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      New CCU research vessel will help build offshore wind industry

      There's a new research tool on the Grand Strand that will be used to help develop proposed offshore wind farms.

      It's the "Coastal Explorer", Coastal Carolina University's new state-of-the-art floating laboratory.

      The all-aluminum, 54-foot catamaran arrived early Sunday and is temporarily docked at the Grand Dunes Marina in Myrtle Beach.

      Among other things, data collected on board the $1.2 million custom built boat will eventually help the wind industry build turbines better designed to withstand hurricane force winds, says Dr. Paul Gayes, director of the Center for Marine and Wetland Studies at CCU.

      "Right now we're having to overbuild (wind turbines) because of uncertainty in what those forces are, becoming much more expensive, so those efforts are to drive down the cost of developing a new industry offshore."

      Gayes says the bigger boat means the marine science school will be able to better utilize the millions of dollars worth of high tech mapping and sonar equipment it has acquired over the years.

      It also means more students will be able to go out on each research voyage. The school's older, smaller fiberglass boat had limitations.

      "So we'd go off and do a portion of a survey and switch out gear on the boat, go out and do it again, and it was very inefficient," Gayes said.

      A heavy-duty winch and boom on the rear of the vessel will allow it to drop buoys offshore that will provide weather data to CCU's new HUGO hurricane prediction project.

      It's the kind of real-world research that Gayes says is important to the Grand Strand.

      "This vessel is perfect for expanding the studies of these inshore areas, right off of our hometown here, where we have so many questions and resource issues we need to understand better."

      It will take a few weeks to get the boat fully equipped, but Gayes says it should be ready for research voyages by the end of the year.

      The Coastal Explorer was built by Armstrong Marine, Inc. of Port Angeles, Washington. Gayes says it took several weeks to ship the vessel through the Panama Canal to the Grand Strand.