Take A Trip Through NOAA's Research Vessel, The Fairweather

Oct 5, 2017

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fleet of research vessels travel the globe. In the case of the Fairweather, it’s been charting the waters around Alaska since it left NOAA's Newport facility in May. Before it pushed off, KLCC's Brian Bull got a quick tour with the ship’s commander, Mark VanWaes. 

This audio postcard is part of KLCC’s ongoing 50th Anniversary tour. 

“I’m Commander Mark VanWaes, I’m the commanding officer of the NOAA ship, Fairweather.

“Fairweather is a research vessel in the NOAA fleet that’s primarily focused on hydrographic surveying in Alaska.  Fairweather and Rainier, two sister ships, are two of the oldest ships in the fleet at 50 years old, they were launched in 1967, and commissioned in 1968, and put into service.

“We’re primarily focused on nautical charting, we’re out there updating the charts and making sure that it’s safe for mariners of all types to sail and stay off of the rocks and be safe.  So particularly here in Newport, we have a very large fleet of crab fishermen who benefit from our updated charts up and down the coast. 

“We’re on the bridge of the ship, this is where we drive and control the operations of the vessel.  We have the helm stand, where we steer.  Cruise at about 12 knots, that’s 12 nautical miles per hour.  Can get up to about 14 knots at our max speed.

“Additionally, we have two radars on board that help us keep track of the other vessels around us and also help us navigate through the narrow passages that we find ourselves in, in Alaska.  Sometimes we’ll be going through an area that’s only a quarter mile across.

[DOOR OPENS, STEPS]

“This is the…what we call the plot room, it’s the sorta nerve center of the ship, for our data processing, so the work stations that are around the room, are used by our survey technicians and our officers to process the data, prepare the data for charting, and make sure that it’s good quality, that there aren’t any problems with it.  We also have our shipboard acquisition system, that’s where the technicians will operate the ship’s sonar, to collect the data, when the ship is running.

“Typically the ship will measure down to several hundred to a thousand or so meters deep. 

“Watch your step going down the ladder…[STEPPING SOUNDS]

“We have a lounge on board, that’s set up for the crew to relax in evenings, and enjoy a movie or some games or just sort of sit and get a little bit of time off from their work day.  We got a big screen and a projector, a number of people can gather around and watch one of the several hundred movies that we have on board.  We’re fortunate that we’re able to participate in the Navy movie system, where the Navy provides us with classic movies to recent releases.

“We try to stay away from titles like “The Perfect Storm” that…they’re a little…it’s a little iffy when you’re out on the ocean to watch that kind of thing.

[“Perfect Storm” movie clip]

“We have up to 57 people on board and we all have to eat, so we have our crew mess adjacent to the galley where the stewards prepare our food…

[INTERCOM: “On the Fairweather, fueling operations are in progress.  The smoking lamp is out, there’ll be no smoking, welding, grinding, shipping, or other hot work until further notice.  Again, smoking lamp is out.”]

“That was for the fueling operations.  While we’re taking on fuel as we are at the moment, we do not allow any kind of hot work that produces a spark or flame, just to minimize the risk of having a fire on board.

“We’re stepping onto the fantail, that’s the aft deck of the vessel, where you can see a number of pieces of equipment, from our winches to our A-frame that allows us to tow side scan sonar from up behind the ship, to one of our small boats, our skiff that lets us get in and do near shore work and get people onto the shore when we need to set up equipment and whatnot.

“There’s an ever increasing focus on shipping. The more goods that can be put on a ship, the more value there is to the shipping company to bring that in. And with more accurate charts, the vessels can be larger, can have deeper drafts, be closer to the bottom, and still be able to safely get in and out of port.”