Laura Guertin: TJ at the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, September 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 15, 2014
Location of ship (at Fort Trumbull Coast Guard pier): 41o 20.698′ N, 72o 05.432’W

There is no Science and Technology Log for this blog post, as the ship made a detour for a special event – the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival in New London, CT. This annual festival was happening for its second year, and the organizers asked NOAA if they would have a ship in the area to participate. Fortunately for them (and for NOAA), we were able to have our ship docked for the weekend activities but still send out our launch (HSL 3101) to continue with the hydrographic surveys.

The weekend had quite a schedule of events for the fan of maritime history. Connecticut TV stations Channel 3 and Channel 8 came and recorded a promo of the event (you can see a brief interview with my Commanding Officer in the Channel 3 video!). On Thursday evening, myself and others from the ship went and listened to sea shanty singing (you can listen to examples of sea shanties on the Smithsonian Folkways website). The evening concluded with a screening of a film titled Connecticut & The Sea, a look at how Connecticut’s identity has been shaped by its maritime heritage.

On Friday, there was an official welcoming ceremony for the festival with Lt. Governor Wyman, Senator Blumenthal, the mayor of New London, Mayor Finizio, and other state officials. There were many speeches, including a reading of a proclamation from last year that annually establishes the second week of September as the Connecticut Maritime History and Heritage Week.  I was pleased to hear that this annual celebration has a strong education mission written in the proclamation, focusing on using schooners as learning tools for youth. Senator Blumenthal specifically mentioned that, “more importantly than the money going in to this [festival] will be what people will learn, especially about our heritage. We are rooted in the sea.” I also learned about a maritime heritage history guide being developed for elementary grades in Connecticut, and another social studies and science guide for middle/high school students on maritime history, transportation, and maritime technology. Sounds like fun topics to teach, and so relevant to students and their geographic location.

Then, we started with ship tours! For two hours, we allowed visitors to come on board for a guided 15-minute tour of the Thomas Jefferson. Below are images of what the visitors were shown.  Images from other areas, such as the mess deck and lounge, can be viewed at my Life on the Thomas Jefferson post.

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Friday evening was the lighted boat parade, with the judges coming on board our ship to view and judge the boats that went by. (Personal commentary… UConn Avery Point – your boat should have won! Any boat with a college mascot on it is a winner in my book!)

UCONN - Avery Point R/V
The UCONN – Avery Point research vessel, filled with lights for the lighted boat festival!

On Saturday, we opened the ship for five hours, having as many as four tour groups on board at once! It was a huge effort in coordination, but as always, I am amazed by this amazing team on the Thomas Jefferson that was able to educate visitors on NOAA, its mission, and hydrographic surveying. The comments when the people came off the ship were so positive and wonderful to hear, and the smiles on the kids’ faces really summed up their experience.

We were pretty much all exhausted on Saturday evening – after all, we hosted 514 visitors on board during the festival! But there was little time to sit back and relax, as we had to be ready to set off our launch at 0800 and pull out of City Pier by 0900 the next morning.

Tour line for TJ
The line was long at times, but as many visitors told us, the tour was well worth the wait!

Personal Log

As an educator heavily involved in outreach, I was thrilled to be able to participate as a NOAA Teacher at Sea in this event. I proudly wore my TAS t-shirt and hat, and when I went over to the Education Exhibits at the festival, I was able to speak to some educators about this NOAA program and the wonderful opportunity it offers. I can’t wait to continue sharing my TAS experiences after this cruise, with my students, other K-12 teachers I work with, and the general public.

And it was fascinating for me to see everything involved in getting ready for the ship’s participation in the festival. The crew worked incredibly hard for several days, generating the posters for displays, cleaning the ship from top to bottom, and painting everything from the handrails to the decks. While at dock, we “dressed the ship” with signal flags – we looked good!

Another personal note is the delight I had being able to reconnect with my Connecticut roots!  I grew up in Plainville, CT, and we made several trips down to Mystic to visit Mystic Seaport and the Mystic Aquarium.  It was interesting to see this pride in Connecticut’s maritime history extend beyond Mystic, especially in New London with the Custom House Maritime Museum and current docking location of the recreated ship Amistad.

I would have to say that the most-unexpected-yet-equally exciting part of the weekend was seeing more than one submarine heading up the Thames River towards the Naval Submarine Base in New London (at least I believe that is where they were heading!). Each submarine is escorted by three smaller U.S. Navy boats with lots of protection on board. When a submarine comes through, all boat traffic stops in the immediate area. The submarines move very slow during transit in the river, so I was able to watch them for quite some time. Even though I recently toured the U.S.S. Bowfin submarine (a WWII sub), these submarines seemed much longer and more impressive in the water!

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OK GEOSC 040 students at Penn State Brandywine, here is your next round of questions. Please answer these TWO questions online in ANGEL in the folder “Dr. G at Sea” in the link for Post #8. Only enter responses in the boxes for Question #1 and Question #2. You can refer to the NOAA Education Strategic Plan 2009-2029 for additional background information.  I also encourage you to think back to some of the previous questions you have answered about the role and purpose of hydrographic surveying…

1)  Please read NOAA’s Education Mission below. Why was it important for NOAA to participate in the CT Maritime Heritage Festival (in the context of NOAA’s education mission)? How did the Thomas Jefferson help support this mission statement?

NOAA’s Education Mission — To advance environmental literacy and promote a diverse workforce in ocean, coastal, Great Lakes, weather, and climate sciences, encouraging stewardship and increasing informed decision making for the Nation.

2)  Please read NOAA’s Education Vision below. Why was it important for NOAA to participate in the CT Maritime Heritage Festival (in the context of NOAA’s vision)? How did the Thomas Jefferson help support this vision statement?

NOAA’s Vision — An informed society that uses a comprehensive understanding of the role of the ocean, coasts, and atmosphere in the global ecosystem to make the best social and economic decisions.

Random Ship Fact!

While NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson does not have the historic record of the ships docked in New London this past weekend, the Thomas Jefferson has certainly made some significant contributions that will go down in this ship’s history. Here are some of the impressive activities of the TJ, beyond its day-to-day hydrographic survey activities:

  • When Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast in 2012 and New York Harbor was closed to ship traffic, the U.S. Coast Guard requested assistance from NOAA for immediate assistance with charting. It was the Thomas Jefferson that was sent in to survey the waterways. The Thomas Jefferson and her two launches charted approximately 20 square nautical miles with side scan sonar and multibeam echo sounder, mapping shipping lanes and channels, identifying numerous hazards to navigation, and locating many lost containers throughout New York Harbor and the approaches” (see NOAA PDF). In essence, it was the work of the TJ that deemed the area safe and reopened the Harbor. See NOAA’s summary Response to Hurricane Sandy and read about the Updates to the New York Harbor nautical chart.
  • The Thomas Jefferson was involved in a search and rescue of two divers on August 26, 2012. The TJ was off of Block Island conducting its hydrographic survey work, and responded to an emergency call broadcast by the U.S. Coast Guard. The crew of the TJ spotted the divers and were able to direct a Coast Guard rescue vessel to their location (see NOAA article).
  • When a plane crashed in the ocean near Key West on August 14, 2010, the Thomas Jefferson was the first on site to respond. Within five minutes, and in the dark, the TJ crew rescued the pilot from the plane (see NOAA article).
  • On June 3, 2010, the Thomas Jefferson embarked on a research mission to investigate the area around the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill site. Specifically, the TJ utilized sophisticated acoustic and water chemistry monitoring instruments to detect and map submerged oil in coastal areas and in the deep water surrounding the BP well head. See the following NOAA articles:
    • NOAA/NOS Deepwater Horizon Incident (website)
    • Initial observations from the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson (NOAA News)
    • NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson Continues Deepwater Horizon Spill Study Mission (NOAA News)
    • Deepwater Horizon Response Mission Report (PDF)
  • From April-June 2004, the Thomas Jefferson conducted a joint hydrographic survey with Mexico along the approaches to the Mexican ports of Altamira and Tampico as part of a cooperative charting agreement under the International Hydrographic Organization / Meso-American-Caribbean Sea Hydrographic Commission.
  • And let’s not forget the other contributions the Thomas Jefferson has made to marine archaeological surveys (Virginia Capes Wrecks, USCS Robert J. Walker, etc.)

One final point I’ll mention is from May 2007, when the Thomas Jefferson was recognized with the U.S. Department of Commerce Bronze Medal Award “for superior federal service for mapping efforts which identified areas of shoaling and obstructions caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and allowed for nautical charts to be quickly updated and used by deep draft vessels entering ports.”  This ship will certainly go down in the history books of the NOAA fleet!

TJ with flags
The NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, with her flags out for the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival

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