Coast Survey’s research vessel, Bay Hydro II, was diverted from its regular hydrographic mission this week to help the U.S. Coast Guard determine if there was a new danger to navigation in the Chesapeake Bay.
On June 13, 2016, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads was notified that the barge WEEKS 179 lost a large portion of its cargo near the Virginia-Maryland line, in a charted traffic scheme area that takes ships around Smith Point in the Chesapeake Bay. The WEEKS 179, carrying construction materials to New Jersey, lost approximately 25 concrete beams and bridge deck pieces, ranging from 10 ft. to 15 ft. long. While the Coast Guard diverted ship traffic around the area, Bay Hydro II deployed to the site, to establish the cargo’s exact position and determine if it posed a hazard to navigation.
By early the next morning, Bay Hydro II was conducting the search. The survey technicians used side scan sonar to locate the sunken cargo, and then followed it up with their multibeam echo sounder to collect bathymetric data over the field of debris. (While the side scan sonar is typically a better search tool for locating objects in large areas, the multibeam is best for obtaining precise position and depths over the items so the hydrographers can determine if dangers to navigation exist.)
Within hours, the Coast Survey vessel had located the cargo and, even better, had determined that the beams were so deep that they did not pose a danger. The Coast Guard was able to use Bay Hydro II’s information to quickly re-establish normal shipping patterns through the area.
The Bay Hydro II crew and headquarters personnel had a great time with everyone — from the kids who learned about charts from an admiral, to the map geeks who enjoyed a discussion down in the hydro weeds. More than 4,000 people toured the Bay Hydro II during the celebration, and we hope they all learned at least a little about hydrographic surveying and nautical charts.
Remember when your mom told you, “The best things come in small packages”? It turns out that is true for more than diamonds, puppies, and kids who think they are too short.
Today it was my privilege to ride with the 57-foot Bay Hydro II, one of NOAA’s smallest research vessels, as she came into Baltimore Harbor for the Star Spangled Spectacular, a festival that celebrates the 200th anniversary of our National Anthem. As we sailed alongside the impressive NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, past historic Fort McHenry, a 19th century cannon boomed ‒ probably sounding much as it did 200 years ago during the War of 1812, when the British attack was turned back at Baltimore. With that historic reminder, I was struck by how the Bay Hydro II represents Coast Survey’s two-century commitment to the Chesapeake Bay, starting with our surveys in 1843.
(Historical note: Even though President Jefferson ordered the Survey of the Coast in 1807, the U.S. Coast Survey was not able to assist during the War of 1812. We were still organizing and, in fact, the first superintendent of Coast Survey was in England when war broke out. Ferdinand Hassler was trying to recruit surveying and cartographic experts and was searching for the proper equipment. He was not able to return to the U.S. until after the war. Some historians think Hassler may have been detained in England at what could euphemistically be called a “special invitation” of the British government.)
“The Port of Baltimore depends on accurate charts to ensure maritime traffic flows freely, and to help keep the Bay safe from environmental disasters that could result from vessels striking uncharted hazards… Investing in advanced technology, like the Bay Hydrographer II and the sonar equipment it uses, is especially important for keeping America competitive in a global arena. Much of the charting equipment and software currently used within NOAA’s hydrographic fleet was first tested and proven right here in the Bay using this vessel’s predecessor.
“I’m proud to have such an advanced test platform in Maryland’s backyard, keeping America safe, and keeping America innovative.”
The Bay Hydro II is meeting Senator Mikulski’s vision for safety and innovation.
Bay Hydro II has an impressive record. She was the first vessel in Norfolk waters after Hurricane Irene and Sandy, searching for underwater debris to speed resumption of shipping and naval operations in Hampton Roads. In addition to leading Coast Survey evaluations of emerging hydrographic survey technologies, she has assisted U.S. Navy researchers who are testing new technologies. She has rescued stranded boaters and removed debris that posed a danger to navigation in the Bay. And by participating in local community events, the Bay Hydro crews have educated tens of thousands of people about the Bay’s marine characteristics and maritime importance.
Speaking of education… At Baltimore’s 2012 Sailabration, nearly 9,000 people toured this mighty little research vessel for an introduction to NOAA’s hydrographic surveys. With more than a million people expected for this year’s Star Spangled Spectacular, from Sep. 11 to Sep. 15, I’d be surprised if the three-person Bay Hydro crew has any voice left on Tuesday.
This weekend, a lot of people are going to discover how a small research vessel delivers big results.
It was an honor to assist with preparations for the Presidential Inaugural. Our assistance, provided before the event, was a combined effort by one of our navigation response teams, survey technicians, cartographers, and several NOAA officers. Coast Survey’s work was additionally supported by colleagues at NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services.