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U.S. Geological Survey - Great Lakes Science Center

Christening and commissioning of the new research vessel Arcticus

U.S Geological Survey Director Suzette Kimball christens the research vessel Arcticus

Looooong, loooong, loooong, short, short. That’s the master whistle salute given by vessels on the Great Lakes. And that was the salute that honored the new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research vessel (R/V) Arcticus at her christening and commissioning ceremony in Cheboygan, Michigan, on August 31, 2015 (watch the video below). Salutes from the USGS R/V Sturgeon and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service motor vessel Spencer F. Baird resounded throughout downtown Cheboygan and filled the ears of the more than 60 attendees to the ceremony, including USGS Director Dr. Suzette Kimball and U.S. Congressman Dan Benishek of Michigan.

The completion of the Arcticus culminates a fifteen year endeavor of the USGS to modernize the entire Great Lakes research vessel fleet. The process began with the construction of the R/V Kiyi in 1999 for offshore research on Lake Superior. Next, the USGS acquired an older vessel which was renovated and christened the R/V Sturgeon in 2004, and which is used alongside the Arcticus on Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. In 2011, the USGS completed building twin vessels for Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, the Kaho and Muskie. The Arcticus was the final new vessel to join the fleet (see the five-part series, “Science Afloat: How a Research Vessel is Built”).

The Great Lakes fleet plays a crucial role in the sustainability of the Great Lakes fishery, and by extension the recreation and tourism economy of the region. The Great Lakes fishery alone is worth over $7 billion annually—and that’s just on the U.S. side.  For over fifty years, the USGS has provided unbiased scientific information about the status and trends of fish communities in the Great Lakes.  Management of the fishery is facilitated by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. The commission facilitates and supports the state, provincial, and tribal management authorities that exist on each lake. These authorities voluntarily cooperate on management objectives, such as catch limits and stocking targets of sport species, including salmon and lake trout. That cooperation is based on sound, unbiased scientific information about the status and trends of the resource, especially the prey fish. The USGS Great Lakes fleet provides the bulk of this unbiased information.

Christening and commissioning ceremonies of vessels are based upon thousands of years of tradition and are rooted in centuries-old seafaring and shipbuilding tradition. Prior to delivery, a new vessel undergoes dockside and sea trials to demonstrate that the vessel meets requirements of the owner. Afterward, the builders and owners celebrate the delivery with a formal ceremony and festivities that includes a sponsor (typically a woman) breaking a bottle of wine or sparkling water over the bow of the vessel and bestowing a name upon the vessel.  This christening ceremony is one of the most important events in the life of a vessel. Another major event is the commissioning, which officially places the vessel in active service.

The Commissioning and Christening Ceremony for the Arcticus was carefully coordinated to respect these seafaring traditions.  USGS Director Dr. Suzette Kimball was the vessel’s sponsor, and Andrea Ostroff, USGS Fisheries Program Manager, delivered the commissioning orders. Many others contributed to the ceremony through speeches, presentation of flags, and other roles. In addition to the christening and commissioning of the Arcticus, the entire Great Lakes research vessel fleet was dedicated by USGS Midwest Region Director Dr. Leon Carl. Dr. Carl is the former Director of USGS Great Lakes Science Center and was responsible for important steps in modernizing the fleet. What follows is a narrative of the ceremony, a milestone in the life of the USGS research vessel fleet.

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To begin the festivities, Congressman Benishek and representatives from the offices of Senators Stabenow and Peters of Michigan delivered comments on the importance of the fishery resource and the USGS Great Lakes research program. They were followed by comments from Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and USGS science leadership, including Dr. Kimball.

Following commencement, guests proceeded to the dock to witness the official ceremony. Navy Chaplain Joseph Roach offered the invocation for the ceremony. Dr. Kimball then christened the Arcticus by breaking a bottle of sparkling water over the bow.

“In the name of the United States of America, I christen thee, ‘Arcticus.’”

In recognition of the rich legacy of her predecessor, the R/V Grayling, the name for the new Arcticus was drawn from the Latin name for the arctic grayling, Thymallus arcticus. The name was selected by the vessel crew and scientists to honor the service of the Grayling and maintain the tradition of naming Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) vessels after important regional species of fish.

After guests exchanged congratulations, Aaron Payment, Chairperson of the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, administered a tribal blessing upon the vessel and its Captain, Joseph Bergan. Andrea Ostroff then called the vessel and scientific crew to attention alongside the ship and officially commissioned the vessel and her crew.

“In the name of the United States, I hereby commission the R/V Arcticus to serve the needs of the natural resources of these Great Lakes and the people who rely upon them.  To its crew and the scientists and technicians that use the Arcticus, I remind you that your work is of utmost importance to society, and you are sent to use your knowledge and skills to assist in gaining a better understanding of these fresh water seas.  I encourage you to pursue your work with enthusiasm and perseverance for our sake and that of the living resources of the Great Lakes.  To you I bid ‘fair winds and following seas’ as you endeavor to help us all be good stewards of the earth.”

To commemorate the commissioning of the new vessel, flags were presented to Captain Bergan by the authorities and partners associated with the vessel’s mission. U.S. Coast Guard Captain Steven Teschendorf, Sector Sautl Sainte Marie Commander, presented the U.S. flag. Gary Whelan, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Research Program Manager, presented the Michigan state flag. Captain Alan Morris of the Canadian Coast Guard presented the Canadian flag. And Kristine Murray, USGS Contract Specialist and Mechanical Engineer, who oversaw contracting for the construction of the Arcticus, presented the USGS commissioning pennant, the hoisting of which marked the beginning of the vessel’s active government service.

As the vessel crew prepared to raise the flags upon the mast, Dr. Leon Carl formally dedicated the Great Lakes fleet.

“Now, in the name of the United States of America, I hereby dedicate . . . this fleet to the mission of the U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center. . . In specific, I dedicate this fleet to providing scientific understanding of these ever-changing Great Lakes—their fishes and food webs—to the bi-national, cooperative resource management regime that has effectively sustained this economic, cultural, and spiritual resource for over fifty years.

To the vessel and scientific crews who administer this fleet in pursuit of this mission, I urge you to carry out your work: With the passion that first drew you to the maritime life and to applied environmental science; With the discipline to provide objective information regarding the function and status of the resource; And with a commitment to safety and care for your fellow crew members.

May you find fulfillment in your tasks and teamwork, and may your efforts continue to support the sustainable use of these Laurentian Great Lakes.”

As the vessel crew hoisted the commissioning flags, Karen Newman, “the voice of the Detroit Red Wings,” sang acapella O Canada and the Star Spangled Banner. The anthems culminated in a salute to the U.S. flag by a War of 1812 cannon, fired by a team from the Michigan State Historic Parks.

“Captain Bergan, fire up the engines!”

With this came the master salutes from the other federal vessels in the harbor, the Sturgeon and Baird, welcoming the new vessel to port and to public service on the Great Lakes. Guests gathered dock-side afterward for refreshments generously provided by the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fisherman’s Association.

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The USGS Great Lakes Science Center is grateful for all those who made possible the modernization of the USGS Great Lakes fleet and the construction of the Arcticus. We also appreciate the efforts of all those who participated in and attended the ceremony in Cheboygan. It was a day to remember and an era to celebrate.

Photo Credit: 
Andrea Miehls, USGS

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