The vessel was being constructed by ECO (then based in Galliano, LA), from which NSF charters both the LMG and the Nathaniel B. Palmer (NBP). As with many building projects, the launch had been delayed from the original schedule. The ceremony had been scheduled as an adjunct to the 8-10 October 1997 meeting of the Antarctic Research Vessel Oversight Committee (ARVOC) in nearby New Orleans. The christening was performed by the late Ruth Siple, wife of Paul Siple (Paul ventured to Antarctica on Admiral Byrd's first three expeditions to Little America in the 1930's and was the first Pole science leader in 1956-57).
I haven't seen any photos of Ruth (or anyone else) smashing a champagne bottle against the bow as the ship slides down the ways...but that's because that is not how vessels of this type get launched these days...instead, you will notice that the vessel is inside of a floating drydock. So what is happening here? What is obvious from these photos is that construction is still underway, as structures are being added to the sides of the hull. Prior to moving the vessel from the construction shed (my April 1997 photos of the hull in the construction shed), the ship stability calculations were reviewed...and there had been an error in determining the center of buoyancy. That basically means that it would list to one side...not something considered desirable in a research (or any other) vessel. So, in these photos they're starting to add sponsons (Wikipedia reference) to the sides of the hull to correct the imbalance.
This archived report of the 8-10 October ARVOC meeting addresses the construction, outfitting status, and action items, as well as the dedication ceremony and other aspects of the polar icebreaker program--namely the Nathaniel B. Palmer and the US Coast Guard's Healy (which at the time was scheduled for launch in November 1997). These paragraphs of the report address the stability issues and the addition of the sponsons. These were needed to increase buoyancy and compensate for the lead weights (added to adjust balance) so that the vessel draft would not prevent docking at Palmer Station.
For illustration, below is that classic 8 July 2000 photo of the Laurence M. Gould docked at Palmer Station inboard of the larger Nathaniel B. Palmer (Zee Evans, Antarctic Photo Library). The starboard sponson on the LMG is clearly visible.
Okay, a few statistics for the LMG:
Overall length: 230 ft/70.2 m
Below, two more photos, with links to more information:
This USAP photo (taken some time earlier by Teresa McLain) appeared in this Antarctic Journal, October 1997 article which described the christening. Note that the lower hull below those portholes had been finish painted before the decision to add the sponsons--which of course required grinding off the paint.
So what happened next? The Gould was launched several weeks after the dedication ceremony. Because of the construction delays, support of Palmer Station was provided by the research vessel Abel J. The LMG underwent science sea trials on 6-7 December 1997, and left Louisiana for Punta Arenas on Christmas Day. Further testing was conducted during this voyage. The vessel arrived in PA on 16 January 1998; after that port call it crossed a smooth Drake Passage and arrived at Palmer Station for the first time at 1100 on 26 January 1998.
Other photo credits for this page...the first four photos on this page are NSF photos from Jesse Alcorta; the photographer was not identified.