Half Moon Clipper


Amid the oil industry downturn in the Gulf of Mexico and the corresponding grim economics visited upon aluminum crew boat builders in south Louisiana, Breaux Brothers Enterprises of Loreauville put a new twist on the market.

“We were contacted by Holland America Line (HAL) to construct a vessel,” said Brannon Breaux, a vice president of the company founded by his father, Ward Breaux, who is president. The company’s other vice president is Brannon’s brother Vic.

The new vessel would replace a 95-foot, triple-screw Camcraft crew boat originally built for Eastern Shipping Co. in 1975 that subsequently was employed as a ferry in Newfoundland. HAL acquired the vessel in 1997, placed the name Half Moon Clipper on the hull, and put the boat into service in the Bahamas.

As with the old boat, the new Half Moon Clipper transports crew and workers from Eleuthera’s Princess Cays to HAL’s resort on Half Moon Cay, a run of up to an hour and a half. The crew loads, transports and unloads all of the food, beverages and equipment necessary to feed and entertain cruise ship passengers on shore parties. The boat also acts as a supply boat for the ships.

“It’s all brought via the Clipper, so it’s a very important — I would say vital — part of our operation,” said Matthew Sams, vice president of Caribbean relations and private island operations for HAL.

The crew boat idles in Port Fourchon before heading for its new home in the islands. During trials in the Gulf, “it was like we were riding in a Suburban with only the AC vent noise,” says Brannon Breaux.

Brian Gauvin

The trend toward giant, passenger-packed cruise ships called for a crew boat designed in lockstep with the industry’s growth. But dimensional limitations for the vessel due to the size of the Princess Cays marina and the channel leading to the marina at Half Moon Cay presented challenges.

Sams said HAL conducted a worldwide search with numerous brokers to see if they could find an existing boat that could be retrofitted to meet the operator’s requirements. “It’s not as if these types of vessels are growing on trees,” he said.

The search came up empty and it was decided to go with a new purpose-built vessel. “We spoke to a number of yards and went through the RFQ (request for quotation) process and ended up at Breaux,” Sams said. “We looked at their history and their builds and were very pleased with what we saw, and are very pleased to this day.”

Aside from quality construction, the new vessel had to meet very particular specifications determined by geography and mission requirements. For starters, the marina at Half Moon Clipper’s home port of Princess Cays restricted the length of the newbuild to 105 feet. Half Moon Cay presented more problems.

“We were restricted on the design because we had so many constraints getting to the marina at Half Moon Cay,” said Larry Bischoff, manager of marine services for Holland America Group. “Our older boat is a triple screw and has operated for 22 years in the islands. So quite a bit of experience has been gained, leading us to the design of the new boat.”

Clement Thomas, fleet captain in the Bahamas for Holland America Line, gives the new crew boat high marks. “This is really a great design because she handles so well,” he says.

Brian Gauvin

The quarter-mile channel at Half Moon Cay is carved out of sandstone and has a curve in it. As it happened, 105 feet was determined to be the maximum length for a boat to navigate the corner. “The width of the channel limited us to a safe maximum (beam) of 24 feet and a 6-foot draft,” Bischoff said.

Another design consideration was for Half Moon Clipper to have a large aft deck cargo area, equipped with a high-capacity crane for hoisting large bins from a cruise ship to the boat and then to shore. The bins contain food, beverages, machinery, spare parts and other supplies, all of the provisions and equipment needed to conduct a shore party for cruise ship passengers.

“We wanted to make the vessel comfortable for the crew and employees,” Sams said. That concern led to robust air conditioning, cushioned seating and stability at sea.

Protecting the environment also was a must. “The environment is huge for us, especially the private island (Half Moon Cay) with its gorgeous water,” Sams said. “It would be foolish for us to think of anything but that pristine water. With the run that we do, it’s easy to manage a sealed bilge policy.”

Brannon Breaux traveled to the Bahamas to assess the geography and get a feel for how the new boat would fit into HAL’s operations on the islands. Armed with those impressions and the performance and design features that HAL wanted, the brothers Breaux set to work on the concept and engineering design. Once complete, they passed the drawings and numbers to Mark Pudlo, owner of Seacraft Design in Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

A key design requirement for Half Moon Clipper was a high-capacity crane for hoisting supplies and small watercraft. Effer Marine filled the bill with a knuckle-boom unit.

Brian Gauvin

“As with most Breaux Brothers projects, we provided engineering support for what is mostly their design concept,” Pudlo said. “On this one, we developed and drew up the hull and deckhouse structure and performed the stability analysis, while they developed most of the piping systems and all of the electrical in-house.”

Laying out the access arrangements for passengers on three levels was a challenge, but Pudlo said it worked out well. He added that although Half Moon Clipper is a modification of the oil field crew boats Breaux has built, the process and quality control was routine.

“One has to remark on the attention to detail on this boat, though,” Pudlo said, referring to the extra features that were not on the drawings “but which a good boatbuilder just knows to make the boat better.”

The reliability displayed over 22 years of service by the original Half Moon Clipper, and the propulsion redundancy inherent in a triple-screw boat, led to HAL’s decision to repeat the power train configuration. The smaller engines also opened up engine room space, and the option to maneuver with the center engine shut down promised better fuel economy.

The new crew boat is powered by three Baudouin 8M26.2 P2 800-hp main engines turning ZF 40-by-38-inch propellers through ZF 2000 reduction gears. The two auxiliary generators are Baudouin 4W105S 100-kW gensets.

Baudouin propulsion provides some advantages for HAL’s operations in the Bahamas, not the least of which is the support provided by south Florida distributor Motor-Services Hugo Stamp Inc. “We have had a very long relationship with them, and service and support are critical to a remote island operation,” Bischoff said.

The crew boat has seating for 193 passengers on three levels, including the bridge.

Brian Gauvin

He added that simplicity of repair and maintenance of the engines was a key factor in choosing Baudouin, as was the mechanical fuel injection option, which simplifies upkeep in HAL’s island location.

The company’s Bahamas fleet captain, Clement Thomas, piloted the newbuild down Bayou Teche from Breaux Brothers in Loreauville to Port Fourchon during a strong February storm.

“I like the way she handles, especially in heavy weather,” he said. “We got a lot of that last night, a 2- to 3-knot current and headwind of 25 knots. She rode well and made 19 knots.”

Thomas said HAL’s work on the islands is evolving and the operator needed a larger boat. “This is really a great design because she handles so well,” he said. “And the number of passenger seats has gone from 85 in the old boat to 190. You can’t beat that.”

Being a day boat, what normally would be accommodations space was given over to passenger seating. The aft deck area for supplies and the crane buttress the vessel’s role as a supply boat for cruise ships.

Assistant engineer Quincy Morley kneels with one of the newbuild’s three Baudouin 800-hp main engines. The center engine can be shut down to improve fuel economy.

Brian Gauvin

The crew makes the cay-to-cay run an average of five days per week. But from October to April, they often make six or seven runs per week.

“We just came off 21 straight days of making the run,” Thomas said in March. “And for the first time in history, we serviced two Carnival cruise ships in one day. I appreciate that the HAL team had the confidence in us that we could do it. The boat gets a lot of work. Maintenance is a big deal. In the past seven years, we’ve gone from 155 runs per year to well over 255 runs.”

During sea trials in February in the Gulf of Mexico, Half Moon Clipper made 22 knots light boat and 17 to 19 knots loaded in severe storms and 3.5-foot seas.

“She is very solid and very quiet and very smooth,” Brannon Breaux said. “It was like we were riding in a Suburban with only the AC vent noise.” On the delivery voyage to the Bahamas, Breaux said Half Moon Clipper took 15-foot seas without any problem.

Bischoff reported that the boat’s first few months in service have been a success. “As designed, she mates up well with the cruise ships, and easily loads and offloads the food and beverage bins with her Effer crane,” he said. “Her delivery to the Bahamas went smooth as silk, and she arrived earlier than planned.”

By Professional Mariner Staff