NOAA Retires Last Wooden Research Ship The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has retired its last wooden research ship. The John N. Cobb was decommissioned Wednesday after 58 years of service. Bill Lamoureux, who served as the ship's chief steward, recounts his memories.
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NOAA Retires Last Wooden Research Ship

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NOAA Retires Last Wooden Research Ship

NOAA Retires Last Wooden Research Ship

NOAA Retires Last Wooden Research Ship

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has retired its last wooden research ship. The John N. Cobb was decommissioned Wednesday after 58 years of service. Bill Lamoureux, who served as the ship's chief steward, recounts his memories.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In Seattle yesterday, there was a somber farewell to an old wooden friend. A Navy bugler played "Taps" as the last wooden haul ship in the fleet of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was decommissioned. The John N. Cobb sailed for 58 years, mostly in Alaska, a vessel for whale research, bottom trolling, much more.

For nearly two decades, Bill Lamoureux was the chief steward responsible for keeping the crew well fed. When we reached him today on the deck of the Cobb, he told us about his specialty.

Mr. BILL LAMOUREUX (Chief Steward, John N. Cobb): I probably am the best soup maker there is in the whole fleet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: And not too proud to say it, right?

Mr. LAMOUREUX: No. Because I get many, many praises from admirals to the lowest of the folks that come aboard. They're - I put a lot of love into it, and that's something I like to do. And I feed very, very healthy food and have done so for all those years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Well, over almost 20 years now. I can only imagine the things you've seen from that ship.

Mr. LAMOUREUX: Oh, I've seen lots. I mean, not just the glaciers melting away so rapidly, all the sea life, killer whales, humpback whales, moose swimming, it's just so many, many things.

BLOCK: Tell me your best whale story.

Mr. LAMOUREUX: Let's see. The best whale story is - I think the humpback whales, when they bubble feed, in other words, from down in the deep, they will have fish above them and they expel bubbles and it drives the fish to the surface. And then, he - there might be 10 or 12 humpback whales that come up underneath that because it corals the fish on the surface, and they have their mouths all open. And they just come up through that group of fish, and it's quite spectacular.

BLOCK: That's got to be something. I've seen pictures. But I imagine to see that up close, and to hear it must be amazing.

Mr. LAMOUREUX: Oh, matter of fact, they're right alongside of you, you know? And you're - and then you kind of step back from the rail hoping to God you're not too close.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Those are some pretty big mouths.

Mr. LAMOUREUX: Yeah. You might be a part of that meal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: I'm imagining, Mr. Lamoureux - this is a wooden haul vessel - that the sound of this boat must be really special when you're on her.

Mr. LAMOUREUX: Oh, it is. It is, especially if you're in the sea of any sort. It creaks and it groans. It makes noises. And then, sometimes, it makes a different noise because it wasn't there last year. And we just figured that the wood is getting to the part where it's getting old too. But…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Looks like a pretty good ship to me.

Mr. LAMOUREUX: Oh, it's a nice ship. I tell you, I've been sleeping onboard here for all these years. And last night, I spent a night in my same old bunk. And I'm just - it was just almost hard for me to unmake the bed, you might say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Something(ph) like that.

Mr. LAMOUREUX: Yeah. It's lots of memories, and very good memories. Boy, hmm. I'm getting tears in my eyes just looking at it here. I'm standing on her deck, and, man.

BLOCK: Well, tell me about the ceremony yesterday to decommission the ship.

Mr. LAMOUREUX: Oh, oh my goodness. It was just a wonderful ceremony. I - and - oh, I'll have to tell you this. This is hard for people to believe. It was hard for me to believe. I was presented the American flag at the ceremony. Then, I was presented the ship's bell. And I don't know of any employee that I know of that's ever had a ship's bell off of a ship. So, that was a very, very special thing for me. And as I sat down, I had the American flag in my lap, and a feather landed on my chest and dropped on to the American flag.

BLOCK: Oh, my goodness.

Mr. LAMOUREUX: And the - it was just - of all the people that were here, why did that happen? It made my hair stand on my arms. I mean, right now, they're standing on my arms.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Lamoureux, it's great to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Mr. LAMOUREUX: Well, thank you very much for the opportunity to share a little bit with you.

BLOCK: Bill Lamoureux is the longtime chief steward on the wooden haul John N. Cobb, which was decommissioned yesterday after 58 years of service. By the way, I asked him if he could share one of his famous soup recipes, but he says he's never written one down. They're all in his head.

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