HARWICH — Aurore “Rorie” Zuzick sailed her first boat on Long Pond as a kid growing up. As she studied the dynamics of wind against sails, little did she realize how far it take her.
Today she is a naval architect providing major technological guidance for ships like the USS Zumwalt, a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer and the nation's most technically advanced warship. Zuzick specializes in computational fluid dynamics and spends a lot of time doing sea trials on naval ships like the Zumwalt.
“Zuzick's main duties involve testing the ability of ships to perform certain activities safely in certain weather conditions,” stated a Navy News Service press release.
Zuzick defines computational fluid dynamic as “what the water is doing around a ship –water direction, velocity, and predicting how water responds to the presence of a ship and how the ship responds to water.”
Her involvement with the Zumwalt revolved around the uncertainty of how it was going to respond to waves. Most ships have a flare, a wider bow and wider deck, but this ship is shaped differently, and thus the reaction to waves could be different. Working with computers and through sea trials, she developed guidance for operators of the ship, which includes developing guidance for navigating in hurricanes.
After Long Pond, Zuzick said, she improved her sailing skills alongside her parents, John and Velna Zuzick, out of Saquatucket Harbor. The family grew up on Pleasant Lake Avenue, not far from Long Pond, and sailing became an important part of her life. She said her father did some sailing and her mother spent time on power boats in New Hampshire.
“Dad bought a book on sailing and between mom and dad, we were out on the waters off Saquatucket Harbor,” Zuzick said. “I still have a Saquatucket Harbor bumper sticker on my car,” Zuzick said on the phone while traveling home for Christmas from the Bethesda, Md., area, where she lives with her husband, Travis, a boat builder.
Zuzick went through the Harwich School system from kindergarten though the 10th grade and transferred to a boarding school for the next two years. During her high school years she got into competitive snowboarding. After high school, she went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but she was not happy there, left and became a “ski bum.”
She returned to the Cape during the summer and was drawn to Cape Water Sports and Cape Yachts, Inc., which was located at the time across from Sisson Road on Route 28.
“I worked on boats all summer long,” Zuzick said. “Working on and repairing boats, you say who decided to do it this way or isn't that clever.”
Adrift for about three years, Zuzick decided she wanted to connect with boats once again. She applied and was accepted at the Webb Institute, a very small naval architecture and marine engineering school on Long Island, which graduates between 15 and 20 students per year. Many of the students land jobs with the Navy.
When she graduated, her father gave her a hand-crafted box with a compass inside that he painstakingly restored. The inscription read: “Plot the course to follow your dreams. Love, Dad.”
A few years later, she lost her dad to the sea. He was the captain of a sea clam boat operating off Nantucket when crew member Bill Silva got tangled in the clam hose as it slid overboard, taking him into the sea. The hose got caught in the propeller, disabling the vessel.
John Zuzick put on a survival suit and went into the water, eventually reaching the fisherman. Tragically, Zuzick suffered a fatal heart attack, but his survival suit remained buoyant for 40 minutes until a Coast Guard helicopter pulled both men from the water.
“There was no hesitation, without a blink of an eye, he was there for me,” Silva told The Chronicle. “Johnny was a hero.”
It was at Webb where his daughter discovered computational fluid dynamics and spent her senior year pursuing the subject. A Webb alum recommended she do a senior internship at Carderock's Full-Scale Trails Branch at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in West Bethesda. After graduating from Webb in 2009, Zuzick went to work at Carderock. While working there she has also earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland.
“The nerdy subject matter kind of got me in the door, and then when I learned about the quality of these facilities and the mission of the command, I was hooked,” Zuzick told the Navy News Service.
She presently represents the U.S. Navy on NATO's Ship Design Capability Group Specialist Team, working with other countries, such as Germany, Norway, Australia and Italy, on ship design standards. The team meets three times a year in one of the countries and pool ship-building knowledge and fundamental design guidance so “everybody can have more useful ships,” she said.
Zuzick further hones her skills working as a member of the Full Scale Trials Branch of the Surface Ship Hydromechanics Division at Carderock and spends a lot of time at sea conducting trials. She said the team can be on the water testing ships for two to three weeks at a time.
“We put these ships through the wringer and it becomes more real when you're living with them (the sailors),” she said.
Zuzick is currently on a one-year temporary assignment to NAVSEA Headquarters supporting the Ship Integrity and Performance Engineering Directorate. She is also a member of the Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Program, which provides leadership training, mentoring, development planning, networking, and organizational observation.
Zuzick and her family were in Baltimore in mid-October for the commissioning of the Zumwalt, which she said was an overwhelming experience. The USS Zumwalt was named after Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, the youngest American naval officer to serve as chief of naval operations.
“I knew she was a tiny part in a huge innovative ship in the U.S. Navy, but the ceremony was truly inspirational,” Velna Zuzick said of the commissioning in Baltimore. “The parents and families of the crew were asked to stand, they are the ones that will make the sacrifices and I was proud that Rorie was so dedicated to her small part. I know she does it for them.”
The Zumwalt is designed with multi-mission capability. Unlike previous destroyer classes, it is built primarily for deep-water combat. It is also designed to support ground forces in land attacks, in addition to the usual destroyer mission of anti-air, anti-surface and undersea warfare.
After the commissioning, Rorie Zuzick received a Facebook notification that a Harwich classmate, Adam Lucas, piloted the Zumwalt out of Baltimore Harbor on its way to its home port in San Diego.
Working with the Navy is her career, Zuzick said. “The Navy is bigger than I ever imagined and there is no lack of interesting opportunities here,” she said. “But there is no way I'd be doing it if I hadn't grown up on Cape Cod, in Harwich.”