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Wheelhouse insight into working on Humber’s wind farms

A CREW transfer vessel operator that has made Grimsby a second home, has given a fascinating insight into six years working in the offshore wind industry, revealing how fortunes can change like the sea states his fleet works in.

Wheelhouse insight into working on Humber’s wind farms

Last month Tidal Transit, a company that helped the town secure a series of firsts in the sector, won a two year contract to serve Orsted’s Westermost Rough offshore wind farm. 

Underlining how the success was partly due to the support received from the cluster, managing director Leo Hambro extended his thanks to Grimsby Renewables Partnership, providing food and drinks at the latest monthly get-together.

It came as his latest charter, the Danish world leader, starts building out the Round Three wind farms in the zones he provided the first sailings to, helping collect data on viability as development began.

Mr Hambro said: “It has taken six years to get here, but it is a very proud moment to know we are going to be working out of Grimsby for the next two years.”

Referring to those early expeditions with RES, with GRP director Chris Holden enlisting the services in a former role, he said: “We have been in Grimsby since 2012, with first meetings sat in a Portakabin on the North Wall with Chris many, many moons ago. 

“We had never pushed on to a wind turbine before, we were not experienced, but Chris very bravely chartered us, in fact all the first three vessels for work on Race Bank, Lincs and Hornsea, first chartered here.

“We came from survey boats and fishing boats and had some skippers. It wasn’t the early, early stage, but it was a time when new entrants were coming into the market and there were a few companies in the market, in the chartering side, willing to give us a go.

“RES and SSE were very supportive. Doors have been closed a little bit to stop new entrants trying something now. For us to start a fresh, it would be all about health and safety standards, accreditations, provision of work record, all so key to decision making, which makes it much more difficult.” 

New boats Tidal Transit brought in quickly became a key element to winning work, with accommodation provision and other innovations aided by seeing what very early pioneers had done, and the demands of the customers.

“When we came in, we were at an advantage, as it was with one vessel that was new. Some out there were of angling design, we came in with purpose-built, there was so much more to the design.

“However, boats are nothing without having the right people to skipper them, to crew them, to look after our customers. 

“We need to be more than just a taxi for the clients that charter us. We are not a taxi, we are a ferry. We are often taking non-mariners to sea, who have a long commute then have to make a decision to get off, climb a ladder and start their work. That journey can be 30 minutes, or it can be one or two hours. It can be a bad sea state and it can be uncomfortable. It has been a fantastic thing with GRP, we have had so much support, we have had vessels on the pontoon outside (to tour at Humber Cruising Association), and we hope GRP members and the wider community can continue to support our operations here as we are going to be working out of Royal Dock, Orsted’s East Coast Hub, until 2020 at the earliest.

“We have already worked with many members, we have used the vessel hoist, and we will continue to need local support, be it engineering, marine parts, personal protection equipment, supplies, catering, etc.”

Project work has flowed in the past six years, at varying levels for the team based in Docking, Norfolk, but the contract on Westermost Rough will see two vessels permanently attached to the wind farm.

“Going forward it is exciting with a new service we are going to deliver,” said Mr Hambro, having weathered a lean period in the industry as a lull in construction occurred after an initial boom from the start of the decade.

“2016/2017 was very difficult,” he said. “We bravely – or stupidly – kept everyone on, and didn’t let anyone go. We knew we needed the right team and it cost us a lot. It was a year of very low utilisation but we still had the skippers, they stuck with us as they knew the wind farm industry as going the right way.

“My recommendation is to build a team with people who have a track record, if you want to come in to this industry, bring people in who have experience, otherwise the door is quite heavy.

“Now we need to be bigger. I remember standing in Grimsby in 2012 and said we had an option to order 10 vessels. I’m so pleased we didn’t have 10 vessels two years ago! But industry has grown, requirements have grown and specifications have changed. We are looking to build further boats or acquire some in the market, and working up some key projects to bring in new techniques to create massive savings.”

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