Anacortes, Washington -- Cheers and applause erupted from the Dakota Creek Industries shipyard on Saturday, July 16, when the University of Delaware's stunning, new 146-foot research vessel, Hugh R. Sharp, was christened amid sunny skies and patriotic red, white, and blue bunting.
With the words "I christen thee the Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp -- may God bless all who sail aboard thee," Carolyn Thoroughgood, UD's vice provost for research, broke a bottle of champagne over the ship's bright-blue bow.
Following seafaring tradition, the new ship was officially named and launched in a brief ceremony involving representatives from the shipyard and the University of Delaware, the mayor of Anacortes and other local dignitaries, and residents of the hstoric Washington town.
In a bit of nautical irony, the town's annual "Shipwreck Day" festival also was being held that day, and several visitors to that event dropped by the shipyard to join in the christening celebration.
"I can tell you that Dakota Creek is very proud to build this boat," said Dick Nelson, president of Dakota Creek Industries, during his welcoming remarks.
The company has been in business since 1975 and specializes in the construction and repair of steel and aluminum ships, from fishing and oil recovery vessels to ferries and barges.
"We feel it's a real honor to be able to build something for the University, something that's going to the East Coast," Nelson added. "We're about as far away from Delaware as you can get."
Nelson thanked his crew for their hard work and also acknowledged the efforts of "the man from Delaware" -- Matthew Hawkins, director of marine operations -- who has been the University's liaison with the shipyard throughout the construction process.
Nearly 200 workers, including welders, carpenters, electricians, and pipefitters, have put their skills and craftsmanship into the construction of the state-of-the-art vessel. A number of the crew were on hand, with their families, for the ceremony.
Speaking on behalf of UD President David Roselle, Nancy Targett, interim dean of the College of Marine Studies, told the crowd how excited the University is about the new ship and the capabilities it will provide to the University and to the Mid-Atlantic marine science community.
The vessel will operate primarily in the Delaware and Chesapeake bays. Hallmarks of the new ship will be its clean, quiet operation, which will be particularly advantageous in studies of fish and marine mammals, as well as pollution research.
"We also want to extend a really heartfelt thanks to the crew of Dakota Creek Industries," Targett said. "You have done absolutely first-rate work. You have kept us on schedule. It is obvious why Dakota Creek is a leader in the industry, and we look forward to our continued partnership as we complete this vessel."
Several other individuals and agencies also were recognized for their critical roles in the ship's construction. The Delaware Research Vessel Committee, a group of marine scientists from the Mid-Atlantic region, helped determine the vessel's design and special features. Naval architect David Bonney, from Bay Marine Inc., in Barrington, Rhode Island, designed the ship. Noise Control Engineering, Inc., in Billerica, Massachusetts, developed the ship's state-of-the-art acoustic systems, assuring its quiet operation.
Targett also thanked UD's federal funding partners at the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Office of Naval Research for their support, and the private donors that "believed in the vision and helped us get to this point today."
"This research vessel heralds a very new and exciting age for us at the University of Delaware, not only there but also in the coastal waters in the Mid-Atlantic region where this vessel will be operating," Targett noted.
"I can't tell you how much we look forward to the completion of this vessel and its delivery to the University of Delaware's marine lab in Lewes," she added.
Carolyn Thoroughgood was selected to be the vessel's sponsor, the person honored with christening the ship. Prior to her appointment as UD's vice provost for research in January 2005, Thoroughgood was dean of the UD College of Marine Studies for 20 years. She played a pivotal role in planning and implementing the new research vessel. She also was a close associate of Hugh R. Sharp, the ship's namesake.
Thoroughgood met Sharp soon after she joined the University of Delaware faculty in 1968 and worked with him on several major development projects after she was appointed dean of the College of Marine Studies in 1984.
"Fortunately for us, Hugh was very interested in the sea, and he, in a sense, adopted the College of Marine Studies as his own," Thoroughgood said. "He very much wanted us to succeed."
A native of Wilmington, Delaware, Sharp was the great-great-grandson of Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, the founder of the DuPont Company. Sharp served on the company's board of directors for nearly half a century and was a trustee of the University of Delaware for almost 20 years. He died in 1990 at the age of 81.
In the early 1970s, Thoroughgood said, Sharp helped raise money to purchase UD's first research vessel, the R/V Cape Henlopen, by organizing a group of private philanthropists known as "Plank Owners."
Sharp initiated a group of friends of the marine college called the Marine Associates and helped to establish several laboratories and an endowed professorship in marine biochemistry. The University's campus in Lewes also is named for him.
Thoroughgood noted how Sharp's legacy continues to live on through his three children -- sons H. Rodney and William, and daughter Donnan.
"They, too, have continued to give to the college and have been very influential in helping us have this vessel construction under way," Thoroughgood said.
After Thoroughgood officially named the R/V Hugh R, Sharp, breaking the bottle of champagne with one resolute swing across the vessel's bow, workers began the process of lowering the ship into the water using a specialized platform called a Synchrolift.
An hour later, the R/V Hugh R. Sharp was floating in the water for the first time, with not a leak to be found within its hull. The ship now will begin extensive sea trials in the waters off Washington's San Juan Islands.
Once the vessel has undergone testing and is proclaimed fit for service, it will be loaded aboard a commercial carrier for transport from the West Coast to the East Coast via the Panama Canal. After a brief testing period in Florida, the research vessel will be sailed home to the University of Delaware.
The christening, or naming and blessing, of a ship is an ages-old nautical tradition to ensure the good fortune of a new vessel, its crew, and passengers. According to University officials, a larger, local celebration will be held later this fall after the R/V Hugh R. Sharp arrives in Delaware.