During a recent offshore training voyage, we got the chance to talk to just about everyone on board. Each interview carried a common theme.
“With the number of days we spend out at sea, the hands-on experience is something that’s irreplaceable,” mentioned marine tech student John Klingler.
Marissa Salvitti said, “You really can’t learn how to deploy a net, you can’t learn how to operate safely underneath loaded cable wire on a research vessel out in the middle of the ocean until you actually do it.”
This experience at sea cannot be mimicked in a classroom, or even on the river. Jason Rogers, CFCC Department Chair said, “You could tow a side scan sonar in the river, but there’s just not a lot of things in the river to look at. Here we tow the side scan and we can actually see wrecks, debris, artificial reefs that have been put out there, so you can actually process the images a little better. These nets are much more representative of what a national marine fishery service or the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Service would use, and we don’t necessarily use those on the river, we want to use them further offshore.”
The Dan Moore has been Cape Fear’s loyal training vessel for the past 26 years, but she is well beyond her life expectancy. She is pushing 50 years old in a salt water environment, compromising certainty for safe sea voyages.
“We can get a new boat to replace the Dan Moore that would have much more capabilities. It would be an even better asset to the research community in the southeast United States, particularly, UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, both up in Beauford in Morehead City, and UNCW in Wilmington,” Rogers said.
The folks in Raleigh agree. Five years ago, they gave Cape Fear $500,000 to design a new 117-foot training vessel. The school needs millions more to cut the steel and start building.
Getting the funding is proving to be a challenge. In January, CFCC learned not only are they not getting the funding for a new boat, but funding to keep up the Dan Moore would be cut as well. The longer it takes to secure the money, the more expensive a new boat will be.
“Money for a new ship, although it’s $9 or 10 million, pales in comparison to what colleges spend across this state on new buildings. We’ll spend $30 million on a new building at the drop of a hat. This is our building, and we need $9 or 10 million to get a new academic building,” said Rogers. “If you look at all the buildings on campus, this is the oldest academic building on campus, and we take it 80 miles offshore.”
In March, the state legislature built their hopes back up. State Representative Carolyn Justice sent a letter to the captain, saying the funding would not be cut. But budget shortfalls, jeopardizes the program once again. “You pull the funding for the ship; you’re actually pulling funding for the entire program, because we’re not going to teach it the way we have in the past,” added Rogers.
As the Dan Moore pulled back into the Port City, after the week-long voyage, students’ held their breath, concerned this would be their last chance to train at sea – leaving their training unfulfilled, and their beloved program, on dry land.
Representative Carolyn Justice said she is still fighting to keep the funding in the budget. She said it would be a waste to spend the money to design the boat, and not build it.