M/V Catalyst was the University of Washington's first oceanographic research vessel. In 1932 Thomas G. Thompson, then Professor of Chemistry, began a personal crusade to establish a school of oceanography at the University. With the help of a $60,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, he started both the school and the construction of Catalyst.
The vessel was designed by Roland and Strickland, prominent Seattle naval architects. The design was largely based on the experiences of the University's scientists who had suffered through many research expeditions aboard poorly equipped converted fishing boats. Every aspect of her construction, from the location of the engine to the size of the vessel, was centered around the needs of the laboratory scientists. As a result of her careful design, Catalyst rolled down the ways on her launching day as the
most state-of-the-art research vessel of her time.
Catalyst was built by Lake Union Dry Dock Company in Seattle. She was completed in June of 1932 and took her maiden cruise through the Inside Passage and across the Gulf of Alaska. She spent the next eleven years collecting data, primarily in Puget Sound. The
information collected from the decks of Catalyst in the 1930's formed the foundation for today's understanding of the region's water quality.
The bombs that fell on Pearl Harbor during WWII soon had affect on the M/V Catalyst. In 1942, Dr. Thompson offered Catalyst to the Navy to help in the war effort. The Navy conscripted the vessel, mounted a machine gun on top of her pilot house and racks of depth
charges on her stern. She spent the war years patrolling the Aleutian Islands for Japanese submarines.
After the war, the Navy sold Catalyst as surplus. She was purchased by an Alaskan mining company and was handsomely refit. The main house was moved forward and the wheelhouse was placed atop it. Hatches, fore and aft, were created to access new holds for carrying tungsten ore. Catalyst hauled ore south to Seattle, but also carried supplies and, perhaps more importantly, guests north through the Inside Passage. After all that work, the company had the boat for only two years, but every owner since has benefited from the beautiful work they did.
Over the next forty years, Catalyst was owned by a few lucky mariners who used her for everything from a mail packet to a floating dentist's office. The waters of Alaska, Baja California, and Hawaii have all passed beneath her keel. Now she has been restored to her original purpose, learning about the oceanic world. Only this time it is adventurous travelers like you, not research scientists, who benefit from her mission.
FIND OUT MORE!
An outline, the history of the Catalyst
Read the History of the Catalyst by John Illman.
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