King County’s environmental lab is retiring an old research vessel and getting a new one. The replacement boat is a $1.9 million-dollar custom-designed aluminum catamaran that will be faster and more efficient than the old vessel, Liberty.
The Liberty will remain in service through this spring from its home on a pier in Seattle's canal. It has been a workplace for environmental scientists since it first purchased 38 years ago.
“We love her, she’s worked great, but it’s time to move on to the future,” says the boat’s captain, Bob Kruger, an environmental lab scientist who takes the ship out to collect water samples nearly 50 weeks of the year.
He says it’s time to move on because Liberty was never really meant to be a research vessel. She’s a converted fishing boat. And it now costs more to maintain her than it will to replace her.
Krueger has worked for the lab for 23 years and he’s the lead boat operator. Together with other scientists on the environmental crew, he takes the Liberty out several times a week to collect water samples that are analyzed for all kinds of things.
“Not just ‘oh the current’s flowing in or out’” he says “but exactly the speed, the direction, density of the water and the salinity of the water, the temperature…” A sophisticated probe called the Seabird CTD registers chemical properties and measures temperatures accurately to about a ten-thousandth of a degree.
That data has been collected by county researchers since 1998 and can be used by scientists anywhere to study things like climate change or ocean acidification, Kruger says.
The boat is also used to come to the aid of other authorities when they’re needed – if there’s an oil spill for example, or a search and rescue effort by the Coast Guard or sheriff’s office.
Krueger says they’ll be able to do all of this far more efficiently with the new boat, above all because it will be faster and more capable in all kinds of weather.
“We’ll be able to cruise at 25 knots. And our current boat is more like maximum speed of about 13 or 14,” said Kruger.
In an effort to make the public more aware of the county’s environmental mission of monitoring, safeguarding and improving water quality, they put a call out for help choosing a name for the new boat.
After narrowing from more than 100 suggestions from the public, they’re down to three finalists.
“The three names are Soundguardian, Seaking and Cascadia,” said Kruger, adding that his favorite is the first one.
The new name needs to be easy to say over radio waves, since the boat frequently traverses Puget Sound’s busy shipping lanes and is in constant communication with the U.S. Coast Guard when it’s underway.
Voting continues through Thursday, online via this link.
The new boat will start plying King County waters this spring, when it will undergo sea trials first by its manufacturer and then by the county. It’s expected to enter service in June.