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She's Absolutely Beautiful

  • The Learning Barge

She's Absolutely Beautiful!

Learning Barge “Splashes” After Donated Spruce Up Thanks for Unprecedented Support, Maritime Heroes!

Robin Dunbar watched her 210-ton vessel hang in the air. “I was tearing up, and everybody else was too,” she recalled.

The moving moment: Elizabeth River Project’s Dominion Learning Barge was about to “splash” gently back into the river July 31 after a two-month haul with multiple partners donating more maritime services than anyone involved says they’ve ever heard of.


“The Colonna family is in all likelihood the only family that has been working and living on the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River for 140 years. No family has more reason to work to protect the river then those who not only make their living from the river, but also live on the river… Involvement in maintaining the Learning Barge… is a small part of that involvement and commitment.”
- Steve Walker, Vice President of Operations, Colonna's Shipyard


The Learning Barge at Colonna ShipyardInspired by the Children

Derek Breckenridge said Sherwin Williams donated the hull’s new paint, a $2,700 value, because his company is super-inspired by the barge, “America’s Greenest Vessel,” educating 6,000 students a year. “Teaching our children at a young age about the Elizabeth River will help sustain the river for years to come,” Breckenridge said.

Colonna’s Shipyard starred in this season’s maintenance, donating services of the world’s largest travel lift, plus carpentry and rigging, valued at more than $40,000. Dunbar says it’s the latest chapter in a growing book of the barge’s maritime maintenance heroes.

“Everybody keeps saying they’re amazed that the barge is in such good shape,” said Dunbar, Deputy Director – Education, Elizabeth River Project. “It’s because of their continual care,” she said, referring to the maritime partners including BAE Norfolk Ship Repair, which regularly adopts the barge for winter care. Robbins Maritime once again donated tug services to move the barge.

With a live wetland on board and sun and wind power, our Learning Barge won a dozen national awards for its design by the University of Virginia.  First splashed in 2009, the barge has booked to capacity for student field trips every season. Counting public visitors as well, 57,000 guests have now been aboard.

The Learning Barge at Colonna ShipyardBarge Lowers, Excitement Rises

Excitement built as Colonna’s lowered the barge slowly toward the river. Shipyard workers walked on each side, guiding the 120-foot vessel to the water’s edge.  To Robin, it seemed they treated her with the honor of pall bearers, but for a joyous occasion, not a sad one.

“She’s absolutely beautiful,” Robin recalls saying as the barge touched the water (12:59 p.m.).

Come Aboard at RIVERFest

The Learning Barge is now extra gorgeous for you to visit for free at Elizabeth RIVERFest, Saturday Sept. 12 on the Nauticus waterfront. Then she welcomes students for the school year including all Norfolk fourth graders – thanks to generous recent grants from three Rotary Clubs (Norfolk, Portsmouth and Rotary District 7600), Luck Companies Foundation, PNC Bank, PRA Group and NOAA!

Of the haul-out heroes, Dunbar said she found most remarkable: “They all did it without asking for anything in return, except for a T-shirt.”

For more about the Learning Barge, contact Robin at rdunbar@elizabethriver.org, 757-392-7132.