History of Research Vessels at GCRL

These photos provide a brief history of the research vessels used by the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. Since GCRL opened in 1947, a variety of vessels have served the Lab's research and education needs. These vessels are dear to the scientists and educators who have relied on them to support their work. The simple mention of the name of one of this fleet usually prompts a smile, and often leads to a story of a particularly interesting day on the water. Some of these vessels are well known in the scientific and education community for their role in facilitating projects on our coastal waters and the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists from far and wide have learned and taught a myriad of lessons on the decks of this fleet, and inspired others to continue the tradition.

Bill Demoran
Bill Demoran

The vessel Bill Demoran was donated to GCRL by the U.S. National Park Service. George Cantrell captained the Demoranl until it was sold after the acquisition of the R/V Tom McIlwain.

R/V Tom McIlwain underway on Biloxi Bay with Deer Island in the background.
R/V Tom McIlwain underway on Biloxi Bay with Deer Island in the background.

R/V Tom McIlwain is named for the late Dr. Tom McIlwain, an esteemed fisheries researcher and former director of GCRL. The vessel was acquired after a drug seizure by the U.S. Navy. After GCRL took possession, the boat was re-configured and equipped with new deck gear and electronics for research purposes. The primary role of the McIlwain has been transporting Summer Field Program students to the islands for field work and for conducting inshore fisheries projects like the longline shark study.

The christening of R/V Hermes
The christening of R/V Hermes
R/V Hermes underway
R/V Hermes underway

Hermes was built for GCRL in 1955 by Kramer Marine in Gulfport. After 58 years of service, the plucky Hermes has earned it's place as the oldest piece of equipment on the state of Mississippi's inventory. The first captain was Dr. Dawson, followed by Captain Fred Thompson for 23 years.

Captain Pat tending a line on the foredeck of Gulf Researcher.
Captain Pat tending a line on the foredeck of Gulf Researcher.
Captain Pat at the helm of Gulf Researcher
Captain Ladner at the helm of Gulf Researcher

Gulf Researcher was a sixty-five foot World War II T-boat built for the U.S. Army Transportation Corps in 1944 and acquired by GCRL in 1962 as military surplus. The vessel was converted for use as an oceanographic vessel in 1963 and was used for many years for fisheries and oceanographic research. Captain Pat Ladner is shown here on the deck and in the wheelhouse.

Sea Squirt, Hermes, and other small boats in the GCRL harbor prior to Hurricane Camille.
Sea Squirt, Hermes, and other small boats in the GCRL harbor prior to Hurricane Camille.
Sea Squirt in the GCRL Harbor with the old research building in the background.
Sea Squirt in the GCRL Harbor with the old research building in the background.

Gannet and Sea Squirt were sister vessels, both built for the Navy with the same model Diesel engines and propless "Jacuzzi" jet drives driving wooden hulls. Their top speed was 40 knots and they could operate at speed in water as shallow as six inches. The boats allowed access to shallow waters, often near marsh edge and along the beaches, for sampling purposes using large gear.

Construction of the vessel R/V Sail On began at a shipyard in Tampa, Florida, that soon went bankrupt. The partially completed boat sat idle for many years. Captain Pat Ladner, Senator Tommy Munro, and Dr. Tom McIlwain inspected the boat in Tampa and ascertained that it was usable by the Lab. The hull was towed to Bender Marine in Mobile, Alabama, for completion. GCRL took delivery in 1981 and commissioned the vessel as R/V Tommy Munro. Pat Ladner, Ralph Boney, and Charlie Davis made up the original crew. Captain Ladner skippered the Tommy Munro from 1981 to 1994 when Paul Beaugez took the wheel and served as captain until 2011. Chuck Block is the current captain. Among the uses of this vessel are offshore research cruises and trips for the Navy, private companies, and various state and federal agencies.

Jimmy Buffett, Lucy Buffett, and Laurie Buffett-McGuane christen Miss Peetsy B in a ceremony at the GCRL harbor.
Jimmy Buffett, Lucy Buffett, and Laurie Buffett-McGuane christen Miss Peetsy B in a ceremony at the GCRL harbor.
Sea Camp students aboard Miss Peetsy B on Biloxi Bay.
Sea Camp students aboard Miss Peetsy B on Biloxi Bay.

Miss Peetsy B is 33-foot fiberglass craft built as a U.S. Navy liberty launch in 1973 by Uniflite. It was donated to the lab in 2011 by Jimmy Buffett and his sisters Lucy Buffett and Laurie Buffett-McGuane. Miss Peetsy B is named in honor of the Buffett’s mother “Peets” Buffett, who passed away in 2003. The vessel has recently been converted to run on waste vegetable oil and has truly become a “floating classroom” for students of all ages. The GCRL Marine Education Center offers bayou tours aboard the Miss Peetsy B as a field trip for school and community groups.