With hundreds of turbines appearing around the coasts of many European countries, a whole new industry has emerged for the construction and maintenance of the giant turbines out at sea.
Our appetite for green energy has also resulted in a surge in demand for purpose-built boats to support the maintenance industry and that has proven to be good news for one UK boat builder.
South Boats is the market leader for a new type of craft. Wind Farm Support Vessels, or WFSVs as they are known in maritime circles, are designed to ferry people and equipment to and from the growing number of offshore wind turbines, now becoming a common sight around the coastlines of northern Europe.
Their latest designs, many featuring Rolls-Royce Kamewa waterjets, incorporate technology to provide safe, comfortable transport for those employed in keeping the wind farms operational.
South Boats is leading the development of this type of craft and such is the growth in demand that it’s turning out more than 25 each year, up from just one in 2005, and today has more than 70 vessels operating in all of Europe’s offshore wind developments.
Subsequent growth in development of offshore wind, plus a reputation for designing fit-for-purpose boats, has seen the company expand its range to include aluminium catamarans up to 28 metres in length – the maximum size for this vessel classification.
One of South Boats’ customers, Iceni Marine Services, has recently opted for Rolls-Royce Kamewa waterjets for its new South Cat 17 metre craft. The Iceni Defiant is currently employed at the Greater Gabbard wind farm, 20 miles off the coast of Lowestoft, the most easterly point in the UK.
Former lifeboat men, Richard Thurlow and Guy Gibson founded Iceni two years ago after working on the pioneering vessels for the early wind farms. Richard says: ‘I’ve been impressed with the waterjets. They require minimal maintenance and have plenty of thrust. The new Rolls-Royce control system is so different from what we’re used to, very responsive.’
‘We also mustn’t forget the aftermarket. With more and more boats in the water, operating in a wider area, we’re growing our team of mobile service engineers, who are a vital component of our customer support function.’
The design of vessels doesn’t stand still either. ‘As this industry evolves, we continue to bring new designs to market. Our latest, a specialist vessel used for diving operations will be 28 metres long but will feature four smaller Rolls-Royce waterjets, rather than the usual two, each powered by MTU diesel engines, manufactured by German-based Tognum.
Tognum is now owned by a joint venture of Rolls-Royce and Daimler. There are real advantages to using four small engines and jets. Fuel efficiency can be improved, as we’re running more engines at lighter load, plus the four jets give the added capability to hold position while divers are deployed, a hugely important safety feature.’
South Boats is bucking the trend of years of decline in UK vessel construction, and excelling in a new market. ‘We got in there early, when others didn’t realise the potential,’ says Ben. ‘We developed boats specifically for this job, and continue to innovate through close co-operation with our customers, who like us, have grown up alongside the offshore wind industry.’