COA commissions new vessel for marine programs

The fiberglass hull of the new College of the Atlantic research vessel Five Friends is nearly finished at the Wesmac facility in Surry. The 46-foot-long vessel will be able to carry 40 people so classes can be held on board and it was designed to better accommodate the college's research projects. The boat is expected to be complete in the early summer.
The fiberglass hull of the new College of the Atlantic research vessel Five Friends is nearly finished at the Wesmac facility in Surry. The 46-foot-long vessel will be able to carry 40 people so classes can be held on board and it was designed to better accommodate the college's research projects. The boat is expected to be complete in the early summer.
Posted Feb. 19, 2011, at 2:25 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 20, 2011, at 9:29 p.m.
An illustration of the layout for the new College of the Atlantic vessel Five Friends.
An illustration of the layout for the new College of the Atlantic vessel Five Friends.
The new College of the Atlantic vessel Five Friends under construction at Wesmac Boatyard in Surry.
Courtesy photo by Blake Davis
The new College of the Atlantic vessel Five Friends under construction at Wesmac Boatyard in Surry.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — In order to better serve its burgeoning marine programs, College of the Atlantic has decided to build a better boat.

To that end, COA is having a 46-foot research vessel named Five Friends built at the Wesmac boatyard in Surry.

Five Friends is expected to replace the smaller boat Indigo, which the college has owned since 1994 when a family donated it to COA soon after it was built. The Indigo can hold 25 people, most of them standing, whereas Five Friends will have room for more than 40 people, according to COA officials.

The goal in building the newer, bigger boat is to have a vessel that is more conducive to academic instruction and research, college officials said in a press release. It is being built with a 6-foot draft so it can maneuver in shallow water, and with significant soundproofing so classes can be conducted on deck while the boat is underway.

“The new vessel will expand our capacity as an institution that offers rich and diverse classes and research experiences in the marine environment,” Sean Todd, marine science professor and director of COA’s Allied Whale research program, said in a prepared statement. “The customized construction allows us to develop a vessel that best suits the college and its marine studies program.”

COA is “especially glad” that the boat is being built with Hancock County expertise, Todd added.

COA’s marine programs include field stations on Great Duck Island and Mount Desert Rock, both of which are uninhabited except for seasonal researchers and are located several miles out to sea off Mount Desert Island. Great Duck, about seven miles from the nearest point of land, is known for supporting colonies of seabirds, while Mount Desert Rock, a 3-acre granite slab about 20 miles offshore, attracts birds and seals and offers a good vantage point to observe nearby whales.

Five Friends, being built at an estimated cost of $625,000, will allow COA staff and students to extend its marine research earlier into the spring and later into the fall, COA officials indicated in the written statement.

Aside from transporting people and supplies to the college’s research stations, Five Friends also is expected to be used for marine mammal research through the northern Gulf of Maine, such as the school’s submersible data buoy program. The boat will assist with oceanographic surveys, participate in Acadia National Park and University of Maine marine research projects, and will be used in COA’s Islands Through Time program, which allows high school students to learn about island economies, environments and cultural heritage, college officials said.

The name of the boat was chosen by Edward McCormick Blair, a former COA trustee who convinced four other MDI property owners to help finance the boat’s construction and a fund to maintain and operate it. Blair died in December 2010 at the age of 95 at his home in suburban Chicago.

Funds still are being raised to support construction of the boat, COA officials said. Sea trials for the new vessel are expected to take place in June.

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