientists at Duke University Marine Lab had a good idea what they wanted in a new research vessel. It had to be quick enough to keep pace with the speedy pilot whales, and efficient enough for voyages well offshore.
Caitlin Andrews

The 77-by-26.5-foot Shearwater checked all the right boxes. The 1,600hp aluminum catamaran designed by Teknicraft and built by All American Marine is outfitted with modern scientific equipment, multiple lab spaces and comfortable accommodations. It provides greater range and endurance, opening new doors for Duke students and researchers.

“It really has allowed us to think about working in areas that were going to be difficult for us, had we had to charter a vessel from another institution,” said Andrew Read, a marine biology professor and Duke Marine Lab director.

The Duke Marine Lab, located in Beaufort, N.C., is part of the Nicholas School of the Environment. It was founded in the 1930s, and has operated numerous research vessels over the years, including the 135-foot Cape Hatteras and 50-foot Susan Hudson, which the university retired in 2012 and 2014, respectively. It also operates several smaller crafts for daylong excursions.

Shearwater can travel up to 400 miles round trip, far enough to reach the Bahamas without stopping for fuel. It can achieve this thanks to its 1,500-gallon fuel capacity and a watermaker that can supply 700 gallons of fresh water a day. Shearwater can carry 30 passengers and has berthing for 14. It typically operates with three crew.

“We deliberately tried to keep her small and fuel efficient and relatively inexpensive for folks who want to charter,” Read said. “We think that there’s a market there for folks who are in the $5,000- to $6,000-a-day range for charters, rather than the $10,000- to $12,000a-day charters that a lot of these vessels are charging.”

The vessel is outfitted for myriad research areas, including marine ecology and conservation, biological oceanography, and renewable energy development. Specifically, Duke students and faculty are interested in learning how human activities offshore affect marine life.

“That’s where conflicts between things like renewable energy, oil and gas interact with fisheries and conservation of marine invertebrates are happening,” Read said.

Achieving this kind of range, speed and efficiency within a 77-foot catamaran platform — particularly one so loaded with scientific equipment — was no small feat. Naval architect Nic de Waal, managing director of Teknicraft Design in Auckland, New Zealand, said the ship was tailored specifically to Duke’s needs.

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