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Jumborizing: a brief history of the R/V Knorr

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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In the library here, there’s a fabulous oil painting of Ernest R. Knorr, an engineer and cartographer after whom our boat is named. Since her first launch in 1968, the Knorr has logged over a million miles, sailing far enough to go the the moon and back twice.

What a guy.

 

You’ve seen parts of the boat, and you’ll see more in the upcoming weeks as I get lost and find new places, but the general specs are as follows. The vessel is 279 feet long, and has 4 engines. It’s most famous for helping discover the wreck of the Titanic in 1985. Since then, it’s been on all sorts of scientific missions — including ours.

If you like heavy machinery, the Knorr has two cranes that each lift 60,000 pounds. The ship holds 160,500 gallons of fuel and runs on 2 diesel-electric azimuthing thrusters. The “azimuthing” part means that the thrusters come in pods that can be rotated 360 degrees. It allows the Knorr to turn really nicely, without a rudder. The ship also has 4 generators — 3 big ones and a small one. For more techie details, go here.

The Knorr also makes all of its own water through reverse osmosis, so we have plenty to use for drinking, washing our clothes, and showering. It also means the water is really soft – which is great for clothes but bad for muscles. The kitchen keeps a constant supply of Gatorade-type stuff for us to refuel our ions that the water just isn’t giving us.

But the coolest thing about the Knorr (I think!) is that between 1989 and 1991, it was “jumborized.” I don’t know if that’s a real word. A quick Google search spits back “Jumboprize,” which is apparently some foreign television show featuring karate. It also suggests “jumbo size,” jumbo rate,” “jumbo price,” and “jumbo pizza.” I’m beginning to think the engineer who told me this was messing with me. Thanks a lot, Reggie.

Anyway, in 1989 the Knorr was hauled out of the water, cut into two pieces, pulled apart on big railroad tracks, and filled in with a new segment. That new part was 34 feet long, and inserted right in the middle of the boat. All told, the addition added 50 extra tons to the ship. The official Knorr website calls this the boat’s “Mid-Life Overhaul.” (There’s no mention of jumborizing…)

Photo courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Archives

I never thought you could just pull a boat apart and stick in a new piece. (That certainly didn’t work nearly as well for the dudes at Top Gear when they tried the same thing with cars to make limos.)

Turns out the Knorr is scheduled to retire soon. Her replacement is being built right now, but it will be a bit smaller overall and have a smaller main lab. After the mid-life jumborization and over a million miles of seafaring, she probably deserves a rest.

During this trip, I’ll be answering your questions about the science, this boat, and life onboard. Want to know how we search for plankton, why we’re here, or what the food is like? Just ask me! And if you’re wondering how I got here, check out the groups that made this adventure possible: Mind Open Media and COSEE NOW.

Previously in this series:

All Aboard: how you can be a part of our research blog
You wanted to know: what are these phytoplankton?
You wanted to know: what am I bringing to sea?
Greetings from Ponta Delgada! We set sail tomorrow.
Steaming North: how the scientists are trying to find plankton
The superstar sensor: what is a CTD?
Status Update: Day 3 at the Cyclonic Eddy
You wanted to know: what is this virus that infects the phytoplankton (Part One)
You wanted to know: what is this virus that infects the phytoplankton (Part Two)
Plankton hunting: Part art, Part science
You wanted to know: what’s the food like on board?
Wildlife watch!

Rose Eveleth About the Author: Rose Eveleth is a producer, designer, writer and animator based in Brooklyn. She's got a degree in ecology from U.C. San Diego, and a masters in journalism from NYU. Now, she makes sciencey stuff for places like The New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider and OnEarth. Follow on Twitter @roseveleth.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Liti99 2:25 pm 06/27/2012

    My friend Sara says
    if you search jumborize a vessel, tons of links come up from shipbuilders. It is a word!

    Link to this

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