With the crack of a champagne bottle, UConn research vessel officially back in business

University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst, center, breaks a bottle of champange on the Research Vessel Connecticut during its recommissioning ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, at UConn's Avery Point campus in Groton. The 19-year-old ship was overhauled in the last year to increase its length from 76 feet to 90 feet, allowing for more laboratory space and increased bunks. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst, center, breaks a bottle of champange on the Research Vessel Connecticut during its recommissioning ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, at UConn's Avery Point campus in Groton. The 19-year-old ship was overhauled in the last year to increase its length from 76 feet to 90 feet, allowing for more laboratory space and increased bunks. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Groton — With the crack of a champagne bottle, the Research Vessel Connecticut is officially back on the water.

The University of Connecticut boat, which last year underwent a monthslong, $2.5 million makeover to make it suitable for longer research trips and more people, has been operational for nearly a year, taking students and scientists from UConn, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other organizations to do research in the Long Island Sound.

But a ceremony Thursday, complete with speeches, a champagne bottle broken against the hull and a tour of the boat, made it official — the equivalent of the ceremony in a Navy ship's life that is "the day it comes to life," said state Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard.

Officials from UConn and state government gathered at the docks at Avery Point to commemorate the ship's coming to life, UConn President Susan Herbst taking on the duty of smashing a champagne bottle against its hull.

From the outside, the only evidence that the R/V Connecticut was expanded from 76 to 90 feet long is a small seam running down the side of the boat. Last winter, workers at Blount Boats in Warren, R.I., split the boat in half, creating a large gap in the middle and adding room for additional bunks and labs in the cabin and steel on the sides. They then welded the boat back together, leaving only the small, painted-over seam on the outside and enough space for six additional scientists on the inside.

The extra space inside the Connecticut's cabin means more students and researchers will be able to take longer trips. It has also made the vessel a popular tool for scientists to rent, an option for groups from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the Navy.

"I don't know how we did it before," deckhand Rick Waters said, standing in an expanded area of the ship that now gets filled with desks and computers during research trips.

In November, researchers from UConn, the University of New Haven and the U.S. Geological Survey used the boat for a week of collecting detailed data for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration project to map the floor of the Sound.

Since then the boat has been in regular use, except for some brief trips back to Blount Boats for minor maintenance, said Turner Cabaniss, the marine and waterfront operations manager at UConn Avery Point.

The Connecticut most recently returned from a two-day trip taking students from Scripps College and soon will leave for five days on a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution trip for scientists using an autonomous underwater vehicle to collect data.

 m.shanahan@theday.com

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misidentified Rep. Mike France's political affiliation.

University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst, center, takes a tour of the Research Vessel Connecticut following its recommissioning ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, at UConn Avery Point in Groton. The 19-year-old ship was overhauled in the last year to increase its length from 76 feet to 90 feet, allowing for more laboratory space and increased bunks. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst, center, takes a tour of the Research Vessel Connecticut following its recommissioning ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, at UConn Avery Point in Groton. The 19-year-old ship was overhauled in the last year to increase its length from 76 feet to 90 feet, allowing for more laboratory space and increased bunks. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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