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A university of the oceans

Promoting the UK through science, education and training

The proposed Flagship, by its designer, naval architect Colin Mudie RDI, CEng, FRINA, Hon FRIN.

Maldwin Drummond OBE DL is inspired by the educational focus of the UK Flagship project

Photo: Copyright Colin Mudie RDI, CEng, FRINA, Hon FRIN.

Seventy per cent of the world’s surface is covered by water. We have been navigating the seas for generations, using vessels ranging from boats made of logs and skins through to nuclear-powered icebreakers. Yet we know less about the sea and its depths than we know about space.

For example, the myriad of plants and animals that make up the ocean plankton are all but invisible to most of us, and we have little idea of the vital part they play in our lives – and yet, as explained by Dr Richard Kirby in his book Ocean Drifters, ‘Without these remarkable creatures, the oceans would be a barren wilderness, there would be no fish in the sea, we would have no reserves of oil or gas, and the earth’s climate would be quite different.’

Eye-opening opportunities

The oceans as a whole are, for the most part, a blind spot. And yet, interconnected, they provide areas that are open to research and to educational programmes that can open the eyes of both young and old and provide a programme of study that would captivate students and stimulate their enquiring minds.

The sail training ships of the world, a very select fleet, have made great use of the experience of navigating the oceans, with real benefit to the character of the young sailors by harnessing seagoing experience to fit them for modern life. The latest development is the addition of an educational dimension to this character training. Sweden and a number of other countries have already grasped the possibilities here.

Green design principles

With plans for a ‘university of the oceans’ on board a 650-foot training ship taking 200 young people to sea on a variety of courses, including not only sail training but also education in the natural sciences to PhD level, there is a chance for much greater use and understanding of the oceans. The proposed UK Flagship will also act as a test bed for such advances as the development of photovoltaics (solar cells) woven into the sail canvas. Colin Mudie, who has designed more sail training ships than any other naval architect, says this means of power could then be stored in batteries or as hydrogen fuel for diesel generators. The modern battery bank would provide a natural sailing ballast, which could be renewed as this form of power storage develops.

Green technology has been a key part of the design of the vessel, and because the ship is self-contained individual parts can be tested and exchanged – a more rapid advance in green technology can be expected.

Multipurpose role, multipurpose construction

The design of the interior construction is based on the Star Trek concept of ‘Jefferies tubes’ through the accommodation area. The cabins and other units will ‘plug in’ to the tubes, as in the starship Enterprise. This will not only act as a distribution system for power and movement in the vessel but will add strength to overcome the titanic problems that may affect traditional constructions.

The ship will be equipped with a helicopter and a mini-submarine. She will be over 600 feet long and her masts will tower to a height of 250 feet. She will be able to do 17 knots under sail, matching and sometimes exceeding Cutty Sark’s speed. With a beam of nearly 60 feet, she will provide two-berth cabins to accommodate the 220 trainees and crew. The two-berth study cabins with collapsible bulkheads will give space for exhibitions. An important role for the new vessel will be to sell Britain and the Commonwealth across the world. With her multipurpose role and her ability to connect together the oceanographic universities of the world, she will be, in every sense of the word, a national flagship with strong Commonwealth connections.

With this ship, we hope to learn more about the oceans on which we all depend – including plankton and the carbon cycle – and at the same time this exciting new project will provide an educational base where students may advance their own sense of discovery.

For further information about the project, see