A new kind of boat in our waters

L/B Robert will pile drive foundations into the seabed
Fri, 09/18/2015 - 8:45am

A large, strange looking boat had people guessing the purpose of its existence a few miles off of the coast of Block Island on Monday, Sept. 14.

According to Deepwater Wind project liaison Bryan Wilson, the unusual vessel is a lift-boat called the Robert, and it has been charged with carrying out various construction activities on the Block Island Wind Farm project. The boat attracted onlookers who were seen snapping photographs of the boat while standing atop the Southeast Lighthouse bluffs and from vehicles parked on Spring Street. 

The L/B Robert, built by Montco Offshore, which is like a small floating city, contains a self-elevating hull, three 335-foot long legs and the ability to rise 240 feet above sea level at a maximum working water depth of 280 feet. The ship is 185 feet in length, weighs 500 tons, hosts 112,012 gallons of potable water, is powered by diesel and electric energy, has a maximum deck load of 1,500,000 pounds and generates 6,700 kilowatts of power.

Its main deck is comprised of four cranes of varying sizes: a 500-ton primary crane, a 60-ton starboard crane, a 25-ton stern crane and 10-ton port amid-ship crane. The vessel’s living quarters accommodates 152 people, including a galley  and mess area, and has six washers and dryers.

“Lift-boat Robert is being added to the vessel spread this week and will support the ongoing installation activities,” said Deepwater Wind spokesperson Meaghan Wims.  

Joseph A. Orgeron, Ph.D., who is Chief technology Officer for Montco Offshore, Inc. said that the company was approached by Deepwater Wind officials about utilizing the lift-boat Robert during an International Offshore Drilling Program expedition in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 2009.

“We thought if an offshore wind project got off the ground, it would be the one in Block Island,” said Orgeron, who noted that his company primarily works on oil platforms in the Gulf. “Economically, Block Island was the project with the highest probability.”

Orgeron noted that the L/B Robert traveled the estimated 14-day, 1,600 mile trip to Block Island “on her own power leaving from Port Fourchon, Louisiana Sept. 1 at 5 p.m., passing Key West, Miami and up the entire east-coast. She actually made it in exactly 13 days, arriving on Sept. 14 at 6 p.m., and made only one, one hour stop off Avon, New Jersey, for our engineer to check something out with the engine.”

Now the Robert is tasked with construction activities at the Block Island Wind Farm. Orgeron said that the rough seas and firm seabed at the wind farm site might cause some minor jarring when the vessel is in change mode.

“The L/B Robert normally works in the Gulf of Mexico where the seafloor is comprised of comparatively very-soft soils, more like a stiff-pudding,” explained Orgeron. “For that reason, the vessel has a pad attached at the very bottom of each of the three legs. On the very firm sand, fine-gravel seafloor around Block Island, we are expecting little to no penetration at all. In these situations, the new concern is changing modes in less than calm seas and experiencing some unwanted jarring. But this is a comfort thing, not a stability thing.”

“We expect the Robert will perform well,” said Wims. “It’s standard practice for the vessel to adjust its operating schedule accordingly, based on weather conditions.”

The primary job of the Robert on the Block Island Wind Farm will be utilizing a MENCK hydraulic hammer to pile drive the five steel foundations into the seabed. The Robert will also be utilized in placing and securing the deck platforms atop the foundations.

Per the MENCK website, the MENCK “MHU hydraulic hammer is the lightest hydraulic pile driving system available” and its components have been designed to minimize its footprint on a working barge.

The website notes that, “The MHU is submersible and delivers its blow directly to the pile eliminating the need for expensive adapting and cushion rings. Energy is transferred directly from the hammer to the pile eliminating the need for a cushion block. Our engineering team has designed a hammer that is easy to operate, easy to maintain, maximizes energy efficiency and has many safety features.”

Another large jackup vessel called the Fred. Olsen Windcarrier, which is almost triple the size of the Robert, will also be engaged at some point in construction of the Block Island Wind Farm project. 

Wind Farm update

Despite some minor setbacks and safety issues, construction on the Block Island Wind Farm has been progressing. Three of the five steel wind farm foundations have been installed in the water. Bryan Wilson, project manager for Deepwater Wind, said that foundations two, three and five have been placed in the water. The foundations are standing in about 90 feet of water approximately three miles off the southeast coast of Block Island.

“Three jackets are in the water,” said Wims. “We’ll be moving toward installation of the fourth foundation in the coming days, and pile driving activities continue. Multiple vessels are working simultaneously at the site.”

Foundation number one, presented on Monday, July 27 to the public, as the ceremonial and historical “steel in the water” moment for Deepwater Wind, has been undergoing repair at a shipyard in New Jersey.

Deepwater Wind said that the installation of all five of the foundations would be completed by the end of Sept.

The offshore wind energy company has stated that its five-turbine, 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm pilot project will be operational in the fall of 2016.