VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – From Florida to Maine, one unique vessel in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ maritime fleet earns its “indispensable” reputation 363 days a year by dredging dangerous shoaling in shallow draft federal channel inlets: hopper dredge Currituck.
The Currituck recently spent three days dredging the federal channel at Rudee Inlet in Virginia Beach, Va., and removed more than 7,700 cubic yards of shoaling sand. The Currituck hopper dredge then transported the fine sand, offloading it along the Virginia Beach coastline to replenish the city’s beachfront erosion.
Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managed the maintenance project as part of their overall operations mission to ensure safe transiting of maritime traffic. Two Corps interns, Michael Weber and Bryan Hakey, spent a day on the Currituck.
“As a mechanical engineer, it was very cool to see up close how this tremendous crew and piece of machinery works and benefits the communities it serves,” Weber said. “The highlight of the day was getting to operate the Currituck.”
The Currituck is assigned to the Corps’ Wilmington District in North Carolina. It’s the only special-purpose type of hopper dredge in the United States that works the same projects as larger sidecasting dredges, only on a smaller scale. It features a self-propelled split hull and is equipped with a self-leveling deck-house located at the stern, where all controls and machinery are housed. The Currituck is hinged above the main deck so that the hull can open from bow to stern by means of hydraulic cylinders located in compartments forward and aft of the hopper section.
The Currituck operator steers the vessel through the shoal areas of the channel. The dredge pumps, located in the compartments on each side of the hull, then pumps material through trailing dragarms into the hopper section.
The Currituck’s lone hopper section has a maximum capacity of 315 cubic yards and during operation the hopper section is clearly visible to the operators in the pilot house, making production monitoring an easy task, said Joen Petersen, Currituck first mate.
“During our dredging operation here, we limited our capacity to between 200-225 cubic yards. With the fine material in Rudee Inlet and the disposal site so close, it was more efficient and productive to take smaller loads,” Petersen added.
The Currituck crew is comprised of highly trained professionals whose backgrounds and experience range from prior service with the U.S. Army, Coast Guard and Navy, to a graduate of the Maine Maritime Academy, who is now serving on another Wilmington District vessel.
Petersen, a retired U.S. Army chief warrant officer, has been with the Currituck crew for nearly three years. He said unusual items are recovered by Currituck dredging operations: “Tires, spear guns, swim suits, towels, more than 100 Frisbees on one project, 500 golf balls on another.”
The Currituck and its two crews work 12-hour daily shifts, year-around: eight days on, six days off, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. ”I believe the Currituck dredges more days each year than any other dredging vessel in the Corps fleet,” Petersen said.
Although the Currituck crew is called upon to work long hours, the great support they receive from the Corps districts they serve is indispensable, said Capt. Donnie Potter, Currituck skipper.
“Norfolk District has always gone the extra mile to ensure our dredging mission here is a success,” Potter said. “Their great logistical, survey and operational support provides the Currituck crew more time to concentrate on removing dangerous shoal areas that limit safe maritime navigation for local users.”
The Currituck’s next federal channel dredging project is the Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, followed by a real hardship mission -- Daytona Beach, Fla.