The frame and keels are in place as the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk's new research vessel begins to take shape, with the boat expected to hit the water late next spring.
The $2.6 million, 65-foot catamaran is being built at the Derecktor shipyard in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
During an Oct. 15 tour, Micah Tucker, the shipyard's general manager, and Robert Kunkel, president of Alternative Marine Technologies, showed the work so far on what will become the aquarium's "floating classroom" to Jennifer Herring, the aquarium president, and George and Carol Bauer of Wilton, who are among the primary contributors toward the boat's design and construction.
The catamaran, which will replace the Maritime Aquarium's current 34-year-old trawler, will be powered by a hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system that will reduce diesel fuel consumption by an estimated 75 percent. The new vessel will offer both a climate-controlled indoor classroom and an outdoor research space with total capacity of 65, more than twice that of the aquarium's current 40-foot boat.
Incat Crowther of Australia designed the new vessel. Norwalk schoolchildren will be invited to enter a naming contest for the boat in November.
The aquarium uses its research vessel from April through October for Marine Life Study Cruises, during which crabs, mollusks and a variety of fish and other creatures are brought up out of Long Island Sound for examination. From December through March, the vessel is used for seal watching programs called Winter Creature Cruises.
"After such thorough thought and effort, it's very exciting to see our new research vessel beginning to take shape," Herring said in a statement issued by the aquarium. "We can't wait to get it in the water and expand our educational opportunities out on the Sound, all the while doing it more quietly, more economically and in a more environmentally friendly way."
Besides the Bauers, other major contributors to the boat project are the Per and Astrid Heidenreich Family Foundation of Greenwich and the TK Foundation of Nassau, Bahamas.
For a schedule or more details about the Maritime Aquarium's study cruises, call 203-852-0700 or visit www.maririmeaquarium.org