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16 June, 2000

16 June 2000

Building a Research Vessel - Avondale Industries

As we head back to Nuuk, Greenland to change out scientific crew, I had some time to talk with Mr. Christopher J. Sprague of Litton-Avondale Industries about the construction of the USCGC Healy. Mr. Sprague was the Avondale program manager for this project and he filled me in about his company, this ship, and his personal impressions from his week in Baffin Bay.

Avondale Industries is located ten miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, Louisiana. Their 3,000 employees have built ships for the Navy and the Coast Guard, as well as commercial vessels such as tankers. In 1992, they were at the point of competing with Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi for the contract to build the HEALY. Obviously, they won the contract, but interestingly enough, both shipyards later came under the ownership of Litton, and now the two shipbuilders are sister companies and often aid each other during projects. Although this was not the first research ship they have built, according to Mr. Sprague, it presented some unique challenges.

Once the contract was awarded in 1993, Avondale had the interesting job of building a ship ordered by the Navy, for the Coast Guard, who was coordinating with a committee of scientists on what should be in the ship. The Program Managers Representatives Office (PMRO) at the shipyard was a Navy office manned by Coast Guard personnel. All these interested parties led to a very complicated, but in the end, very successful organizational structure and the development of a very impressive vessel. Mr. Sprague echoed the comments of the Coast Guard cadets in yesterday’s journal when he pointed out that the propulsion and control systems for the ship are among the most advanced in the world today.

An additional complication for Avondale has been the “shakedown” cruise of the USCGC Healy. Unlike most ships that Avondale builds, the HEALY headed directly out of the shipyard on a mission. Normally, the shipbuilder has easy access to the ships they build for testing and post-delivery warranty observations. In the HEALY’s case, this was not so easy. Avondale employees had to chase the ship from New Orleans, LA to Panama City, FL to San Juan, Puerto Rico to Fort Lauderdale, FL to Norfolk, VA to Baltimore, MD to St. Johns, Newfoundland, to Nuuk, Greenland, and eventually to Reykjavik, Iceland and Dublin, Ireland. Along the way, some people ended up in St. John, New Brunswick, before they corrected the travel agent’s error and caught up to the ship. This huge string of ports to track down and get personnel too was definitely not business as usual for Avondale.

How does Avondale feel about the end result of this unique process? After a week on the ship here in the arctic, Mr. Sprague said, “The USCGC Healy met and exceeded expectations. It is a privilege to be on the ship and to see her in her natural environment doing her job. It is a proud moment for me.” He also enjoyed the spectacular icy scenery, but just wishes he had seen one of those polar bears that made all the tracks we saw in the ice.

A commemorative plaque hangs near the ship's mess, USCGC Healy - keeled, launched, delivered by Litton-Avondale Industries.

Mr. Chris Sprague of Litton-Avondale Industries with a monitor's view of the bow of their world class icebreaker.

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