The RV Melville is an American vessel

A Tour of RV Mellville

RV Melville at anchor at the V&A Waterfront
RV Melville at anchor at the V&A Waterfront

Being an active volunteer at the Two Oceans Aquarium has its perks, and one of them was an invitation to a guided tour of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO) vessel, RV Melville, while it was berthed at the V&A Waterfront at the end of March. The RV Melville is a research ship that sails the world loaded with scientists and crew engaged in various research projects.

Our tour was conducted by Captain Dave Murline, and First Mate Ian Lawrence. The position of captain rotates every few months, as does the entire crew of the ship. The SIO is based in La Jolla, California, and has a long and distinguished history of boat- and laboratory-based ocean research. It is part of the University of California, San Diego. The First Mate assured me that I was allowed to take photographs on the tour, and said that there is nothing secret or classified about the ship. While I was slightly disappointed by this – always hoping for intrigue – I am happy to be able to share photos with you!

The front of the ship showing the crane used to retrieve dredges from the ocean floor
The front of the ship showing the crane used to retrieve dredges from the ocean floor

The ship has a propulsion system that allows it to move sideways, and to hold a position with incredible precision even in rough conditions. This is important when taking readings or retrieving scientific gear from a particular location. Engine power is converted to electricity, which runs everything on the ship. A massive winch, seated low in the vessel for stability (it is very heavy) is used for retrieving samples and instruments from the sea floor.

All along each side of the ship are life rafts – enough on each side for the entire ship’s complement. Thus, if the ship heeled over to one side, everyone would be able to escape in a life raft. So simple and obvious, but not to the builders of the Titanic. Thank goodness for lessons learned.

A 26-person life raft bursts out of this barrel when it gets wet (or is opened)
A 26-person life raft bursts out of this barrel when it gets wet (or is opened)

The ship had just completed a voyage of several months along the Walvis Ridge, as Chief Scientist Dr Anthony Koppers explained. Dr Koppers showed us examples of the rocks that the scientists on board (the majority of whom are actually undergraduate and graduate students) harvested from the seamounts along the Walvis Ridge, as well as some deep sea coral skeletons. He explained how deep sea corals do not grow as abundantly as the coral we’re accustomed to see in shallow, tropical oceans, but occurs widely spaced on the dim, cool seafloors where it occurs.

Since the RV Melville’s primary purpose is scientific research, Dr Koppers was quite an important person on board and the scientific agenda of the cruise was paramount. At times groups were working around the clock dredging up samples of rock and sediment.

View from a porthole in the library
View from a porthole in the library

There are exercise bikes, rowing machines and weights scattered about the ship, in hallways and stairwells – apparently this is a good way to pass the time and discharge excess energy at sea. A well-equipped library (I even spotted a Deon Meyer book), a crew lounge with a television and dvds, internet terminals and – by all accounts – wonderful meals three times a day, ensure that the leisure time of the crew and scientists on board is well spent even though it’s in a fairly cramped space.

The RV Melville is not a new ship, but I was impressed by what an excellent condition of neatness and cleanliness prevails throughout the vessel. Clearly the crew take great pride in their work.

Plaque commemorating the builders of the RV Melville
Plaque commemorating the builders of the RV Melville

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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