Researchers bid farewell to the LONGHORN

Recognized across the Gulf of Mexico for her distinctive orange and white color scheme and known among researchers for the Tex-Mex and barbecue served onboard, the university's ship LONGHORN, was sold on Oct. 15 after 35 years of service.

The ship was used by the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) to conduct research in the Gulf of Mexico. Changes in oceanographic research and drops in funding levels led to UTMSI's decision to discontinue use of the largest vessel in its 16-boat fleet.

UTMSI assistant director for operations Steve Lanoux said the buyer, Global Geophysical Services, Inc., has until Oct. 22 to sail away the vessel. The company is a multi-national seismic oil exploration firm based in Houston and purchased the ship for $265,000.

"It will be a sad day for the university, for the Marine Science Institute and for Port Aransas," Lanoux said.

"We're going to miss the ship and the ability to stage major cruises from our own marina," he said. "Although researchers put in long days, not always under the best of weather conditions, those cruises form the fondest memories that most of them have about their careers. There will be a lot of nostalgia and swapping of "LONGHORN" stories in the days to come."

Lanoux said there is a strong emotional tie in the university's oceanographic research community to the LONGHORN.

"Some of our scientists took their first cruises as graduate students aboard the LONGHORN. Others performed their first Gulf of Mexico grant research aboard the ship," he said. "She has always been one of the most flexible and resourceful platforms for researchers to have working for them."

With the departure of the LONGHORN, there is now no flagship vessel for either the university or for the state's oceanographic research. Lanoux said research won't be lost with out the LONGHORN but it will be more difficult.

"There are many (research opportunities) that will be reduced because the per-day cost of other research vessels is generally higher than the rate at which we were able to operate the LONGHORN," he said.

Lanoux also said there is a convenience factor that will be lost.

"Instead of a chief scientist and the science party being able to move equipment from the laboratory across the parking lot to the ship, items must be crated and packed and transported to Louisiana, Florida, or elsewhere to embark on another ship," he said.

With more than 30 years of cruises, there are many moments of "intense pride" when Lanoux thinks about the LONGHORN such as "supporting research on shark migration patterns that took LONGHORN from Port Aransas to Key West then up the Atlantic Coast to Delaware. The ship also went on rapid response cruises for the National Science Foundation following hurricanes Lili, Katrina and Rita and transported researchers who investigated the believed pre-historic meteor impact crater off the Yucatan Peninsula."

The LONGHORN also took many cruises into the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre with graduate students aboard, "letting them test their sea legs and gain some of the most valuable experience and knowledge their studies would know," Lanoux said.

While it hasn't been determined what the ship will be used for, Lanoux said it will likely be turned into a seismic recording platform or a host for pneumatic seismic surveying, traveling overseas for service in another country, possibly Angola or India.

Lanoux said while he is fond of all the ships in the institute's fleet, the LONGHORN was special.

"She has a unique place in our hearts," he said.