Wind Farm vessel unveiled

Atlantic Pioneer will transport personnel
Fri, 03/11/2016 - 11:45am

WARREN, R.I. — A unique marine vessel with a catamaran hull that possesses the power to displace enough water to fill an Olympic size swimming pool in under 10 seconds with one thrust of its engines, can adhere itself to the steel foundation at the wind farm site — leaving the vessel suspended in mid-air by utilizing its specially designed rubber bow — will soon be cruising in the waters off Block Island.

That’s according to Charlie Donadio, Jr., speaking of his new boat, the Atlantic Pioneer, being built by Blount Boats in Warren to service the Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind Farm. “It’s great to be affiliated with Deepwater Wind on this project. We’re giving them the latest and greatest crew transfer vessel in the world,” said Donadio, during an interview with The Block Island Times at the Blount Boats shipyard in Warren. 

“We’re excited to be partnering with two veteran Rhode Island companies that bring their decades of experience to supporting our Block Island Wind Farm,” said Jeffrey Grybowski, Deepwater Wind CEO. “Most importantly, this means more jobs in the marine trades for Rhode Islanders and another way that the Ocean State is leading the growth of this new American offshore wind industry.” 

“We are thrilled to have built the first U.S. flag crew transfer vessel in the United States,” said Marcia Blount, President of Blount Boats. “We are looking forward to the sea trials.” 

The sea trials will involve testing of the vessel’s engines and jets to ensure that it is working properly before it begins servicing the wind farm. Donadio said the sea trials for the Atlantic Pioneer will commence “next week out on Narragansett Bay.” 

The boat will transport personnel from Quonset Point to the Block Island Wind Farm site for construction activity, and is in the final stages of completion. Donadio said 70 workers have been employed throughout the 12-month build of the vessel.

“The boat is pretty much done. They’ll be firing up the water-jets this week. So, this is real. This is happening,” said Donadio, whose company, Atlantic Wind Transfers, signed a 20-year contract with Deepwater Wind to “transfer” the wind energy company’s personnel to the wind farm site. Donadio is also owner of the Rhode Island Fast Ferry that operates a high-speed ferry service from Quonset to Martha’s Vineyard during the summer season.

Donadio said he is “setting the tone for the domestic offshore wind industry. We want to be the leaders” here in the crew transport business, and “build a number of these boats.”

“We’re going to be the only company in the United States that has the skillset to do this,” added Donadio. “My company is concentrating on servicing the whole east coast.”

Construction on the crew transfer vessel began in May of 2015 and Donadio said it will be christened at Quonset Point and go into service on May 1, 2016. Donadio noted that the life of the vessel is 30-years, but that catamarans, if maintained properly, can have an extended life.

“The good thing about aluminum catamarans is that they can last forever if they’re properly maintained,” said Donadio. “I own the boat, and we will have our own maintenance program.” 

Donadio said that the benefit of a catamaran hull, which is a boat that features two parallel hulls of equal size and length, is that “it makes the ride smoother, and gives the boat greater stability.” A catamaran derives its stability from its wide beam as opposed to a single-hull or ballasted keel vessel.

The 21-meter (70-feet) vessel, which cost Donadio approximately $4 million to build, is equipped from bow to stern with the most up-to-date technology. Donadio told The Times that “this is a proven wind farm vessel design by South Boats IOW based in the United Kingdom.”

Donadio said the vessel boasts two seawater cooled “Tier 3 green technology” MAN V12-1400CR main engines that produce 1,400 horsepower at 2,100 revolutions per minute and drive two Hamilton HM571 water-jets situated at the stern of the boat. The vessel has a total fuel capacity of 2,100 gallons, can cruise at a service speed of 24 knots and a maximum sprint speed of 30-knots. 

The pilothouse interior main deck cabin is outfitted with 12 black ergonomic leather suspension seats manufactured by the company that makes seats for Bentley. Donadio noted that the boat has been updated from the latest crew transfer vessel design to include the most up-to-date marine technology, and outfitted with numerous electrical and USB outlets, two flat-screen televisions, and video and photographic equipment. 

There are 11 close-circuit high-resolution cameras positioned on the boat that will record the vessel’s operations 24-hours a day. “The cameras capture all of the transfers on the bow and the rear deck,” said Donadio. “It doesn’t miss anything.”

The front main deck is equipped with a blue PK 6500 M Palfinger marine knuckle boom crane that has a maximum lifting capacity of 1,345 pounds and a maximum hydraulic outreach of about 25 feet. The vessel can carry 15 tons of deadweight cargo.

On the bow is a specially designed rubber fender that adheres to turbine ladders. “The bow fendering is supplied by RG Seasight Fenders from Denmark,” said Donadio. “They are the world leaders in making specialized vulcanized rubber fenders that connect to turbine ladders. As the rubber fender rides up and down the ladder poles it heats up, and after several seconds, the fender will stick to the landing while the captain applies the water-jet thrust to keep the vessel stationary as the technicians transfer on and off the vessel.”

Donadio noted that the vessel has two different licenses: an L-boat license for transporting wind farm personnel and a T-boat license for the purpose of accommodating sightseeing excursions. When the vessel, which will be crewed by three, is classified as an L-boat, it will transport 17 passengers, and when it is designated as a T-boat it will transport up to 47 passengers.  

Wanting to gain knowledge about the offshore wind transport business, Donadio did his research, and the legwork, by taking a trip over to the United Kingdom in March of 2015. There he met with various European offshore wind industry professionals, toured the 60-megawatt Scroby Sands Wind Farm, and learned about design and operation of crew transfer vessels.

Donadio said that when construction of the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm “is done, and the dust settles for Block Island, we’re the ones that will be left to service the wind turbines. This is where the real, long-term good paying jobs will be: servicing these wind farms.”

“This is a great opportunity for Block Island,” said Donadio. “There are islands over in Europe who have benefitted greatly from an economic standpoint from the offshore wind farm business. If the town officials on Block Island embrace the offshore wind industry it could be a good economic opportunity for the island.”

Donadio said that by supplying the crew transfer vessels for the wind farm his company “will be a part of something that is not only good for the world, but good for the environment.”

Atlantic Wind Transfers will be posting videos, photos and information about the vessel on the company’s website: and on Twitter at @RIFastFerry.