BAR HARBOR, Maine — Long known for its undergraduate marine programs, among other things, College of the Atlantic took a significant step this month when it launched a bigger and better boat.
The 46-foot long M/V Osprey, built this past winter by WESMAC marine in Surry, was launched last week as the college begins to ramp up its seasonal marine programs. The boat can carry up to 36 passengers and hold more than 600 gallons of fuel.
Osprey’s predecessor, Indigo, was built in 1992 as a pleasure craft and was donated to the college two years later. It can hold 25 standing people and has a fuel capacity of 130 gallons.
According to Toby Stephenson, captain of the Osprey, the new boat is better suited for taking students out on the water, either to drop off at COA’s field stations on Great Duck Island or Mount Desert Rock or for other research-oriented excursions.
“It’s just a fantastic boat,” Stephenson said Tuesday afternoon.
Darron Collins, president of COA, said in a prepared statement that the college’s staff and student body was “bouncing off the walls with excitement” over the new vessel. COA has had a total of about 300 students this academic year.
“She’s stunning,” Collins said. “WESMAC created a real work of art, and they have been a fabulous partner on this vessel.”
The boat was commissioned over a year ago and built to be more stable in the water, according to Stephenson. It has a square stern and a deeper “V”-shaped bow, he said, which makes it more seaworthy.
He said builder Steve Wessel used an “impeccable,” solid fiberglass construction to make Osprey a more durable and work-friendly vessel than the Indigo. Not only can it carry more people, but with a crane that can extend 16 feet and lift 4,000 pounds, it can carry heavier cargo, too. The Indigo has a boom winch that can lift 300 pounds.
“It makes it a very firm boat,” he said of the Osprey’s reinforced deck and overall construction. “It’s a heavy boat.”
Because the boat is more seaworthy than its predecessor, Stephenson said, it will be able to go out in rougher conditions than the Indigo could, which is important when supplies need to be delivered, or people picked up, at Mount Desert Rock or Great Duck Island. It also will allow the college to make more trips to the sites in the fall and even in winter, when ocean conditions can be less comfortable and forgiving.
The cabin of the Osprey, which can seat 24 people, is fully insulated and enclosed, unlike the Indigo. It will make instruction on the boat more easy to manage, the captain said. It also has more advanced electronic navigation equipment than its predecessor.
And it is faster. If need be, he can get to Mount Desert Rock, located about 20 miles offshore, in roughly an hour as opposed to the more than two hours it takes Indigo to make the same journey. The 34-foot long Indigo is for sale, he added.
Stephenson said it is unlikely that he will drive Osprey that fast because of fuel costs, but he still hopes the new boat will make the COA’s marine operations more fuel efficient. Because the Osprey can carry more people and cargo, he said, it likely will cut down on the number of trips he has to make out to the islands.
Stephenson said the Osprey is expected to open up more research possibilities for COA. It can go as far as 200 miles offshore and, because of its size, can be used to help disentangle whales from fishing gear.
He said he hopes the boat will allow COA to partner on projects with other organizations such as University of Maine, Maine Department of Marine Resources, the National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
He said it also is available for hire for contract work or for private excursions, depending on availability.
He said he plans to take the Osprey out for its first official trip, to Great Duck Island, on May 1.
“I’ve already got a much bigger schedule than I had last year,” Stephenson said.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.