Work on Building RNZN’s Two Newest Boats Advances Steadily

Work on Building RNZN’s Two Newest Boats Advances Steadily

Work on building the Navy’s two newest boats—TAKAPU and TARAPUNGA—is advancing steadily at Opua in the Bay of Islands, at the hands of a team led by boatbuilder Perrin Clarke of Northland Spars and Rigging, under the eye of designer Alan Walker of Coastdesign Naval Architecture.

Each 9.2 metres long with a beam of 2.68 metres, the aluminium jetboats are being built for the Navy’s specialist Littoral Warfare Support Force to provide fast access to harbours and other shore areas to conduct anti-mine work, surveying, diving support, disaster relief and similar operations.

The Navy called tenders internationally for the two craft. Stephen Perrott, Manager Maritime Minors/Discretionary, of the NZDF Capability Branch, says the tender from Northland Spars and Rigging not only provided the best value, but the reputations of Mr Clarke as the boatbuilder and Mr Walker as naval architect were also impressive.

The two had worked as a team before. Mr Walker had designed many similar boats and Mr Clarke had been praised for his work building boats for such clients as the fishing company Sanford and the Department of Conservation, one of the latter also at Northland Spars and Rigging.

Tiny Opua (population about 600), is close to Paihia and has a sheltered, deep-water anchorage that ensures its marina is port to many yachts, launches and other vessels even in winter. Nonetheless, winter is a quiet time for the township.

Northland Spars and Rigging managing director Terry Forsbrey says the NZDF contract has been good for Northland. “It’s a depressed area. My business gets quiet in winter on the sail side, so building boats is a good way to branch out.”

TAKAPU and TARAPUNGA are officially termed MCM/REA (Mine Counter-Measure/Rapid Environmental Assessment) boats in Navy jargon. They are being built by Mr Clarke and his team on a concrete floor in the middle of the company’s spacious, high-roofed building that sits opposite Opua’s marina.

“I spent two years talking Perrin into joining me,” said Mr Forsbrey, who is proud of the craftsmen working for him. “He’s worked with Alan many times, so they’re a great team.”

Mr Walker says designing and building the boats has been an interesting, moving feast because of the many requirements, not just of the Navy, but also of the Air Force.

The specifications say the boats are required to be carried aboard HMNZS CANTERBURY as well as the two Offshore Patrol Vessels, OTAGO and WELLINGTON. They will also have trailers for towing by road. And they will also go in a C-130 Hercules for rapid deployment to anywhere in the South Pacific they are needed.

“These are narrow boats because they have to fit into a C-130,” Mr Walker says. “I’ve designed ones like them before, but wider —a Fiji dive boat. The only way to get stability in such a narrow boat is to make it a catamaran. Of course if you look at it, it’s really a mono-hull with a slot down the middle.”

Mr Clarke adds:”But it will behave like a mono.”

Mr Walker says the top structure has to be detachable to fit it into the Hercules, which adds many other issues, such as designing the electrical wiring to cope with that.

“Once the Air Force looked at it, they said we needed a bow door so people could get through the boat when it was in the air—that was a late addition to the design. We’re still looking at issues such as venting air from compartments while it’s in a pressurised plane, and it will have to discharge bilge water before going in to the plane as you can’t have any water leaking in a plane.

“With the Navy we’re dealing with different issues such as divers; how many dive bottles can be stowed and the like. So everyone’s putting in their little bit, and lots of things are being changed all the time. It’s a very enjoyable challenge.”

Littoral warfare is a military term referring to combat close to shore, in the “littoral” (Latin for “coastal”) zone. The two boats are designed to go to and around the shore very fast, carrying survey equipment, hydrographers, divers and other specialists.

They will have space for at least six crew, including a cabin with dry working conditions for two crew with notebook computers, a toilet, basic cooking facilities and fresh water, a winching/davit arrangement to lift objects weighing up to 200 kg from a depth of 60 metres and the ability to tow a 500 kg submerged weight. Their required endurance is 18 hours (six hours at 24 knots and 12 hours at six knots)

The purpose of the Navy’s Littoral Warfare Support Force (LWSF) is to ensure access to and the use of harbours, inshore waters and associated coastal zones in New Zealand and wherever the ships and personnel of the NZDF are required to operate.

The acquisition of the two boats fits squarely within the New Zealand Defence Force move to create a Joint Amphibious Taskforce. They will allow the LWSF to deploy ahead of other forces to scrutinise and make safe coastal areas where amphibious forces intend to land.

Lieutenant Commander Steve Lenik, the LWSF Operations Officer, says the boats are being introduced to provide support to maritime operations in the littoral environment.

“Indicative tasks include rapid reconnaissance or, in military parlance, Rapid Environmental Assessments (REA) of the Area of Operations (AO), Mine Countermeasures (MCM) operations, diving and military hydrographic surveying.

“As an example, the boats might be used as part of an NZDF Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) contribution to a natural event, such as a severe tropical cyclone in the South Pacific where infrastructure and life has been affected. The HADR effort could include a reconnaissance and underwater clearance within the AO and in such an instance, elements of the Littoral Warfare Support Force including the MCM/REA boats, may be the initial Navy response.”

Once in the AO, the boats are expected to be able to support the LWSF by enabling the following tasks to be conducted:

Military hydrographic survey and MCM operations including towing of light-weight side-scan sonar, boat-mounted echo sounder, support for REMUS (Remote Environmental Measuring Units) search/survey tasks and delivery of a beach survey team to a beach area in benign conditions (where the beach will be capable of supporting landing craft operations).

Dive operations including underwater search and support for obstruction clearance operations such as the removal of objects remaining in the port approach and main harbour and in the vicinity of the wharf.

The boats are designed to have the endurance to facilitate transit to an independent operating area, loiter in support of survey and/or dive operations and transit back to a support vessel or Forward Operating Base.

“The equipment required to conduct these tasks is organic to the relevant LWSF Force Element and would be carried on board the boats to the task site,LT CDR Lenik said.

“During survey operations it is expected that the majority of processing and analysis will be conducted off the vessel. The vessel however is expected to be capable of supporting the data acquisition equipment required to conduct and monitor Side-scan sonar, echo sounder and REMUS underwater survey operations, although these operations will not all be conducted concurrently.”

The first of the boats is expected to be handed over to the Navy around the end of the year.

Naval Today Staff, July 4, 2012; Image: RNZN