Staff photo by Cole Dittmer
On Friday, Nov. 30, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, along with the Swart family, christened the new hydrographic survey vessel SWART to memorialize Dirk Swart III, who served with the USACE for 31 years.
On a crisp and clear November day in the shadows of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, the United States Army Corps of Engineers memorialized one of the Wilmington district’s longest serving employees, Dirk “Bunky” Swart III, who died in 2011.
“Today is a double blessing because we get to add another vessel to our fleet and memorialize Dirk Swart,” said Col. Steven Baker, USACE Wilmington District Office Commander. “I can tell you that Dirk would be proud of this state of the art vessel.”
The 48-foot SWART hydrographic survey vessel replaced the GILLETE, its predecessor that Swart captained from 1971 to 2002 when he retired. Throughout his life Swart served in the United States Army in various capacities, from service in the Pacific Theatre of Operations during World War II, to a reservist in the Army’s amphibious fleet in Morehead City, and finally in the USACE.
For the christening ceremony on Friday, Nov. 31, Swart’s four children stood in front of the vessel to honor their father with one of the oldest naval traditions. While the USACE had originally planned to let the eldest Swart daughter, Connie Swart Pettit, swing the bottle of champagne from a rope to break on the vessel’s hull, the bottle proved too strong. After the third attempt, Connie and her three siblings walked aboard the SWART with bottle in hand and she broke it against the front of the vessel’s bow triumphantly.
“I just knew that bottle was going to break if I could get my hands on it,” Pettit laughed.
The USACE joined in the Swart family’s excitement at the ceremony with the official christening of its newest and most technologically advanced vessel. Powered by twin 715 horsepower diesel engines, the SWART was built by Silver Ships Inc. in Mobile, Ala., for a cost between $1.3–$1.5 million.
The task of the crew of two aboard the SWART will be to conduct regular hydrographic surveys of the federal shipping channels from the Port of Wilmington to the Port of Morehead City. The channel around the Port of Wilmington is required to be 42-50 feet deep and ranges from 400 feet wide under the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to 1,200 feet south of the port to the mouth of the Cape Fear River.
To help with this task, an important instrument onboard the SWART is the multi-beam radar system that sends 270 radar beams out in a fan below the vessel to precisely plot the depths of the shipping channels. Bob Sattin, chief of operations for the Wilmington district USACE, said the challenge with radar systems is how shallow it can survey, since shallow depths cause shorter signals and can obscure the results. However, Sattin said the survey team would be able to survey in very shallow water with the technologically advanced system onboard the SWART.
John DiBiase and William Westmoreland will both take turns as captain of the SWART, and DiBiase said it is a big upgrade over the GILETTE.
“It is a lot easier to maneuver and handles really well in rough seas,” DiBiase said. “It is just a great general purpose survey vessel and much more fuel efficient.”
The Wilmington district’s chief of navigation, Roger Bullock, said the main difference between the SWART and GILLETTE is that the SWART was designed and built for surveyors, whereas the GILLETTE was converted to a survey vessel. Bullock also touted the vessel’s FLIR night vision and foul weather camera system.
The SWART joins two other survey vessels in the Wilmington district’s fleet, and Sattin said he expects the USACE to use the vessel for a long period of time since most of the survey vessels last for around 30 years. Appropriately, that span of time mirrors the years of service Dirk Swart gave to the USACE.