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Boat Review: CCGS Viola M. Davidson: A Nova Scotia-Built Speciality

Posted on June 30, 2011 by ABN Editor

By Pat Nelder

Have you ever wondered what the Canadian Coast Guard vessels are doing when we see them cruising in our boating waters? You may be surprised to find out, that as a Special Operating Agency of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), not only does the CCG own and operate the federal government’s civilian fleet, and provide key maritime services to Canadians such as Aids to Navigation, Environmental Response, Ice Breaking, Information for Mariners, Marine Communications, Search and Rescue, and Waterways Management, they provide vital support for marine science work. CCGS Viola M. Davidson is one of two aluminum Canadian Coast Guard Speciality vessels constructed for Fisheries Research by ABCO Industries Ltd of Lunenburg, NS. Launched on March 3rd. 2010, the vessel was dedicated on September 23rd 2010 and entered service with the St Andrews Biological Station (SABS)on the shore of Passamaquoddy Bay in New Brunswick with Commanding Officer Perry Smith. SABS has state-of-the-art water processing facilities to equip both freshwater and saltwater laboratories, a total of 2200 square meters of wet lab space and a year round accessible wharf for research vessels.

The vessel was named following the Canadian Coast Guard protocol for naming ships, which promotes Canadian culture, history, geography and sovereignty by honouring people (posthumously) and places of importance. Dr Viola M. Davidson was the first published female scientist working at SABS, carrying out scientific research on Phytoplankton in Passamaquoddy Bay in the early twentieth century. CCGS Viola M. Davidson has replaced a smaller vessel at SABS and scientists are now able to carry out work on coastal areas and into the middle of the Bay of Fundy every day of the year.

At first view, the Viola M. Davidson looks like a very busy little ship. Her distinctive red hull with the Coast Guard white diagonal strip is topped with a large West Coast style bridge, long salon cabin, the roof of which provides room for electronic antennae, search lights, life rafts and a semi-rigid inflatable boat with outboard. Aft of the cabin, under the weather shelter (an extension of the cabin roof) are two large hydraulic winches, aft of the shelter on the aft deck are two funnels that carry out the exhaust from the keel-cooled diesel engines, and between the funnels is a bright yellow HEILA crane. The aft deck provides a multipurpose platform for scientists to rig a Yankee Trawl for bottom sampling, a bridle of four scallop rakes, a dump table to sort their samples, or to use other oceanography equipment. Access to the engine room and twin VOLVO PENTA D12 diesels is from the aft deck from large waterproof access hatches between the equipment. The deck finish is functional aluminum non skid, and has a bulwark and welded handrail for the safety of the crew except for the stern, which is open to enable the collection of specimens. Access to the cabin is through a large door facing the stern and port and starboard doors on the bridge.

Entering the cabin from the stern, the impression is of a lot of equipment in a small space. Benches and refrigerated storage for scientific research and specimens are port and starboard, giving scientists a lab afloat. Amidships on the port side are a couple of steps going up to the bridge and amidships to starboard are steps going down to the crew accommodation in the area forward of the engine room. Here there is room for a head, storage of safety clothing, a small galley and port and starboard settees with table between for crew and scientist meals. There are tanks for drinking water, black water and grey water. As the vessel is for day use there are no overnight accommodations for her three crew; Captain, fourth class engineer and seaman, and quota of up to seven scientists.

The forward slanted windows on the bridge give great visibility of the bow of the boat and all windows on the bridge are self heated DIAMOND SEA GLAZE (DSG) waterproof to ensure visibility in all weather conditions. Port and starboard DSG waterproof doors are hinged on their forward side to protect the crew when opening. The bridge is a mass of navigational instruments, scientific instruments and vessel controls with a centre helm and as Captain Perry Smith often has to keep the boat stationary for the scientists, controls for the hydraulic bow thruster, and the electronic controls for the twin engines are handy to the helm. Although the vessel is equipped with a wheel, Perry prefers to steer with a jog lever, which is a dash board mounted lever that works much the same way as a tiller, providing rudder control with a small movement rather than several turns of the wheel.

On a cold, wet, windy April day in Lunenburg, I was invited to go aboard the Viola M. Davidson as she had returned ABCO Industries Ltd for her first year service. I went aboard with ABCO President John Meisner, and ABCO’s Master Boat Builder, Joe Dicks. First order of the day was to have the compass swung, so I was able to see the incredible manoeuvrability of the vessel as we went through the technical steps and points of the compass needed to ensure the compass was indeed showing proper headings. After the compass technician was deposited back on the ABCO pier, we went for a quick shakedown cruise prior to the vessel leaving to return to St Andrews. The large SPERRY chart plotter and other instruments kept navigation easy in the light fog and all we had to do was watch for the many lobster pots just outside the harbour. The bridge was quiet as the twin diesels are aft and not under the cabin. The shafted propellers and the airfoil rudders seemed perfectly matched and I could feel no vibration. Once we were clear of the harbour the boat was running at nearly fifteen knots. At 12 knots we were burning approx 112 litres of diesel fuel per hour (29.5 US gallons) giving a range by my calculations of approximately 300 nautical miles. Once we had left the protection of Lunenburg Bay the ocean swell came to greet us. With swells reaching approximately three metres, Captain Perry demonstrated the ease with which the Davidson handled these conditions turning the vessel around in what seemed to me to be her own footprint. Returning to Lunenburg with the swells, we tracked and surfed nicely, the 17’ 8” beam and semi displacement hull with its fairly sharp sections forward ending up with a flat five degrees on the underside sections of the stern stopping us from rolling. I asked Captain Perry about heat inside the boat as a metal boat on a cold winter day would be chilly and damp. The entire hull and superstructure is insulated and there is a heating system, but Perry showed me a small portable electric heater he keeps under his steering station to warm his feet. The electrical system on the Viola M. Davidson goes far beyond my knowledge of electricity and is evidence of the skills of ABCO systems technician David McAdoo. The AC system has two generators running a constantly activated system with a switch over for shore power governed by a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). There are large AGM batteries for the DC systems and there is the importance of keeping the aluminum hull totally isolated from electricity. It is a system that should be left to electrical engineers and technicians. Despite the complexity of her systems, Captain Perry Smith, a 24-year Coast Guard veteran seemed very much in control of the vessel, and delighted with the Viola M. Davidson’s work, her performance and her comfort.

The Viola M. Davidson and her sister ship CCGS Kelso launched in 2009 and located in the Great Lakes were designed by the design and engineering team at ABCO Industries Ltd. CCG Project manager Roger Doucette explained that the Coast Guard has very high construction standards and the team at ABCO has been able to rise to the challenge of building these complex vessels. ABCO has successfully designed and built many aluminum vessels for commercial applications with a speciality in jet boats. A tour of the company facility in Lunenburg takes you through the company offices, which are housed in the historic ‘Camp Norway’ building on Lunenburg Harbour. Camp Norway, was officially opened on Friday, Nov 29th, 1940, closed in 1944, and consisted of a barracks to house about 800 men. The camp was primarily a Royal Norwegian Navy training depot for seamen and whalers who were being taken into the navy during WW11. Now the attached ABCO workshops with over 20,000 square feet of manufacturing space supply and manufacture engineered metal products for the marine industry, food processing industry and environmental industry.

Sharon E. McGladdery, the Director of SABS says that CCGS Viola M. Davidson carries out the work that her namesake was dedicated, and actually the first project that involved the new vessel was a study of Phytoplankton. McGladdery says that SABS is very pleased to have such a capable vessel for their research. I thoroughly enjoyed my time aboard and thought; what a wonderful life the Captain and crew and the scientists that work aboard have. I’m sure that the original Viola would have approved and I wished that she had the opportunity to do her work with such a useful little ship!

Launch Year 2010
LOA: 60′ 10″ (18. 5 m)
LWL: 56’1” (17.1m)
Beam: 17′ 8″ (5.4 m)
Draft: 4’11″ (1.5 m)

Weight (port departure): 40.1Net Tons (36.4 Metric Tons)
Propulsion: 2x VOLVO D12 engines with fixed pitch 4 blade propellers
Horsepower: 998hp (744KW)
Fuel tank capacity: 752 US Gallons (2848 Litres)
Max Speed: 15+ knots
Builder: ABCO Industries Ltd
For more information about St Andrews Biological Station visit

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