Written by Kristen Kusek, Science Communication Strategist for USF CMS
ST. PETERSBURG, FL – Dozens of salty souls bid farewell to the beloved R/V Bellows on Thursday, August 29th during a ceremony sponsored by the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO). A 71-foot workhorse of the ocean science and education community for nearly 45 years, the Bellows was sold to TSR, Inc., which stands for Treasure & Shipwreck Recovery. The vessel will be contracted primarily by the Sea Research Society under the leadership of famed underwater archaeologist, Dr. E. Lee Spence, who will now sail her in search of shipwrecks.
“We plan to make discoveries of historic shipwrecks, and we’re gonna have a lot of fun doing it,” said Spence. “We hope to make you proud,” he said at the send-off. In the near term Spence will take the Bellows to Cape Romain, South Carolina to investigate a group of unexplored shipwrecks.
The Bellows has called the USF College of Marine Science (USF CMS) home since 1972. She holds a special place in the hearts and careers of scores of marine scientists for whom the Bellows was their first research experience. All told, the Bellows, which had bunks for 10 people, welcomed several thousand students to call her home for about a week at a time.
“Do not underestimate the power of that first expedition experience,” said Dr. John Ogden, retired former head of FIO. “We’re really going to miss her.”
The Bellows secured itself in ocean history in 2005 when a team aboard her led by Dr. Al Hine, retired USF CMS professor, investigated what Hine called an “unusual bump on the seafloor” located about 100 miles west of Key West. The bump, known as Pulley Ridge, was actually a drowned barrier island that hosted what became known as the deepest reef powered by sunlight in the United States.
“The Bellows is truly an old friend,” said Hine, who led 17 cruises aboard the Bellows, most to map the seafloor using sidescan sonar in the Gulf of Mexico.
“She sure does have a lot of water under her keel,” added FIO’s Program Planner Rob Walker, who’s given more tours and participated in more cruises aboard the Bellows than one can count. She has crisscrossed the state of Florida, ventured Gulf-wide, and motored as far south as Puerto Rico, he said, helping scientists answer key questions about red tides, the geology of the seafloor, and even the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
We wish you fair seas and following winds, R/V Bellows!