NORWALK, Conn. – Thanks to a $2.7 million investment by the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, visitors will soon be able to explore the wildlife found in Long Island Sound on a new state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly research vessel, the Spirit of the Sound .
The 63-foot aluminum catamaran is replacing the aquarium’s old vessel, the R/V Oceanic. The new boat features a back deck about twice the size of the Oceanic’s, and a climate-controlled indoor classroom that can fit about 60 people. The Oceanic had a capacity of about 29 passengers.
“It’s a nicer, bigger vessel that affords us more opportunities to teach about Long Island Sound while out on Long Island Sound,” said Dave Sigworth, a spokesman for the Maritime Aquarium.
The Spirit of the Sound has a net that can bring wildlife onboard for passengers to study in a touch tank on the back deck. There is also a remotely-operated vehicle that passengers can control and has a camera that can be fed to a large flatscreen television inside the classroom, allowing passengers to explore what’s underneath them. Onboard microscopes also feed into the television, allowing educators to teach about small undersea life such as plankton.
The Spirit of the Sound was designed by Incat Crowther of Australia and built in Mamaroneck, N.Y., with construction managed by Alternative Marine Technologies. It runs on a hybrid-electric propulsion system, with lithium batteries powering the motors. The batteries can be charged in 20 to 25 minutes, and can also be charged with a diesel generator, but the boat will not run on diesel power, unlike the Oceanic. This not only makes the Spirit of the Sound more environmentally friendly, but also allows it to run quietly.
“It’s the first hybrid research vessel built in the world. It’s pretty special to have it here in Norwalk Harbor,” said Robert Kunkel, president of Alternative Marine Technologies and the Spirit of the Sound’s project manager.
Captain Barry Natale said the Spirit of the Sound has improved visibility and maneuverability over the Oceanic, and includes a state-of-the-art navigation system. The captain can monitor the decks and classrooms through an onboard camera system, and a second control station on the upper observation deck allows for the captain to communicate directly with the crew outside and have better visibility of the back of the boat.
The aquarium will continue to use the Oceanic for the last month of its public study cruises in October, and will first start using the Spirit of the Sound for its seal-spotting cruises in mid-December, Sigworth said.
In addition to public cruises and elementary school educational activities, the new vessel will allow the aquarium to expand its educational programming for middle and high school students, Sigworth said. The aquarium may also partner with outside organizations that want to use the boat for research on the Sound.
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