MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ― The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant of $1.7 million to Middlebury College that will provide funding for a new research vessel for use in science courses and student-faculty research on Lake Champlain. The new boat, which will be about 45 feet long and is currently unnamed, will arrive in Lake Champlain in the summer of 2012 when it will replace the R/V Baldwin, a 32-foot Maine lobster boat that Middlebury bought in 1985 and retrofitted for research and teaching.

The new boat will cost $1.5 million, and the remaining grant funds will go toward design modifications, scientific instruments, inspections and the transportation of the vessel to the East Coast.

All American Marine, located in Bellingham, Wash., will build the new research vessel. In May 2012, a transport ship will bring it to Port Everglades, Fla. Then Middlebury College Professor of Geology Pat Manley, Middlebury College Visiting Assistant Professor of Geology and Captain Tom Manley, and two others will motor it north up the intracoastal waterway and the Hudson River system to Lake Champlain.

“It’s a state of the art catamaran style and it reflects the new approach to research vessels with its twin hull, which will provide so much more stability,” said Pat Manley, who worked on the grant application with others at Middlebury. “We’ll be able to extend our class and research time in weather that we can’t go out in with the Baldwin. It’s much faster as well. At maximum cruising speed of 20-24 knots, we will be able to access distant regions of the lake that we have rarely been able to survey using our current boat.”

She added, “We can burn bio-diesel fuel as it becomes more available and, because the boat uses hydrofoil technology, it partially rises out of the water at faster speeds, creating greater fuel efficiency. Our plan is to use environmentally sustainable technology wherever we can, from the paint to the possible use of solar panels to run equipment.”

The larger size of the new vessel will greatly enhance the classroom and research capabilities for students and faculty. The new boat will house inside lab spaces, microscopes, computer work stations, bunk space, a small galley and a bathroom. Pat Manley said the boat will have a new navigational system but most of the remaining equipment from the Baldwin will be moved to the new vessel.

While the R/V Baldwin can accommodate 12 people, the new vessel has the capacity for up to 18 students ― the size of a lab section for a science course ― as well as a faculty member, captain and first mate.  The R/V Baldwin has been limited to use primarily for geology and oceanography courses, and for summer research, but the college’s chemistry, environmental studies and biology departments have all expressed interest in using the new vessel due to the larger number of students the boat will hold.

Once the new vessel has arrived, the Manleys and their Middlebury students will continue to pursue several areas of research, including:

  • mapping of fish spawning grounds and larval distribution
  • geologic history of the Champlain Valley since the last deglaciation
  • determining water circulation patterns at different depths

In 2005, 10 years of research by the Manleys, their students and Lake Champlain Maritime Museum staff on both the R/V Baldwin and the Neptune, the museum’s boat, culminated in the creation of a bathymetric map illustrating the most comprehensive and detailed understanding available of Lake Champlain’s underwater terrain.

“The new, larger vessel will also allow us to expand the curriculum,” said Pat Manley. “It’s possible we could partner with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to create a new summer course, and offer courses for Middlebury alumni and K-12 teachers.”

Though Tom Manley is currently Middlebury’s licensed captain, the college plans to hire a part-time captain to allow for fuller use of the new vessel.

According to Pat Manley, Middlebury intends to donate its current boat to another educational institution or organization, perhaps in the Lake Champlain basin, for research purposes. The Baldwin is named after the late Brewster Baldwin, who taught geology at Middlebury for more than 30 years.

More information about the new research vessel is available on the Middlebury College Geology Department Web site.

For More Information

Geology Department