When you see it in action for the first time, it looks very impressive – sleek and powerful. It has all of the bells and whistles, but is much more than a shiny new toy. Like its predecessor, the survey vessel Florida, the Florida II provides critical support for key U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District missions, including port dredging, navigation, shore protection, environmental studies, archaeological investigations, geotechnical analysis, military projects, emergency response and tours.
For the Corps, the purchase of a survey vessel is much like getting married and buying a house. It’s a big investment and a long-term commitment. It’s important to make the right choice to ensure success.
The Florida II is a 62-foot aluminum hydrofoil-assisted catamaran hydrographic survey vessel that was built to Corps specifications by All American Marine and commissioned in February 2013. The experienced crew, Capt. David Morrison and Capt. Rory Riker, along with survey system operators Thomas "Tommy" Thomas and Robert Jenkins trained on the state-of-the-art features and expanded capability of the vessel.
“It’s stable, fast and can work in rough seas. When you are doing hydrographic surveys, those things are important to get quality survey data. We’re more efficient because we can get from place to place faster, and there’s less downtime. We can continue to work under heavier seas and in much bigger ports,” said Morrison.
The catamaran hull with two pontoons provides a smooth ride and the straight track necessary for surveying. A wave breaker, positioned between the pontoons splits the waves in half, cushioning the ride. With a draft of less than four feet, the 62-foot vessel can navigate relatively shallow waters.
Much of the thought process required for complex procedures like docking is taken care of by computers, said Morrison. “In the old days, the captain had to look at wind, current and other conditions. It took a lot of concentration to get the vessel to the dock when you had to deal with all of that as well as the rudder and twin propellers.”
With the FLORIDA II, wind and current are not a concern. There is no rudder and there are no propellers – the jet-drive propulsion system works like a jet ski. “There is still a wheel at the helm, but there is also a joystick that can be used to maneuver,” said Morrison. “If you move the joystick to the right, the vessel moves directly to the right, without the extensive back and forth work that used to be necessary with twin propellers. The adjustments for wind and current are made by the computer, so docking is automatic and safer.
“The jets and the joystick are a phenomenal combination,” he added. “The maneuverability is amazing. The vessel can spin in its own length, or slide to one side or the other while moving forward or backward at the same time. If we are surveying, the ability to make tight turns means we can gather survey data more efficiently. Being able to move straight sideways at low speeds makes docking so much easier. You push the joystick over sideways and the vessel walks right over.”
“It drives like a spaceship,” said Riker. “We can walk around the vessel from bow to stern, 62 feet long by 24 feet wide, and control the engines and steer the vessel with the remote control. Being able to walk around the deck and even look over the side of the vessel to see the dock really comes in handy. It you’ve got a lot of boat traffic, tight docking situations, low visibility or hazards like dense fog, the increased mobility and visibility are a huge safety advantage.”
Another key design feature is the hydrofoil assistance. In cross-section, the hydrofoil is shaped like an airplane wing. It lifts the vessel in the same way that airplane wings keep planes supported in the air. When the Florida II hits about 12 knots, the fixed hydrofoil mid-ship lifts the front third of the hull out of the water.
“The foils lift the 62-foot vessel, which displaces 85,000 pounds, reducing friction and drag,” said Morrison. “You literally skim over the water, and you can travel at higher speeds while burning less fuel.” Top speed on the Florida II is twice that of the Florida. Normal cruising speed is 30 to 35 knots, and the boat can travel at 25 to 30 knots in rough seas.
State-of-the-art electronics include NAVnet 3D, a navigation system that has a black box like an airplane. “Simon,” the state-of-the-art security monitor and alarm system, notifies those on the vessel and supervisors on dry land about issues like flooding, intruders and fire as well as the location of the vessel.
New technology provides expanded options for survey work. In addition to a single-beam transducer that bounces sonar to the bottom and back in one beam, capturing single points of information, there is also a multi-beam transducer that uses an array of pulses at different angles, generating a surface with multiple points. It creates a three-dimensional surface model of the ocean floor, capable of increasingly higher resolution with multiple passes over the same location.
Another new tool is the A-frame and winch on the stern, which are used to deploy sonar towfish on a cable to depths of 30 to 1,000 feet. The towfish includes side scan sonar for surveying a wide area, a sub-bottom profiler to distinguish differences in the density of various layers below the surface and a magnetometer to detect metals.
Green features include LED house lighting on the deck and inside the cabins, and an innovative bottom coating that mimics one of Mother Nature’s designs - shark skin. It decreases the friction between the vessel and the water, helping it to move through the water more easily and reducing fuel consumption. Organisms have a difficult time forming an attachment to the smooth finish and can be easily removed.
“Performance is dramatically affected by what is on the bottom of the vessel – things like barnacles, algae and seagrass. This coating keeps the vessel running faster and longer too,” said Phillip Bates, mechanical engineer and district plant manager.
Why is the enhanced capability of the Florida II so important? Ports and navigational dredging are key missions for Jacksonville District, and surveying must be done before anything else can happen.
“We must do surveys in a timely manner, or we can’t award contracts,” said Brain Brodehl, chief of the Survey and Mapping Branch, Operations Division. ”We can’t do our job without it.” Before each award, the area must have a hydrographic survey to record the depths and contours of the bottom. Before each contract is closed out, each area must be surveyed again to determine how much material has been removed, in order to pay the contractor for their work.
“Speed, efficiency and stability make the catamaran the new standard for survey vessels. With our expanded capabilities, we can perform any type of hydrographic survey work needed by the various branches of Jacksonville District,” said Brodehl.