According to Pulitzer Prize winning historians Will and Ariel Durant “The future never just happened, it was created.” It was with this quote that I began the Keel Laying ceremony for R/V Taani at Gulf Island Shipyard this week. After spending far too much time investigating possible quotes—most of which were wistful bromides about the sea, or about ships, or about ships on the sea, or about men on ships on the sea—I thought this pithy little line pretty much summed up what I excites me about this project. There’s a lot of talk about building the future, but in our own little way, we are actually doing it for real now!
Kirk Meche, CEO of Gulf Island Fabrication was back home from Corporate Headquarters to deliver the welcome and speak to the importance of the RCRV project to southern Louisiana. I appreciated his 4F’s life philosophy: Fun, Food, Friends, and Faith. My boss, Dean Roberta Marinelli, spoke on behalf OSU and put the ship into scientific and historical context and brought some class to the proceedings with a poignant passage from Shakespeare. Deputy Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation (for GEO), Dr. Scott Borg, spoke to the broad nation-wide impacts that NSF fosters through projects like this and pledged full continued support for the project, now and through the ships’ lifetimes. Dr. Rick Spinrad, the former, well, former lots of amazing things and current strategic advisor to OSU, kept the audience entertained with the history of keel laying ceremonies and pitch-perfect sea stories that conveyed broad messages.
John and Shirley Byrne, our ceremonial sponsors, spoke touchingly about their full lives together, helping to create the future we are in today. Dr. Byrne reminded us that since he was the first UNOLS Director, it will be an even 50 years from then to when Taani is ready to go in 2021. I was sitting behind him, but I could almost hear him give a couple of winks as if to mean that there better be a big party! He was winking at you, UNOLS secretary-elect Doug Russell ! Shirley brought tears to several eyes, bringing us back to what really matters, speaking with compassion and pride for Taani’s future crews.
After it was all over, I asked a couple of the team what part of all the speeches stood out. The best answer I got was from our Admin Manager. She said “the best speeches are the ones we can remember how they made us feel, but we can’t exactly explain what they said.” I thought, you know, that’s it! By the end of that part of the ceremony, I think we were all feeling like we were part of something pretty important. We were feeling excited to create the future while feeling connected to the past.
With the speeches over, the Vandebilt Catholic High School band played a few songs while John and Shirley made their way to the ceremonial welding table where they were met by Master Welder Anibal Crespo to do the deed. After about 10 minutes of very careful work as witnessed by all in attendance and with the keel (or, remember from my last entry, the “skeg”) duly sanctified, I called out, “Would the Oregon State University Shipyard Representative please authentic the keel?!” John Comar replied, “Aye, aye, sir!” (we’re both retired military, so this was kind of fun). John then proceeded to VERY carefully inspect the quality of the welds (which were absolutely perfect, by the way) then placed two RCRV Challenge Coins (one heads, one tails) into the future ship’s hull and proclaimed in a loud voice “the keel of Research Vessel Taani has been truly and fairly laid!”
And so it was.
At that point, the band burst out with the OSU Fight Song and the crowd erupted in applause, all of us relieved to have given Taani an auspicious beginning.
Everyone present then joined in the authentication process and signed with permanent marker on the inside of the skeg. Some people wrote touching homilies.
Others said things like “I’m dam proud” or “Go Beaves!!” I, too, left my mark, but I’m not telling you what I wrote. To see that, you’ll need to work at the shipyard, someday in the distant future—say in 2050—when it’s time to inspect the quality of the (US-made) steel and look for wastage (which I doubt you’ll find). You’ll have to peel back the hull and peer down deep into the skeg. You’ll need to then find your way through a maze of cold stiffeners and narrow openings. There, on the forward most stiffener, likely long after I’m gone, you’ll find it. The future, I helped create.