Ben Oostdam story # 358:


A tribute to the first oceanography vessel
acquired in 1967 by ESRA
Environmental Science Research Associates

by Ben Oostdam, February 14, 1999; revised 20080428

On July 4, 1965, I arrived at Millersville State College and took a position as "temporary instructor" in oceanography.
My special challenge was to organize a cooperative venture with several other Pennsylvania colleges.
I wrote several proposals and even a justification for being hired by MSC!
In Spring, 1966, I visited Lewes, Delaware and found out that a local fisherman,
Mr. Beideman, had recently died and that his widow was interested in chartering
or selling his 30 ft lobster boat, the "Lydia B".
I met with Lydia herself, who had a business of "hanging nets" in her basement.
She was one of the nicest ladies I ever met, and agreed to sell us the boat for $ 1,500.

I took this information back to MSC to the upstairs penthouse of our President, Dr. Robert Christie, and he was very enthusiastic about it:
"Let's go ahead and buy it!" .
I decided not to quibble about the "it" instead of "her", but asked him to call the MSC business manager, Mr. Minnich.
Fortunately (in retrospect) Mr. M. was not in his office, so I asked Dr. C. to write a note which I would hand-deliver. He did and I did, but when in Mr.M.'s office I only showed him the but kept it myself when he started to fulminate that the President ought to know by now that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (our "boss") does not allow you to buy second hand items...
- Well, what's your suggestion? -

How many days will you need it?
- About ten -
Well, then we could charter it for $ 150 per day. -
Could you arrange that, please? -
Certainly !
WOW! flattery and asking advice works!

What a waste, I thought. If I had the money, I could buy her and lease her to MSC. No, of course not, that would be conflict of interest.
A few days later I suddenly thought of a solution: to set up a non-profit corporation, which could buy and lease and do anything else legally.

I talked this over with Alex Henderson first, and several other profs later, and we ended up founding "ESRA" and acting as intermediary between Mrs.B and the Commonwealth.
About a year later, the President heard about this and called a meeting of some dozen administrators and faculty in which he asked me indignantly who had given me (us) permission to establish this non-profit corporation.
I tried to explain and referred to his permission to buy the boat. He said he never did, and I answered that I was certain he had. He got mad and asked me if I called him a liar.

A deadly silence ensued, but I went through my folder and produced the slip of paper, walked to his end of the table and handed it to him. He slammed his fist on the table, and said "Damn it, you're right, I am sorry, gentlemen..." and that was just about the end of the meeting and the conflict.

ESRA continued chartering the Lydia B to the Commonwealth and the Fisheries Commission and the University of Delaware and others for several years, but of course, the main use was for students and research. Together with the Coast Guard Station the Delaware Bay Marine Science Center acquisition of these assets led to our next non-profit venture, The Marine Science Consortium itself. ESRA served as MSC's agent until about 1971, when The Consortium took over its own affairs and ESRA donated the Lydia B. to MSC.
I personally used the "Lydia B" a lot - together with my students - for the fieldwork on my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Delaware: "Suspended Sediment Transport Across the Mouth of the Delaware Bay" (1971). But the pictures on this page were all taken in November 1967, when we took out a bunch of MSC Lab School kids for the first time and found that enthusiasm for the oceans is contagious.

BLO refecit 20080427 - stories