Island crab boat transformed to Arctic research vessel

An Island fishermen is putting his deep-sea crab boat to a new use — scientific research in Canada's High Arctic.

White Diamond has undergone a $2 million refit in Summerside

MV White Diamond is the new flagship vessel of the Arctic Research Foundation. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

A P.E.I. fishermen is putting his deep-sea crab boat to a new use — scientific research in Canada's High Arctic.

Arctic Research Foundation just finished a $2 million renovation to the boat White Diamond in the Summerside harbour.

David McIsaac inspects new navigational equipment in the bridge. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The Manitoba-based not-for-profit organization bought the boat from fisherman David McIsaac. McIsaac and his son Daniel have been working with the foundation in recent years.

​"Fishing, you're basically doing the same job day after day after day. As research, you're working with a new crew and a new group and it gets exciting," McIsaac said.

"Everywhere we go, too, it's uncharted waters so you never really know what's going to be in front of you. So you're constantly watching your sounder."

Flagship ship

 White Diamond is one of three research vessels now owned and operated by Arctic Research Foundation.

"This vessel will be our new flagship," said Adrian Schimnowski, CEO and operations manager. "It has many capabilities. ARF is known for innovation in the Arctic so we will find ways to outfit this vessel for new ways of doing science in the Arctic."

Stainless steel in the decks, walls and even ladders of the White Diamond make the ship 'extra seaworthy,' McIsaac says. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

With stainless steel decks and thick hull, White Diamond is well built for work in the Arctic, McIsaac said.

"The boat will be here forever, pretty well," he said. "It's a stainless boat with Kevlar hull so we'll all be long gone and it will still be floating around somewhere."

A big project

Renovations included enclosing part of the deck to create indoor science labs, and turning the fish hold into extra bunk space for visiting scientists.

Up top, a large crane has been installed to hoist scientific equipment on and off the ship. To protect delicate Arctic ecosystems, the ship's hydraulic fluids and sanitation system have been upgraded, too.

About 30 local contractors worked on the White Diamond. The $2 million project began in April. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"There's all kinds of 45-foot fleet here on P.E.I., so everybody's worked on smaller boats but nobody has done any amount of work on a large boat before," McIsaac said. "Overall there was probably 30 tradesmen involved working on the boat over the summer."

Sea trials were conducted last week. White Diamond will head north in spring on a 35-day journey to Hudson Bay. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

White Diamond will head north next spring on its 35-day journey to Hudson Bay. Its work may include oil spill research, oceanography and studies of marine mammals.