Around the Pier: A 'Bittersweet' Send-off for Scripps Research Vessel


With the lowering of pennants from its mast and the final blasts of its horn, Scripps Institution of Oceanography research vessel Melville received a farewell send-off from the Scripps community and the public Feb. 21, concluding its 46-year career.

R/V Melville was the oldest vessel in the U.S. academic research fleet and has been lauded as one of the most capable general-purpose, global-class ships in the world. The U.S. Navy, which owns the vessel, will offer it for foreign military sale, having formally inactivated R/V Melville on Oct. 1.

On its final day, Scripps offered the public an opportunity it rarely had during Melville’s years of operation, allowing public tours of the ship while it was docked at San Diego’s Broadway Pier, a berth usually reserved for cruise ships. More than 500 visitors looked through Melville’s cabins, wet labs, galley, and decks and got to see up close some of the most commonly used instruments in oceanography.

In addition, more than 600 members of the Scripps community, including representatives of the Navy, current and former crewmembers, and some of the scientists who counted seagoing exploration aboard Melville as essential to their research said their own good-byes at a private ceremony following the tours. During the ceremony, ship’s crew presented pennants that flew on the ship’s mast bearing the triton logo of UC San Diego to Scripps Director Margaret Leinen and U.S. Navy representative Tim Schnoor.

“It’s a bittersweet day,” Scripps geologist and frequent Melville chief scientist Neal Driscoll told the audience. “Melville is a jack-of-all-trades and the master of many.”

Leinen pointed out that the ship engaged in 391 research cruises, steamed 1,547,080 nautical miles in support of ocean and earth science, crossed the Equator more than 90 times, and hosted more than 7,000 science participants in lauding R/V Melville’s accomplishments.

“But, more than that, we are here to celebrate the value and importance of seagoing science. Ships like Melville — and the others in our Scripps fleet: Roger Revelle, New Horizon, and Robert Gordon Sproul, together with our newest ship, Sally Ride, coming to our home port later this year — demonstrate the ongoing need and commitment to supporting science at sea.

Many of R/V Melville’s seagoing programs supported research designed to advance the scientific and technological capabilities of the United States Navy, as well as scientists’ general understanding of the ocean, earth and atmosphere.

Melville has done a great service for the U.S. Navy and the United States at large in supporting oceanographic requirements for more than 45 years,” said Schnoor, research facilities manager at ONR. “The true testimony is from the thousands of research papers that came from those cruises.”

As R/V Melville departs from the U.S. national research fleet known as the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), Scripps anticipates taking delivery of UNOLS’s newest member, R/V Sally Ride, in January 2016 and beginning regular science operations on board the vessel in August 2016. The 238-foot (72.5-meter) ship will be in a class of research vessels that features a modern suite of oceanographic equipment, state of the art acoustic equipment capable of mapping the deepest parts of the oceans, advanced over-the-side handling gear to deploy and retrieve scientific instruments, emissions controls for stack gasses, and new information technology tools both for monitoring shipboard systems and for communicating with land-based sites worldwide.

Scripps will remain as caretaker for R/V Melville in San Diego while the Navy resolves the disposition of the ship. The sale will be done in accordance with Navy policy and guidance for the inactivation, retirement, and disposition of U.S. naval vessels. 

The last retirement of a major vessel from operation at Scripps was in 1992 when the R/V Thomas Washington, another Navy-owned vessel, was deactivated and eventually transferred to Chile, where it went on to serve for many years as an oceanographic research vessel renamed R/V Vidal Gormaz.

- Robert Monroe

Related Image Gallery: Farewell to R/V Melville

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.