It’s likely a matter of when, not if, offshore wind power will take off in the United States. WindServe Marine has made an early investment in crew transfer vessels (CTVs) to get ahead of the coming boom.
The 3,200-hp catamaran WindServe Odyssey left Senesco Marine in Rhode Island around Labor Day. The vessel has a short-term contract supporting the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project near Virginia Beach. The 20-passenger vessel designed by BMT Group is just the second of its kind in the United States.
WindServe Odyssey is purpose-built to carry technicians and equipment to and from offshore wind turbines. It is outfitted to make these voyages as quiet and comfortable as possible for the people on board. It can hit 28 knots and will cruise at roughly 25. At that speed, the passenger cabin will be no louder than a household dishwasher.
But as WindServe Managing Director Josh Diedrich noted, the 64.9-foot vessel is capable of more than just crew transfers. It is designed to hold 10-foot containers on the fore and aft decks, expanding the cargo capacity of a traditional CTV. It is outfitted for off-ship refueling and can perform seafloor surveys and other oceanographic work in support of future wind power development.
“Our main purpose and goal was to build a multipurpose offshore support vessel,” he said in a recent interview. “For us it opens up our capacity for work, and we can fulfill more of the client’s needs.”
Offshore wind power provides a sizable chunk of Europe’s electricity while employing many thousands of people, including many mariners. As of 2019, there were more than 5,000 turbines operating in waters off 12 European countries. Those towers generate enough power for more than 8 million homes, according to WindEurope.
The U.S. wind power industry is just getting started but is likely to accelerate in the coming years. The five-turbine Block Island Wind project, which came online in late 2016, was the first major U.S. installation. Dominion Energy and Orsted are partnering on the two-turbine CVOW. The two turbines are scheduled to come online later this year, a utility spokesman said.
Orsted, a Danish power company, has partnered with Dominion Energy on the Virginia project and Eversource for several projects in the Northeast. Other power companies also are working to develop offshore wind across the U.S. Demonstration wind power projects are under development off Maine and Ohio, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The industry trade group expects 13 offshore wind projects delivering 9,100 megawatts will be online by 2026.
All of those turbines will require specialized vessels to service them. WindServe Odyssey will work on charter this fall during final commissioning for the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project. It will carry people and cargo nearly 27 miles to the turbines, which are built atop sturdy foundations.
That docking evolution is unique for the U.S. maritime industry. The captain steers the CTV bow into a narrow notch and pushes against the turbine foundation during passenger loading and unloading. Passengers strap into a fall-arrest system and disembark one by one, climbing into the turbine itself. These transfers will be relatively straightforward in calm seas. But that won’t always be the case.
“That is where the precision maneuvering comes in,” Capt. Stewart Bell, one of two WindServe Odyssey captains, said in a recent interview at Senesco Marine in North Kingstown, R.I. Safety, he added, is paramount when approaching the foundation.
WindServe Odyssey is powered by four HamiltonJet waterjets paired with four 800-hp Scania Tier 3 engines through ZF reduction gears. Twin 20-hp bow thrusters supplied by Sleipner Motor will give the operator extra control when lining up for the turbine foundations. Bell said the propulsion package delivers speed, redundancy and excellent maneuverability.
“The way this vessel was designed, I expect it will be a comfortable-riding boat,” Bell said. “The maneuverability is going to be wonderful.”
WindServe Odyssey will often loiter near wind turbines while the technicians perform their work. The vessel is equipped with HamiltonJet’s JETanchor virtual anchor system, which functions a lot like a dynamic positioning system. The system automatically positions the bow into the seas, and it will hold station even in moderate weather. Humphree interceptors are installed at the transom for improved ride control.
When called upon, WindServe Odyssey can do more than just carry people. The front and aft decks have tie-downs for 10-foot cargo containers, and the foredeck is equipped with a Palfinger PK 12000 knuckle-boom crane to load equipment and cargo. The vessel also can supply fuel to generators used during turbine construction.
The interior is reminiscent of a Gulf of Mexico crew boat, while outstripping many such vessels for comfort and amenities. The CTV’s aluminum superstructure is resilient-mounted atop nearly two dozen rubber blocks to absorb vibration and reduce noise. The passenger saloon is equipped with 20 KPM Marine shock-absorbing seats in an airline seating configuration. The vessel has laundry machines, a refreshment area and a flat-screen TV.
WindServe Odyssey will operate with just two crewmembers, typically a captain and deck hand, working two-week rotations. The company has two crews, with all four mariners licensed to operate the vessel. The CTV has four crew berths for rare occasions when overnight accommodations are necessary. There are two heads, one with a shower.
WindServe declined to share specifics about wheelhouse electronics given the sensitive nature of its work alongside critical electric infrastructure. Diedrich said the vessel has a modern electronics suite that includes multiple radars and GPS, AIS, autopilot, GMDSS and electronic chart display with a Rose Point navigation system.
“We have a lot of systems up here for what some people would consider a small boat,” Bell said. “That is all set up so I can get where I am going safely.”
The dashboard design, he added, puts the navigation electronics in front of the operator “so I can take a look at (them) without taking my eyes off the road.” There also are bridge wing stations, port and starboard, for docking and man-overboard rescues.
The wheelhouse is equipped for remote operating of the engine space with monitoring from a closed-circuit camera system and alarm panel. Just about every aspect of vessel operations can be controlled through the wheelhouse, including starting and stopping the engines and running the fire pumps, bilge and ballast water systems.
WindServe Odyssey has a Reygar BareFLEET monitoring system that supplies real-time vessel performance data to shoreside personnel. Alex Babbin, WindServe’s operations manager, said the system displays alarms, vessel performance and even seasickness potential based on motion sensors. It can track how hard the vessel pushes onto the turbine foundation and whether it has any hard contacts against these structures.
“That’s a great thing,” Bell said, “because it gives them a tool to monitor (the crew), but it also gives us feedback as the operators so we can make it a better experience for the technicians.”
“We can grab a lot of our key performance indicators from that data … from Reygar, like if we want to try to reduce fuel consumption by shutting down more main engines when we are loitering,” Babbin added. “Whatever we can do to conserve fuel we would take under consideration.”
The vessel is equipped with advanced firefighting systems that exceed Coast Guard regulations. Each hull has a Hercules Hydraulics fire pump and 3M Novec fire suppression system in the engine compartment. Twin 24-kW Kohler self-paralleling generators provide ship service power.
WindServe Odyssey has multiple options for man-overboard rescues, including a Jason’s cradle, rescue davit and integrated rescue ladders leading to a gate on the hull. “It goes back to safety. Safety is key for these operations,” Bell said.
WindServe Marine is a subsidiary of Reinauer Group, which also owns Senesco Marine, a longtime builder of tugboats and barges. WindServe Odyssey is the shipyard’s first aluminum boat. However, plans are already underway to build a sister vessel to meet future demand.
“Marine wind is where we have to go as a country and where industry wants to go,” Diedrich said. “Barring any major regulatory pushback from the government, it is something that is going to happen and it is going to flourish.” •