On a windswept day in June, the 78-foot Arcticus left the dock on Thunder Bay River in Alpena, Mich., made its way past Alpena Light and proceeded on a four-hour run to the middle of Lake Huron.

The fisheries research vessel, built by Burger Boat Company in Manitowoc, Wis., for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), was delivered in the fall of 2014. It is based in Cheboygan, Mich., as part of the Great Lakes Science Center’s five-vessel fleet. Arcticus replaced the 75-foot Grayling, built at Bender Shipbuilding in Mobile, Ala., in 1977.

The new vessel was originally slated to take the name Grayling, but in recognition of the collective fondness for the elder vessel, the name Arcticus — after Thymallus arcticus, or arctic grayling, once native to Michigan — was chosen. Grayling has a new life with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Pascagoula, Miss.

Arcticus is designed to conduct lakewide bottom trawl surveys, midwater trawl surveys, acoustic surveys, gillnet surveys and a variety of over-the-side science operations to collect environmental data. The hydro-acoustic surveys use sound waves to detect fish and assess their abundance. Arcticus’ ice-strengthened hull allows the boat to operate in frigid conditions on Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

The contract design, specification and performance requirements for Arcticus were completed by JMS Naval Architects of Mystic, Conn. Blake Powell, president of JMS, said Arcticus is the first vessel in JMS’ new Coastal-class Research Vessel Fisheries series.

“This design was intended to remain flexible and support a wide range of coastal fisheries research science missions, outfitting, accommodations and geographic areas,” Powell said. “It is also designed to be affordable to build and operate.”

Capt. Joe Bergan and Tim O’Brien, a fisheries research technician with the U.S. Geological Survey, discuss setting Arcticus’ gillnet for a sample survey.

Gregory Marshall of Gregory C. Marshall Naval Architect Ltd. in Victoria, British Columbia, was retained by Burger Boat to do the detail design, stability calculations and incline test.

Arcticus is a small boat but it handles and answers to the rudder very well,” said Capt. Joe Bergan, senior fleet captain, USGS Cheboygan Vessel Base. “It’s not a DP boat, but with the bow thruster she handles station-keeping very well, too.”

Burger sent a design team aboard USGS Sturgeon to observe the day and night sampling operations and all of the science mission requirements.

“The knowledge they obtained allowed them to build Arcticus to a level of detail that ensured the science mission requirements would be met successfully,” Bergan said. “Burger did exactly what they said they would do and they did it on time and on budget.”

Bergan, impressed with the level of quality that a high-end yacht-building yard brings to a project, pointed out the neatness and organization of the wiring and the joinery quality of the engine-room overhead and exhaust casing insulation.

“Another minor but good example is the different configurations of doorstops and latches used on the weathertight and watertight doors,” he said. “I have looked for something that is not plumb or is hung cockeyed and have found none.”

The boat’s propulsion is courtesy of a pair of Caterpillar C12 engines.

Douglas Borys, in charge of commercial business development for Burger Boat, explained that the company’s employees exercise the same attention to detail on commercial vessel construction as they do on custom yachts.

“The only difference is the type of materials and finishes used,” he said.

The pilothouse has excellent visibility and is thoughtfully laid out with all of the electronics, switches and controls close at hand. Arcticus is primarily operated as a day boat but is capable of conducting longer surveys when called upon. The day trips are 12 or more hours long, so comfort is important for the three crewmembers and six scientists. To meet those demands, the galley is well equipped.

Arcticus is powered by two 454-hp, Tier 2 Caterpillar C12 mains, with Twin Disc MGX-5114 DC reduction gears. There is also a Wesmar 50-hp bow thruster. A power take-off (PTO) on each gear drives the sonar hydraulics, the bow thruster, trawl winches, net reels and gillnet lifter.

On the stern deck, Hawboldt Industries supplied two trawl winches with 2,000 feet of wire and two stacked net reels. Rapp Marine supplied the 10,000-pound boom crane. Burger designed and built the boom winch mounted on the starboard side of the upper aft deck. Its main purpose is to deploy the CTD (connectivity, temperature and depth) carousel and other scientific instruments.

On the port side, aft of the galley, is the dry lab. It is primarily an office space for the electronics and acoustic surveys, which are conducted with two transducers that are lowered through the hull. The space also contains a So-Low Ultra-Low freezer set for minus 80 degrees Celsius. It will make ice within 10 minutes. Any specimens or samples that require a quick freeze to prevent degradation are placed in the Ultra-Low.

The stern deck features a Rapp Marine boom crane, right, a boom winch designed and constructed by Burger Boat, and a pair of trawl winches from Hawboldt Industries.

The wet lab, located on the starboard side, opens onto the stern deck. It contains a Crosley 30-inch gillnet lifter, hydraulically driven by PTO off the mains. Burger fabricated a custom watertight hatch that penetrates the starboard shell plating. The net roller is lowered through the opening during gillnet surveys.

Operating the hatch and deploying the roller is “effortless,” Bergan said. The fish taken aboard are measured, weighed and classified by sex. Scale and otolith samples are taken to the dry lab and preserved for further study at the USGS lab in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Tim O’Brien, a fisheries research technician with the USGS, explained that the purpose of the day’s survey was to set a gillnet for lake trout along a ridge in Lake Huron that has been surveyed annually for more than 25 years. Once the net is set, it is left overnight and hauled the next day.

The data collected provide information to formulate fisheries management policies that attempt to balance the ratio of predator to prey fish in the Great Lakes. The surveys also assess the extent of predation on lake trout by sea lampreys, an invasive species that has wreaked havoc with lake trout stocks in the Great Lakes.

“This platform allows us to do everything we need to do: trawling, gillnetting, plankton sampling and large-scale acoustic surveys, focusing on pelagic prey fish species,” O’Brien said.

By Professional Mariner Staff