A crowd of more than 100 supporters showed up at Blount Boats in Warren, R.I. Wednesday for a ribbon cutting on the first crew transfer vessel to be built for the nascent American offshore wind power industry.
“They’re very specialized vessels. They’re lightweight aluminum for speed, they’re catamarans for stability,” said Blount CEO Marcia Blount, who for five years led her family firm as the only U.S. shipbuilder actively pursuing the wind energy market.
“We hope this is the beginning,” Blount told the crowd, “of a robust supply chain.”
Blount and her project partners – Charles A. Donadio Jr., owner of Rhode Island Fast Ferry, and Jeff Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind – said the boat is another example of Deepwater’s initial 30-megawatt turbine project at Block Island creating jobs for Rhode Island.
“This vessel can go about 30 knots on a full load,” said Donadio, who created a new division in his company, Atlantic Wind Transfers, to serve the Deepwater project. “We have a really good package. We want this vessel to be dependable to run these technicians back and forth.”
Built under license from South Boat IOW, a British boat builder and primary supplier to the European wind industry, the 70’6”x24’x4’ vessel will be propelled with waterjets powered by a pair of Tier III MAN V-12-1200CR engines, turning 1,200 hp at 2,100 rpm.
Two of five steel jacket foundations for the turbines are already in place, and jackups and heavy cranes are needed for the major assembly.
Starting in May 2016 the crew boat with its 15-ton cargo capacity will be delivering components to the Block Island site along with workers, and continue as the operations and maintenance boat.
“We’re going to be sending our captains overseas. They’re going to train with wind farm captains who have been doing this for over a decade,” Donadio said.
Rhode Island Fast Ferry pioneered fast passenger services from mainland Rhode Island to Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard, but it’s mainly a seasonal resort and tourist trade. The Deepwater project “is a great opportunity” for the Ocean State’s marine trades to have more year-round work, Donadio said.
Deepwater’s Grybowski said he and his wind power planners had not thought of building a vessel in Rhode Island before he was approached by Donadio, who pitched how with a Blount-built boat he could ensure Deepwater of a reliable offshore service for 20 years.
“One thing Jeff Grybowski told us was, ‘Don’t worry, any time we need something or buy something, we’ll try to do it in Rhode Island,’” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, who helped win grants for shore side improvements including the Deepwater construction base on Narragansett Bay.
Whitehouse and other political supporters contend Rhode Island could host other offshore wind developers seeking leases from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management – companies that Marcia Blount says have approached her company about having their own crew boats built.
With good highway and shipping access, that area around Quonset Point and North Kingston on the western shore of Narragansett makes an ideal staging area for offshore wind, supporters say.
From there, “you can put stuff on a barge,” Whitehouse said, “and ship it for cheap.”