Acting NOAA Administrator William Brennan addresses the crowd. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Teri Frady Woods Hole Laboratory Director Frank Almeida (right) looks at the day's program with Jack Pearce, retired former director of the Sandy Hook lab and former NEFSC deputy director. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Teri Frady Robert Cusick, who served as First Officer of the original crew of Albatross IV, with Linda Despres (far right), chief scientist on the last scientific voyage, and family/friends prior to the ceremony. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Teri Frady
NOAA Ship Albatross IV Decommissioning Ceremony: "It Was a Great Day!"
In a ceremony steeped in tradition, from lowering of the flags and ringing of the ship's bell for a final time to presentation of the ship's flags to crew members, the Albatross IV was officially decommissioned November 20, almost 46 years to the day the 187-foot ship arrived in Woods Hole for the first time.
Despite the frigid and windy weather, a crowd of some 200 gathered on the Woods Hole Laboratory dock to pay tribute to the many accomplishments of the vessel and to mark its retirement from the NOAA fleet after 45 years of service. Music for the formal decommissioning ceremony was provided by the U.S. Navy Band Northeast, with colors presented by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England.
Principal speakers included Acting Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting NOAA Administrator William J. Brennan, who started his NOAA career aboard the vessel as a deck hand and survey technician in the late 1970s, and RADM Jonathan Bailey, director of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps and NOAA's Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, which manages NOAA's fleet of ships and aircraft.
Northeast Fisheries Science Center Director Dr. Nancy Thompson welcomed the crowd to "the house that the Albatross IV built" and noted the special connection of the Albatross line of ships to the Woods Hole Laboratory, home port to four research vessels to bear that name since the first, a sail-rigged steamer, left the Woods Hole dock in 1883 to survey the waters off the northeastern U.S.
She recognized those in the audience who had sailed on the first bottom trawl survey cruise on Albatross IV in 1963, noting that "more than 2,400 scientific staff have sailed on her and thousands of researchers, teachers, fishermen and environmentalists have benefitted from her work." Laughs erupted from the audience when she mentioned the number of days at sea some of the former lab directors and other government officials from Washington in attendance had spent aboard the vessel, ranging from one day for retired Woods Hole Laboratory Director Herbert Graham to 100 days for Acting NOAA Administrator Bill Brennan.
"Marine fishery research is possible because we send scientists and their instruments to sea. It can be said that the Albatross IV was the first of our vessels to be an instrument herself," Thompson told the crowd. "This was new, but is now a standard on its own, expected in all modern fishery research vessels. Because of her long life, many of us here at the Center have a special relationship with the Albatross IV. We have grown up with her, spent entire careers on her, found remarkable things, and learned more than has ever been known before."
During the ceremony the ship's pennant was presented by tradition to the last captain, Stephen Wagner, and the American flag to the longest serving crew member, 1st assistant engineer Charles "Chuck" Hersey, who sailed aboard Albatross IV for 24 years. Hersey's father Robert also sailed aboard the vessel as a scientist, logging 457 days at sea.
The event was also an opportunity for current and former crew members, scientists and staff who sailed aboard her, government officials and many others who had some connection to the vessel to share memories and see old friends, a number of whom traveled great distances for the occassion.
A reception followed in the Meigs Room at the nearby Marine Biological Laboratory, where a 50-minute commemorative video of Albatross IV through the years, created by Dave Chevrier of Data Management Systems, was played for the first time. Guest of honor at the reception was Dr. Herbert Graham, 102, who welcomed the new ship to Woods Hole in November 1962 as director of the Woods Hole Laboratory. Tours of the ship were offered in the afternoon, and dozens took advantage of the opportunity, viewing photographs displayed in labs and lounges and recalling their experiences at sea.
Albatross IV departed Woods Hole for its final voyage just before sunset December 5, headed to Norfolk, Va to await further disposition at NOAA's Marine Operations Center-Atlantic. As the ship pulled away from the dock and gave a final blast of its horn, the crowd broke into applause, car horns wailed, a cannon boomed from the WHOI pier, and a salute from the Delaware II bid the ship farewell.