Friday, May 27, 2016

One Smaller Ship for Research, One Giant Leap for Exploration: RV Neil Armstrong

This panoramic view shows Research Vessel (RV) Neil Armstrong (AGOR-27) moored near the battleship Wisconsin (BB-64) which is moored on the other side of the National Maritime Center Nauticus and Half Moone Cruise Terminal in downtown Norfolk.  While the era of the battleships might be over, research vessels are as vital to the Navy's mission as they ever were. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)   
The United States Navy has been a global leader in both carrying out and facilitating oceanographic  research and exploration for most of its history, and ships such as the long-lived USS Bear helped explore the inaccessible wastes of the earth's polar regions, both for scientific research and to stake territorial claims.  After the turn of the last century, the Navy's missions broadened from the surface of the ocean as submersibles and aircraft significantly broadened the battlespace, but with some significant exceptions after the Second World War, such as the record-breaking dives completed off Guam by the bathyscaphe Trieste during Project Nekton in the late-1950s and early 1960s, undersea exploration took a back seat to the beckoning sky.   

The strategic imperatives of the Cold War put a premium on aerospace, ballistic missile and rocketry research.  As an indirect result, breathtaking gains were made in outer space exploration, so much so that by the late-1960s, more was known about the surface of the moon than the floor of the earth's oceans.  The Navy's contribution to oceanographic research did not completely wither away during this time, yet the first ship used by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to support scientists for non-military research, USNS Josiah Willard Gibbs (T-AGOR-1), was a converted seaplane tender that fought in the Battle of Surigao Strait. 
Neil Armstrong, seen here in his official Apollo 11 portrait taken in 1969, passed away
in 2012 at the age of 82. His name lives on in the US Navy's newest oceanographic research
vessel that is beginning operational service this summer.  (NASA/ Wikimedia Commons) 
A decade later, when former naval aviator Neil Armstrong was training in 1967 for the first manned mission to the moon's surface, the keel was laid in Bay City Mich. for a new class of dedicated deep sea research vessel that would reenergize deep sea exploration.  Delivered in 1970 to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute  in Woods Hole, Mass., the 244 foot-long Earnest Knorr (AGOR-15), named for the man who led a 25-year effort to chart and survey the world’s oceans a century before, would ultimately prove instrumental in helping oceanographers, geologists, and other scientists form a much greater understanding of plate tectonics and confirm the existence of hydrothermal vents as well as the otherworldly life residing there.


RV Knorr is also popularly known for her role as host to Dr. Robert Ballard and the scientific team that found RMS Titanic in 1985, after completing a classified mission to survey the remains of the ill-fated submarines Scorpion (SSN-589) and Thresher (SSN-593).  Although the discovery was Knorr's greatest brush with fame, the mission was but a small part of her 44-year career, in which she traveled 1.35 million miles (the equivalent of more than two round trips to the moon) on journeys from the Arctic to the southern oceans and hundreds of places in between.   Lessons learned during the decades of Knorr's service were taken into account as plans for a successor began to take shape during the 1990s.

In September 2012, just a few weeks after Neil Armstrong passed away at the age of 82, the Navy announced that the newest class of oceanographic research ship would be named for him. Christened on March 28, 2014, and launched a few days later, RV Neil Armstrong  (AGOR-27) passed her sea trials in August 2015 and was officially delivered to the Navy on September 23, 2015. The 238-foot-long research vessel recently stopped in Hampton Roads on a verification cruise from the shipyard where she was built in Anacortes, Washington, to her new home port in Woods Hole, Mass.  


Kent Sheasley, a 20-year veteran of oceanographic exploration aboard RV Knorr, discusses the vast improvements in navigation and engineering technologies at the helm of RV Neil Armstrong during a recent visit to the downtown Norfolk waterfront. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)  
"We run everything--[the Navy] holds the pink slip," said Kent Sheasley, a Massachusetts Marine Academy graduate who worked his way up from an able seamen to first mate on RV Knorr over the last two decades and who is now the captain of RV Armstrong.  Sheasley noted that they were nearing the end of their fifth verification cruise, in his words, to "verify that the ship is ready to do real paid service, because at $45,000 a day, you want to be sure."
Completed in 2014, RV Neil Armstrong sports a "Made in USA"
label just below the bridge on her starboard side. (Photograph by
M.C. Farrington)
One of seven ships dedicated to academic research under the consortium of institutions belonging to the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), Armstrong receives essential funding through ONR as well as a number of other federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but when her active service starts this summer, scientists from all over the world, funded by research grants from a multitude of foundations, will financially sustain Armstrong on her missions of discovery all around the world.     

Considering that Armstrong was in development for the better part of two decades, it might sound surprising that the research vessel is slightly shorter than her predecessor, her 40-day endurance is approximately two weeks less, and she can embark fewer scientists than RV Knorr could.  Despite this, Armstrong possesses notable advantages over her predecessor such as a more advanced dynamic positioning system, greater fuel economy and cleaner exhaust, and her engines also produce less than half the underwater noise that RV Knorr produced.  This is particularly important because Armstrong also has the most advanced research sonar array the Navy possesses. 

(Left) RV Knorr in Reykjavic, Iceland towards the end of her American service life in 2014 (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute) and her replacement, RV Neil Armstrong (right), along the Norfolk waterfront during her recent verification cruise from Anacortes Washington to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, show the dramatic design improvements made to facilitate the deployment of scientific gear and remotely-piloted underwater vehicles, particularly the A-Frame launch-and-recovery system mounted to the stern. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
Another improvement in design involves the ability to add modular trailers containing anything from industrial repair equipment to self-contained Remotely Piloted Underwater Vehicle (ROV) control centers that can now be bolted to Armstrong's aft deck.
In front of a group of visitors from the nearby National Maritime Center Nauticus, Captain Kent Sheasley describes how the spacious "dry lab" on Armstrong's starboard side will meet the needs of embarked scientists once the research vessel begins missions this summer.  There is also a slightly smaller "wet lab" and adjoining hangar on the port side that opens to the aft weather deck. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)




The average stateroom an embarked scientist could expect to use aboard RVArmstrong. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
Despite the comparatively cushy surroundings for the 22 crewembers and up to 24 scientists and researchers embarked aboard Armstrong compared to the average Navy vessel, their optempo can exceed that experienced by the average Sailor.  With a years-long waiting list of scientists hoping to utilize the Navy's newest and most advanced oceanographic research platform, Capt. Sheasley expects Armstrong to be kept underway for anywhere between 300 to 320 days per year.
(Top) Just aft of the engineering section of RV Armstrong, 10,000 meters of Electro-Mechanical (EM) wire await use supporting a multitude of different missions including ROV operations, but what Armstrong's EM wire will probably be used for most is for deploying her onboard Conductivity/Temperature/Depth (CTD) Rosette Adaptive Sampling Device (bottom), which Capt. Sheasley calls the "bread and butter of oceanographic research."  It can determine a wealth of data at practically any depth in Earth's oceans such as oxygen level, salinity, and even its horizontal velocity using an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler, taking 30 to 40 readings per meter of travel.  The CTD can also bring back samples using the Niskin bottles ringing the device's rosette frame. (Photographs by M.C. Farrington)









Tuesday, May 17, 2016

World War II Veteran Sebastian Rio

Sebastian Rio at the World War II Memorial, April 2016 (Photo by Laura Orr)
For the past six years I’ve worked at HRNM, I didn’t know Sebastian Rio was a World War II veteran.  Like many of that generation, Sebastian talks more about his family than he does about his own accomplishments.  It was only this past November when he mentioned in passing that he was the last veteran wearing the World War II victory ribbon at his church the Sunday before Veterans’ Day.  That led me to think about Honor Flight Historic Triangle Virginia, an amazing non-profit group that takes World War II and Korean War Veterans to visit their memorials in Washington, D.C.  When I found that Sebastian had never been there, I immediately began conspiring to get him on the next Honor Flight.  He was easy to convince—I simply gave him the application and offered to act as his “guardian,” which meant I would spend the day with him in D.C. and help him out with anything he needed that day.  I was excited to make this happen—but I had no idea it would be such a life-changing experience.

When we stepped off the bus on that rainy Saturday and I saw Sebastian’s face as he looked at the World War II Memorial—HIS memorial—I knew it was all worth it.  In that one day, I learned more about Sebastian Rio than I ever knew before.  Sebastian is one of our dedicated Naval Museum volunteers.  He has volunteered at HRNM since the Battleship Wisconsin arrived in 2001, making the transition to working in our library after the ship was turned over to the City of Norfolk in 2009.  While I’ve spoken to Sebastian on a regular basis, I never learned about his background until this trip.

Sebastian Rio in 1944.
Sebastian, a native of Boston, joined the Naval Reserve at the age of 17, in 1944.  As he told me, “Boston was a Navy town. Everyone in my neighborhood joined the Navy as soon as they were old enough.”  Sebastian was sent immediately to a year of radar training school, from which he emerged in 1945.  It was the end of the war, and he served aboard USS Iowa (BB-61) as a member of the occupying forces in Japan.  When we were discussing whether he had photographs of himself in uniform, Sebastian shook his head and said, “Now that I’m looking back at it, I wish I had carried a camera with me during my time in Japan.  But it was all so devastated—at the time, I just couldn’t think of taking photographs of it.  Now, I want to be able to remember what I experienced.”  He may not have photographs, but his memory draws a picture that made me feel as though I was there.  Sebastian remembered going into Tokyo for liberty, when he and the other Sailors were allowed to go only into the areas already cleared by the Army.  One time he went to buy some silk for his sisters and, before he entered the shop, he could hear the women inside talking away.  He entered and they became completely silent the whole time he was there.  He related, “The Japanese people were very respectful to us, but they had been shown propaganda about the American people throughout the whole war, so they didn’t go out of their way to be friendly.”

Top: Sebastian attended World Series Game 5 at Wrigley Field while attending radar school in Chicago. Bottom: This is a scan of one of the beer tickets the Navy gave Sebastian in Yokosuka, Japan. (Courtesy Sebastian Rio)

Sebastian served aboard USS Iowa (BB-61) in Japan for about five months.  This experience drew him to become an HRNM volunteer when he heard that Iowa’s sister ship, USS Wisconsin (BB-64), would be berthed here in Norfolk.  As a young teenager reporting to Iowa, he remembered how beautiful she looked, and he was so excited to serve aboard her.  When I asked him about coming to Wisconsin years later in his life and whether that brought back memories of his time aboard Iowa, he said, “I don’t care what they say—as an adult, Wisconsin looks so much smaller than Iowa looked when I was just a teenager!”  Same ship, much different perspectives.

Sebastian served in the Navy until 1946, then spent the rest of his career as a mechanical engineer.  Since volunteering at the battleship and HRNM in 2001, he has accrued approximately 1600 hours.  He spends half his year here in Norfolk and the other half in Nova Scotia, where his wife's family is from.

We have so many dedicated, amazing volunteers at HRNM.  I feel lucky to be able to spend time with them on a daily basis, and Sebastian will always be special because of the Honor Flight experience we shared.  I will never forget that day, and I hope he doesn’t, either.  Sebastian, thank you for being you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

In Praise of the Divine Miss M

By Joseph Judge
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Curator


The actor Will Smith, in one of his movies, donned a pair of sunglasses and told Tommy Lee Jones, “The difference between you and me is that I make this look good.”   Since 1993 one person in particular has made the Hampton Roads Naval Museum look good:  Marta Nelson Joiner.  Now, in 2016, she is leaving us for a well-deserved retirement.

This is what HRNM looked like in 1994.  The can of Coke was not Marta’s.
Marta came on board at the museum’s original home, the Pennsylvania House on the Naval Station, where she almost immediately plunged into the biggest project in our history: the relocation to Nauticus in downtown Norfolk in 1994.  Moving an entire museum required extensive and daily reviews of complicated exhibit elements, audio-visual material, security cameras and artifact transportation.  The museum opened successfully, no small thanks to Marta.

Cuba Libre (above and below) – two images of the Spanish-American War centennial exhibit.


After that, the problem is not what to say about Marta but how to stop saying things about Marta.  She designed the museum’s largest and most ambitious temporary exhibit in 1998: Cuba Libre: The Spanish-American War in the Caribbean.  Marta had to fit the new exhibit over the museum’s permanent exhibits – no small feat – and the result was informative and beautiful. 

Some of us, including Marta on the right, the day the Wisconsin opened.  The smiles are real.
Marta was also instrumental in design and planning for the second biggest project in the museum’s history: the opening of the battleship Wisconsin was an attraction in 2000.  Marta helped to plan the tour route, the location of docent stations, the development of a logo and a wide variety of shipboard interpretive signage in 2001.  When it opened, the Wisconsin was the most popular tourist attraction in the state of Virginia.  In one of the more exciting episodes of her career, the author and Marta were detained in the shipyard after working on the Wisconsin in December.  We were trying to find some coffee and get warm and ended up in the wrong place.  We celebrated our eventual release back in Norfolk.


Marta did not rest on any laurels, then or later.  Highlights of her illustrious work include the following: 


  • Design and fabrication of the Wisconsin’s ship’s silver exhibit.  This sensitive assignment included innovation with security cameras and lighting. 
  • Design of an exhibit for a “Bully the Moose” exhibit aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt.  The exhibit, featuring a real moose head and information about the 26th president, required relocation while the TR was in the yard for refueling. Mrs. Joiner travelled to the ship on the stressful day after 9/11 to manage the project.
  • Design of a new temporary exhibit gallery - the “Forecastle Gallery,” a shared space with Nauticus.  Mrs. Joiner pushed for creation of a temporary exhibit space (the first in the building). 


  • Installation of a major permanent exhibit that highlighted the development of the Naval Station and the 1907 Jamestown Exposition.  1907: The Jamestown Exposition and the Launching of the New Steel Navy is a beautiful and insightful contribution to the history of the region and the history of the city of Norfolk.  It was also an important contributor to “Sail Virginia,” Norfolk’s contribution to the Jamestown 2007 commemorative events.   
  • In 2011 Marta was the museum’s point person for remaking shipboard exhibits aboard USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51), dedicated to Admiral Arleigh Burke.  Mrs. Joiner designed the new exhibits and oversaw their fabrication and installation.  The exhibit opened on the 20th anniversary of the ship’s original commissioning, 4 July 2011.


  • In 2014, she was an integral part of the design team working  on “Stewards of the Sea,” an exhibit highlighting the Navy’s environmental efforts.  This high-tech, hands-on exhibit represents an important step forward for Navy exhibits and Nauticus.  It provides immersive scenarios for the visitor to learn about the Navy’s environmental measures while at sea, to include its protective measures with the marine life it encounters.

I have not even mentioned exhibits at the Navy Tour & Information Center, the MAC Terminal, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Fort Story, Little Creek, Commander Navy Region Mid-Atlantic or numerous others.


She completely redesigned the museum’s signature publication, The Daybook, twice, most recently in 2015.  And in her spare time she has corralled problems with the museum’s IT systems, security cameras, telephones, all while solving graphic design problems that crossed her desk each day.  And I need it by Tuesday.


Accreditation is the gold standard of museum performance.  We obtained it in 2008, in no small part because of the professionalism of our publications and exhibits.  This hard-working woman served as the manager of an exhibit design and fabrication program that welcomed over 3,470,000 visitors to exhibits in Nauticus between 1994 and 2015; and welcomed over 2,500,000 visitors to the battleship Wisconsin during the period of Navy ownership (2000-2009).


Marta in her office  receiving some news about a broken exhibit.  The sign in the background was at first infamous, then just famous.  Note the (then) state-of-the-art Macintosh computer at the back left.


The rest and best part of the story lies in the years of laughter and tears that we enjoyed with the divine Miss M.  Some years, tears outweighed the laughter, but there is no helping that part of life, and we were always there for each other.  Bon voyage Marta, HRNM loves you.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Historic Gems: Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s Dry Docks

By Katherine A. Renfrew
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Registrar


Essential to the art of shipbuilding, maintenance and repairs is the dry dock. As a rule, these narrow basins are constructed of earthen berms and concrete.  A gate or caisson located at the end of the basin facilitates the flow of water, allowing the vessel to float when the basin is filled or supported on blocks when the basin is drained.  While the vessel rests on the blocks, inspections and repairs can be freely made to the normally submerged hull.  Afterwards, the vessel can be gently refloated as the water re-enters the basin.    

The mark of a true and proper shipyard is its ability to perform dry-docking, and Hampton Roads has the honor of being home to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.  The facility is the oldest and largest shipyard belonging to the U.S. Navy and is located on the southern branch of the Elizabeth River in the City of Portsmouth.  There are seven fully functional dry docks at the shipyard, with Dry Dock No. 1 being the most significant. The dry docks are numbered one through eight, but there are actually only seven.  Dry Dock No. 5 was originally meant to be a mirror image of Dry Dock No. 4., but it was never constructed.  Instead, the land was used for other purposes. These historic gems are not only significant for their inherent historic qualities and showcasing of naval technology, but for their continued service to our country and Navy. 

Following is a diagram and early images of the dry docks at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.


This diagram shows the location of the seven dry docks and their accompanying cranes at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Taken from the Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) – Dry docking Facilities Characteristics report Number UFC 4-213-12 dated June 19, 2003.
DRY DOCK NO. 1
The most well-known and historically significant of the shipyard’s dry docks is Dry Dock No. 1.  Construction commenced on December 1, 1827 and was completed on June 17, 1833, the day USS Delaware, the first ship to be dry-docked in America, entered the dry dock.  Nearly 30 years later, the steam frigate USS Merrimac entered the dry dock on May 30, 1861.  After the shipyard, then known as the Gosport Yard, was taken over by Confederate forces during the Civil War, Merrimac was reconstructed there as the ironclad CSS Virginia.  Dry Dock No. 1 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Three unknown vessels (possibly torpedo boats) in Dry Dock No. 1, February 18, 1908. (National Archives and Records Administration NNSY-1908_01 /RG 71-CA, Box 333, Folder B)

Photo taken from bottom of dock revealing inscriptions carved in the stone for the centennial commemoration of the Drydock in 1933. (National Archives and Records Administration NNSY-1933_01 /RG 71-CA, Box 333, Folder B)

DRY DOCK NO. 2
Dry Dock No. 2 opened on September 19, 1889 and was originally built of timber.  In 1933, it was modernized and rebuilt of concrete.

The submarines Severn, Snapper, Tarpon, Salmon & Stingray as well as another unidentified vessel in Dry Dock No. 2, February21, 1911. (National Archives and Records Administration, NNSY-1911_02/RG 71-CA, Box 339, Folder D)
DRY DOCK NO. 3
Dry Dock No. 3 opened December 8, 1908 with the docking of the armored cruiser North Carolina (CA-12).  During 1910-11 the dock was extended from its 550-foot length to its present length of 726 feet.

Dry Dock No. 3 under construction, February 3, 1904 (National Archives and Records Administration, NNSY-1904_01/RG 71-CA, Box 333, Folder D)
USS North Carolina (CA-12) in Dry Dock No. 3, December 9, 1908. (National Archives and Records Administration, NNSY-1908_02/RG 71-CA, Box 333, Folder D)
DRY DOCK NO. 4
The U.S. fleet’s newest battleships were longer than the current dry docks in the early 1900s.  The Navy’s desire to retain its ability to maintain its ships created a need for a larger dry dock.   The answer was Dry Dock No. 4, the largest structure to date at that time.  It opened on April 1, 1919.  Its length was 1,011 feet, 10 inches. It was 144 feet wide, and was 51feet deep.


USS Nevada (BB-36) in Dry Dock No. 3 and USS Wisconsin (BB-9) in Dry Dock No. 4 on May 9, 1919. (National Archives and Records Administration, NNSY-1919_09/RG 71-CA, Box 339, Folder D)

Dry Docks 3 and 4, looking east, March 29, 1935. (National Archives and Records Administration, NNSY-1935_0 /RG 71-CA, Box 334, Folder A)
DRY DOCKS NOS. 6 & 7
Both dry docks were built, it seems, as a pair.  They are 465 feet, 9 inches and 465 feet, 8 inches in length, respectively.  Both opened on October 31, 1919.


Dry Dock No. 6 (top) looking southeast and  Dry Dock No. 7 (above), before and during the opening ceremony, October 31, 1919. (National Archives and Records Administration, NNSY-1919_03 & NNSY-1919_04/RG 71-CA, Box 334, Folder D)
DRY DOCK NO. 8
Dry Dock No. 8 has the distinction of being the largest at the shipyard, measuring 1,092 feet, 5 inches long, with a depth of 47 feet, 11 inches.  The battleship Kentucky’s keel was laid on March 7, 1942. The official opening of the dry dock, however, took place in July, 1942.  




Both images show Dry Dock No. 8 under construction, looking south, August 14, 1941 (top) and December 15, 1941 (above). (National Archives and Records Administration, NNSY-1941_03 & NNSY-194_-04/RG 71-CA, Box 334, Folder B&A)
This brief history of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s dry docks is the fourth in a series of blog posts illustrating the development of Naval Station Norfolk and its neighboring facilities.  Unless otherwise noted, the photographs in this series represent the results of a research project seeking images of Hampton Roads naval installations at the National Archives and Records Administration.  This research, performed by Southeastern Archaeological Research, Incorporated (SEARCH) was funded by Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic as part of an ongoing effort to provide information on historic architectural resources at Navy bases in Hampton Roads.  The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is pleased to present these images for the benefit of the general public and interested historians.  As far as we know, all of these images are in the public domain and none of them have been published before.