University of Vermont

RSENR Melosira, Burlington, VT

Pat Gorman

My name is Pat Gorman, I am a senior in Fisheries Biology in the RSENR and Deckhand/Research Assistant on board the R/V Melosira. This past fall I completed an internship as deckhand in the interest of furthering my experience in fisheries and ship piloting. I would like to thank Mary Watzin, Bill Lowell and Ellen Marsden for this great learning opportunity.

At the conclusion of 2010 Captain Dick Furbush announced he was retiring as captain of the R/V Melosira, marking the first change in command since 1966. Having been at the helm for so many years this, was a significant change as the Rubenstein School prepared to start a new chapter in the Melosira’s log.
Bill Lowell, a former standby deckhand on the Melosira, and familiar face at the University, was appointed to the position this past March. A local fisherman, and long-time seaman here on Lake Champlain and on the Eastern Seaboard Bill comfortably took the helm for the 2011 season, a season whose unfamiliar and challenging lake conditions would be a first for all of us.
The season began with unusually high spring lake levels, causing major flooding of our lakeshore communities, and reaching a record 103.57 feet above sea level. As the lake level rose, Shelburne Shipyard became flooded and it was questionable whether we could meet the April 15 launch date. However, thanks to the hardworking folks at the yard, we were able to launch before the flood conditions would close the yard for the next six weeks. The Melosira had the lake to herself. With lake spray freezing on the lifelines and coating the windshield, the Melosira, under new watch, braved the cold waters of Shelburne Bay, and was soon lay snug in her slip beside the Rubenstein Lab. She was welcomed with waving hands and anxious spirits, as the arrival of her green hull marked the beginning of the long awaited research season.

With lake levels at a record high the flooded breakwater did little to protect the Burlington Harbor from westerly waves as they battered the shore. As she pitched and rolled in her unprotected slip, conditions often became too dangerous to allow students to traverse the plank spanning the gap between ship and dock. We continued to watch lake levels fluctuate, each day adjusting the fenders and lines that protect the hull from slamming into the steel walls of the slip. In time, the waters receded; the carp who had made a home in the flooded parking lot once again returned to the lake, and life began to resemble normality.

Research and educational trips once put on hold were now able to continue. In Lake Champlain Live, an outreach educational program led by UVM’s Erin De Vries, students became regulars on board as we probed the lake for data and knowledge. Using a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Dissolved oxygen), students were able to see first-hand the temperature- stratified layers of water and, in particular, the influence of the thermocline within the lake ecosystem. These trips continued on into the summer and fall months.

Tom Manley, a Geologist at Middlebury College, was on board for several trips to deploy mooring arrays and gathering core samples used for his various undergraduate and graduate research projects. The arrays are part of an ongoing project on the dynamic currents and seiche activity found in Lake Champlain.

Greg Druschel a geologist at UVM, was interested in the intense algae blooms found in Mississquoi Bay. During his research trips the rear deck of the Melosira was transformed into the headquarters for a chemical laboratory and diving platform. Greg and graduate students Nicole Shufelt, Angel Garcia, and Tim Kelly collected sediment samples to better understand the phosphorus fluxes occurring at the water-sediment interface. The flux cycles are believed to have
an influence on the frequency, intensity and location of algae blooms, and understanding them may help to alleviate this unfortunate Vermont issue.

Students in town this summer may have been fortunate enough to attend the Lake Champlain Maritime that celebrated Burlington’s maritime heritage. Throughout the festival the Lois McClure, a replica of the historic sailing canal ships shared the Melosira’s slip. Seeing her docked there was a reminder of our historic dependency upon the waterways between New York and Montreal for transportation and shipping. During the festival students of the Maritime Museum’s Shipwreck Tours came on board the Melosira to explore the wreck of the General Butler located just off the south end of the Burlington breakwater. Thanks to time and equipment donated by Barney Bristow, students viewed a monitor as a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dove over the wreck relaying video of the old wooden hull. Students felt like they had stepped back in time as they looked down onto the broken tiller responsible for running the ship and crew aground one cold December night over 125 years ago.

Though summer eventually had to come to an end, it meant Rubenstein students would soon return and classes such as Natural History and Field Ecology, Fisheries Biology and Management, and Limnology and would journey out on the lake for a hands on learning experience. This fall all 10 lab sections of NR 1 were able to spend a day collecting water quality and biological data. The students of Ellen Marsden’s Fisheries Biology and Management course were also lucky to find breaks in the windy fall weather for gillnetting, bottom trawling, and, new to this year, using trot lines. A new class this year was Walter Poleman’s Place-based Landscape Analysis, a trip focused on the influence of Lake Champlain on the valley community. A highlight onboard was a discussion with Art Cohn, founder of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, regarding the ecological and social value of the lake’s famous shipwrecks.

The passing of Hurricane Irene was kind to the vessel, with little disturbance besides the sleepless dockside nights her captain endured. Unfortunately Irene could not extend her blessing to all as we continue the effort to support our neighbors and communities in need.

The season concluded with two night trips in pursuit of Lake Champlain Mysis. Jason Stockwell, new director of the Rubenstein Lab, along with undergraduate research student Molly Morrissey, conducted a pilot experiment on the diurnal migration of these small shrimps. Samples were collected using a tucker trawl and footage of their evening behavior was captured through the lens of an ROV. On both nights we were blessed with calm winds and warm skies, making for an unforgettable trip to end the Melosira’s year.

Eventually the Melosira was lifted from the lake, and once again set on her blocks in Shelburne Shipyard. It was another memorable season on board the R/V Melosira and we look forward to a new and exciting 2012 season. For more information on the vessel and her expeditions, or to schedule time for the 2012 season, please visit her blog at: