Significant shoaling from last year’s hurricane season has lead to a restriction of ships by the Morehead City Pilots Association navigating the federal channel into the Port of Morehead City. The authorized depth of the channel is 47 to 49 feet, but shoals have made the channel as shallow as eight feet making navigation nearly impossible.
In order to meet the needs of deep water dredging the Philadelphia District’s hopper dredge MCFARLAND made its way to North Carolina waters to tackle the job.
“Commercial dredges weren’t available to do the work,” said MCFARLAND Captain Thomas Evans. “The ship is in what’s called the Ready Reserve which means it’s mostly berthed until needed. We responded to the call in North Carolina to help dredge the Beaufort Harbor Project. They are restricting ships coming into the port, so that’s really impacting commerce.”
Evans said that in some parts of the federal channel half of the channel is shoaled from the middle to one side or the other. That puts a burden on the pilot trying to bring a ship into the port.
“Besides not having the full width and depth of the channel it’s making the currents a little bit more unpredictable. This is difficult for us and certainly difficult for pilots to bring in a much larger vessel.”
The MCFARLAND is massive. A full load of dredged material, Evans said, is the equivalent of 310 dump trucks. The vessel offers a degree of performance and flexibility unmatched by any other dredge. I can handle a variety of materials including silt, sand, clay, shell and mixtures. And as large as it is, it can clean out shoaled areas in a relatively short amount of time.
“During a full loading capacity the cycle time is three hours per load.”
Between 38 and 39 people are on board to run the MCFARLAND. Two crews work 12 hours on and 12 hours off. There’s a galley below deck with three chefs to feed all of the crew. The state rooms are large, and there are recreational rooms for officers and crew.
Also on board the MCFARLAND is Wilmington District employee George Loveless who worked as a dredging inspector. While he’s no stranger to large vessels from his days in the Coast Guard he said he was amazed at the immensity of the Philadelphia-based vessel compared to the Wilmington District’s shallow draft fleet.
“It takes a larger dredge to do this kind of job,” he said. It’s very spacious, very stable, and very seaworthy. It’s a change of pace to see how the larger vessels operate. We don’t have that capability on a smaller vessel.”