Terrafirma Offshore brings versatile capability to Australia’s north west
In 2012 a vessel named Beyond Vegas was thought to be the first pilot boat in the world to be fitted with Volvo Penta’s Integrated Propulsion System (IPS). Fast forward seven years and it has been re-named and reborn with enhanced performance and diverse capabilities through a major refit and modification program at Dongara Marine.
The rigid inflatable boat (RIB) was originally built to transfer Marine Pilots in the Western Australian port of Dampier, a role that the newbuild Berkeley Class pilot boat AMG Winyama took over in mid-2016, meaning Beyond Vegas became available on the sale and charter market.
Aware of the boat’s background, Terrafirma Offshore Director Daemon Bass saw the potential in what he describes as “a lime green machine that had been treated mean”; a reference to its distinctive livery, and the wear and tear that was obvious after racking up some 12,000 hours working in the Pilbara region.
Established in Exmouth since 2013, Terrafirma Offshore provides a wide range of offshore and onshore commercial marine services and support along the north-west coast of Western Australia, and well offshore: recent contracts have involved multiple, extended stays at Ashmore Reef supporting scientific research.
“Our family has been fishing commercially and operating offshore vessels on the WA coast for decades,” Daemon explained. "We knew we needed a well-built, multipurpose vessel but couldn’t justify a large capital investment, so we looked at the secondhand market.
“Nothing fitted our needs off-the-shelf but we were confident that with the right attitude and expertise we could develop Beyond Vegas to have the versatility our plans required. That has certainly proved to be the case, with the guys at Dongara Marine and Southerly Designs working really well with us to realise our vision," Daemon added.
Terrafirma Offshore bought the boat in late November 2018 and then trailered it to Dongara. Completed in May, the refit and modification saw us transform Beyond Vegas into Optimus 1000 within just five months. This quick turnaround was achieved despite an extensive work list and our other commitments including four newbuilds: the large multipurpose vessel Poppa G; a lines boat; a Berkeley Class pilot launch; and a catamaran passenger ferry.
Daemon said seeing Dongara Marine’s work on Poppa G, which the Bass family owns through Bass Marine, meant he had complete faith in the Dongara Marine team.
“Beyond Vegas went into their shed on the day Poppa G came out, and I actually never sea trialled it until it was ready for the delivery trip to Exmouth,” he said.
“Running a busy small business a long way from their yard meant I couldn’t watch the project every step of the way, and to be honest I didn’t need to.
"Dongara Marine’s capability and customer service is outstanding. The team kept me fully informed, and there was none of the ‘that’s how we do it, take it or leave it’ attitude. They always checked to discuss and make sure I was happy with how they planned to do something beforehand,” he added, “and if I wanted something done it seemed like nothing was ever too much to ask.”- Daemon Bass, Director, Terrafirma Offshore
Daemon is also extremely satisfied with the outcome.
“The work Dongara Marine did was awesome. They’ve entirely transformed the boat, inside and out, and really enhanced its capabilities. It can still carry out the original pilot boat function, but is now also equipped for crew/personnel transfer as well as survey and other functions. In fact, it’s the most versatile vessel of its size on the coast."- Daemon Bass, Director, Terrafirma Offshore
Versatility and flexibility does not stop at the deck edge. As Daemon Bass explains the Terrafirma Offshore business model is based on meeting market demand.
“We see ourselves as a capability partner, with the emphasis on partner. We aren’t chasing specific long-term contracts but instead focus on earning respect and building lasting working relationships right across the industry, whether that be with end user clients or other operators who might have capability or capacity gaps,” he explained.
Terrafirma Offshore has established itself as a ‘go to’ company for shore-based support in Exmouth, where vessel owners seek it out for services as diverse as general vessel maintenance; audit (OVID, IMCA, OVMSA) and surveys (Class, AMSA) preparation and assistance; out of water maintenance works including airless antifoul application; vessel manning; warehousing and other onshore logistics.
With carefully planned increases in its own fleet capacity – four vessels are currently based in the port – on-water activities are also on the upswing.
“To do the work you need the right assets in place. We’ve had Bass Marine’s Kuri Pearl II up here for a while now and that’s generated some opportunities, and even though Optimus 1000 has been in water for only a few weeks there has already been lots of interest in her,” Daemon said. The versatility has already been on show, with early tasks including personnel and light cargo transfer to an offshore support vessel and then tracking whale sharks as they moved along the coast.
To facilitate crew transfer and even tourism work, our team substantially reconfigured the boat’s aft deck. Originally clear and open, it can now seat up to 12 passengers in an area that is partially enclosed through the addition of side bulwarks, clear screens, and an awning.
The cabin layout has also been arranged for greater flexibility. “For pilot transfer or similar work, the original layout of six suspension seats can be used but we now have the option to reconfigure this. By replacing two seats with tables we create survey stations,” Daemon explained.
Dongara Marine’s fitout specialists also fitted the toilet cubicle, kitchenette, vee-berth, and work stations as well as re-upholstering the existing seating. The air conditioning was also replaced.
In addition to transferring pilots, cargo, personnel, supplies and equipment, Terrafirma Offshore also plans to use Optimus 1000 for survey work (oceanographic, hydrographic and geophysical), environmental investigations, and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations. For this the aft passenger seating and awning can be removed to provide clear deck area to carry up to 1.5 tonnes of cargo, with overside handling of metocean and other gear accomplished through a new slewing davit that can be fitted on either side aft. Our fabrication and engineering teams also rebuilt and modified the man overboard recovery platform to include a moonpool.
Another major modification was repowering the aluminium vessel with Volvo Penta D6-IPS500 propulsion units replacing the original Volvo Penta D6-IPS450 units. Although total power increased by a relatively modest 58kW it has had a major impact on speed. The steerable pods with twin counter-rotating forward facing propellers provide Optimus 1000 with a 4.5 knot advantage compared to the former configuration.
“The vessel now achieves a maximum 32 knots with a economical cruising speed of 26 knots at 120 litres per hour total fuel consumption,” Daemon Bass confirmed
The propulsion controls were also updated to include station-keeping / dynamic positioning capability which Daemon Bass describes as outstanding.
“We’ve had the boat hold both heading and station to near centimetre accuracy for extended periods, even with a noticeable breeze,” he explains. “It doesn’t require any input from the Master, which means I can also focus on other shipboard operations and crew safety rather than constantly adjusting throttle and rudder angle.”
Daemon says the capability will benefit transfers, ROV and other overside operations, as well as tasks such as navaids cleaning and maintenance.
Dongara Marine’s Managing Director, Rohan Warr, said the considerable scope of work extended beyond modifying the RIB to be a multi-role vessel.
“In addition to the planned modifications to prepare the boat for its new roles, we naturally also checked all the systems to identify any faults that needed rectification. Although not an old vessel significant repair and maintenance work was also required,” he explained.
An obvious maintenance item was repainting, with Dongara Marine’s coating specialists blasting and painting the entire boat, replacing the old lime green with a white Jotun Xtreme Gloss topcoat in the process.
Daemon points to the finish as an example of where the boatbuilder’s team have excelled.
“We paint boats as part of our marine service business here in Exmouth, so I am very particular about how that should be done. That’s one of the times I did go and personally inspect the work Dongara Marine was doing.
"What I saw were super dedicated and highly skilled tradespeople going the extra mile to achieve top quality,” he said. “Everyone who sees the boat thinks it’s brand new; the finish quality is just that good.”– Daemon Bass, Director, Terrafirma Offshore
Also contributing to the RIB's new look is a change in hull protection.
“The original foam collar was severely degraded,” explained Rohan Warr.
“We replaced it with our custom fendering, which is also used on our Berkeley Class pilot boats. The system combines polyethylene foam with an HDPE tube rubbing surface and provides both excellent impact absorption and abrasion resistance.”
Other work completed prior to the RIB returning to the water included the addition of a Muir anchor winch and fairleads, and a host of electrical items including additional outlets, internal lighting, four new floodlights, a shore power connection and a battery charger.
Rohan says Dongara Marine’s refit and modification work is important for the business.
“Quite a lot of builders focus on just that – building new boats – but we view ourselves as more of a whole-of-life provider. Sure we would love to build everyone a new boat, but we know that’s not always the best or most viable option for the client. We actually enjoy the challenge of taking an existing boat and transforming into a better version of itself or, in this case, virtually a new type of vessel.
“Beyond the reward of seeing a happy customer steam away with a new and improved tool for his or her business, we also get other benefits. For example, we get to see first hand what has and hasn’t worked in these existing vessels, and we feed that into our own processes for future projects, for example when making decisions regarding equipment, materials, and construction and design details. We’ve been in business since 1975, but there is always something to learn in this game, and learning what works for operators certainly helps us to deliver better long-term value to our customers,” he added.
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