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R/V G.K. Gilbert on Station Outreach

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R/V G.K. Gilbert backdropped by the Don Cesar Hotel
The Don Cesar Hotel presents a stunning backdrop for students from Eckerd College's Marine Science program, who are learning to vibracore in the shallow waters off St. Pete Beach aboard the R/V G.K. Gilbert. To help accomplish the USGS outreach effort, the USGS provided the vessel and crew for 12 students in Dr. Gregg Brooks' Marine Geology class to take two sediment cores in 15 ft of water. They will split and describe the cores later as part of their semester's class work. This was the fourth field trip for the Eckerd undergraduates in as many years, which Dr. Brooks says his classes look forward to as a valuable hands-on experience. He feels the field training gives them a deeper understanding of how sediment samples are collected and a broader appreciation for the potential artifacts that can be introduced during the sampling process. This exercise should help equip them to become more conscientious scientists; maybe some of them will someday join the USGS!

The R/V G.K. Gilbert is a 50-ft aluminum semi-V-hulled Munson Hammerhead built in Edmonds, WA, in 1993. Powered by three 6V92 turbo-diesels coupled to Hamilton Jets, she can make 34 knots. Her shallow draft of 2.5 ft and quiet jets permit seismic surveys to be performed in shallow water with little noise interference. She is equipped with 2 generators that provide 25 kilowatts of clean, 220 volt, 3-phase power to operate equipment, instruments, and computers.

The vibracorer consists of a pneumatically actuated, reciprocating head mounted on a cart that slides down a 22-ft stayed-aluminum mast attached to a 400-lb rectangular, steel-channel, base-frame. Two 7 hp electric compressors produce 70 scfm of air at 70 psi to drive a 20-ft-long by 3-in.-diameter aluminum core barrel (clamped to the bottom of the head) into the sediment. A check-ball valve and core catcher assure recovery of samples during extraction from the seabed by the vessel's 6-ton Hiab Sea-Crane. In four years of operation, over 500 cores have been taken from South Carolina to Texas in water depths ranging from 0 to 120 ft. (To accommodate the 0-ft depth, the vibracorer was set on the bank of a bayou in Louisiana to core marsh sediments while the R/V Gilbert floated alongside in 3 ft of water).

The Don Cesar and its Historical Importance to Various Government Organizations

A local landmark listed in the National Registry of Historical Places and marked as a navigational aid on charts, "The Don" was built in 1928 by Thomas Rowe, an orphaned asthmatic from Boston who became a Virginia real estate broker before his health forced him to Florida in 1926. At 42, he put up $1.5 million to build the 10-story, 300-room hotel in the Mediterranean-Moorish style, using towers to camouflage chimneys and large pressurized water tanks. He operated it profitably during the months of January and February (only) as a stately hotel until the 1929 Depression, when snowbirds stopped coming south in the winter. For three years, he kept the doors open by housing the New York Yankees during spring training, but the hotel finally succumbed to poor economic conditions in 1934 and he to health problems in 1940. In 1942, the U.S. Army purchased the Don for $440,000 and converted it into a hospital to serve 60,000 local troops. The building later became the Army Air Force's Convalescent Center and eventually the Veteran's Administration's Regional Office in 1945. When the VA moved into a new building in 1969, the Don died and became a vandalized, boarded-up derelict. Before the city could raze it, a preservation group formed and kept the wrecking ball at bay. The group got William Bowman Jr. interested in restoring the property in 1972. Since 1975, it has been owned by Cigna Insurance Co. and operated under the Regency name as a 4-star (Mobil Guide)/4-diamond (AAA) hotel. Some of the notables included on the Don's long and distinguished guest list are: German Chancellor Willie Brandt, George Bush, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Henry Kissinger.

The USGS Center for Coastal Geology in St. Pete has also hosted and arranged some successful regional and international conferences at the Don, much to the delight of participants. After all, what better a place for a coastal-science conference than right on the coast?

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