Pilot Boat “Waitemata”

Specification Summary

Length: 11.5m
Customer: Ports of Auckland
Date: 1990
Industry: Commercial
Purpose: High Speed Pilot Boat
Operation: Waitemata Harbour, Auckland New Zealand
Material: Aluminium

Toiling pilot boat a success
by Keith Ingram – Professional Skipper Magazine, June/July 2001

Auckland’s pilot boat, the Waitemata, has just celebrated her eleventh year in service. As part of this celebration she received a new paint job and a refit, including a rebuild of her main engines and a full service of her Arneson surface drives.

Built for Ports of Auckland by McMullen and Wing in 1990, the 11.5m Stolkraft pilot boat has been one of the success stories in providing fast, efficient, pilot services to the busy port of Auckland.

When launched in 1990, she replaced her two predecessors, the Akarana and the older pilot vessel Waitemata, after which she is named.  Displacing some 10.5 tonnes and with a designed surface speed of 30 knots, the Waitemata came into service at a time when the public of Auckland was preoccupied with the wash of commercial vessels.

In some eyes, shipping and pleasure craft created local erosion, and there were safety concerns from steep waves which capsized small craft, particularly boaties in dinghies going out to moored vessels. Memories of the deadly wash from the Kerridge Odeon vessel Te Kotuku still remain clear in the minds of many boaties who experienced the sharp, sudden lurching, the scramble to regain one’s balance, and hot kettles leaping off stoves, as the succession of her renowned three waves hit some minutes after the ferry had long since past.

With public opinion in mind, the port company chose the Stolkcraft design by John Lund Marine Design Pty Ltd in Australia. Stolkcraft was a new concept for the South Pacific and New Zealand, but it had proven seakeeping ability, providing a very stable platform that was fast and created minimal wash when travelling at speed.

The Stolkcraft pilot craft design could be configured with either V drive, with conventional shaft and rudders, or, as in the case of the Waitemata, Arneson surface-piercing propellers. Once in service it was not long before the distinctive red vessel with her foaming rooster tail got the nod of approval from Auckland boaties, and the guarded respect for the speed at which she travelled.

However, it was not all to be easy going. The Waitemata, while fast and efficient, has proven to be somewhat expensive. If you want speed, speed takes horsepower, and horses need fuel to give that horsepower.

Twin MAN D2866LE 500hp-aside engines driving two Arneson ASD10B1S surface-piercing propellers through twin-disc MG5091 reverse-reduction gearboxes for a service speed of 28 knots consumes 75 litres per hour of your best performance diesel.

In the lube oil department, the Waitemata runs synthetic oils, which have extended the need for oil changes out to every 500 hours. But it is the vulnerability of the service drives which cause most of the short-term disruptions to service.

Propeller damage caused by floating debris and fishing lines cutting out the surface drives seals requires the crew to be ever -vigilant when underway, because an encounter with either can take the Waitemata out of service.

And as sure as God made little apples, these occurrences happen at the most inopportune times. This is the principal reason why Ports of Auckland maintain the service of its backup vessel, the twin-screw Paerata, an Australian vessel by heritage, designed and built by the Melbourne Port Company as a pilot vessel for the port of Melbourne.

The Paerata, with her service speed of 16 knots, is recognised by her crew as being a wet boat which can operate in extreme conditions, but because of her slower service speed she is not as efficient as the Waitemata, and she therefore remains in the standby role.

The recent refit saw the second set of engines go into the Waitemata during her short life span, but this is understandable once it is recognised that the Waitemata averages 2500 hours per year. The  engines had done 11,000 hours before this major rebuild, most of which would have been at her service speed of 28 to 30 knots. The Waitemata averages some 300 jobs per month attending some 3500 shipping movements in and out of the port per annum.

Which begs the question, with so many ships visiting, approximately 1900 per annum, with some smaller ships being exempt from the need to use a pilot, what is the tonnage which passes through the Port of Auckland?

We are told that some 13 million tonnes annually passes through the port. This is made up of 525,000 containers and 4.4 million tonnes of break bulk freight, which includes some 145,000 new and used vehicles. That’s right! No fewer than 145,000 vehicles are imported through the Port of Auckland for New Zealand roads per year.

As the Waitemata re-entered service, NZ Professional Skipper magazine had the opportunity to take a trip out to the pilot station and talk with her crew, comprising the skipper, Sean McCormack and the engineer, Keith Studd, plus the pilot, Alan George.

We leave the pilot berth at Captain Cook wharf basin for the pilot station out in the approaches to Auckland.

Once the engines are engaged we immediately realise there’s a lot of power down below. In fact, 1000hp waits to be released in the confines of the hulls. Her low wash tri-hull design provides a very stable platform which can deliver pilots to ships or recover them in all but the most extreme conditions.

Looking around the wheelhouse, there are three main forward-facing control seats for the skipper, engineer and pilot, with four more seats behind for additional crew or pilots. It is not unusual for the Waitemata to have to deliver two, three or sometimes four pilots to ships which are waiting, stacked up in a queue as they approach the port.

All on-board seating is shock-resistant and sprung to eliminate painful body jarring to the crew and passengers as she travels at speed in sometimes snotty conditions. The pilots also like her for her speed, as it reduces travel time from the berth to the pilot station, says Alan. In the Waitemata’s case this averages around 20 minutes, a far cry from the 50 minutes to one hour the Akarana used to take.

It is this speed which has created the main efficiencies of the pilot service. Shorter travel times means quicker turnarounds between ships or transfers.

She is a pleasure for the crew to drive. She is fast and responsive, but doesn’t like it on the nose in rough weather. This, however, can be countered by shouldering the head seas in a slight zig-zag course if need be, which enables her to maintain service speeds and the fast turnaround timetable.

“She is superb in a following sea,” says McCormack, “and as we approach a ship she doesn’t duck and dive in the ship’s wash as conventional vessels are prone to do.” She is very predictable in her movements, enabling pilot transfers to be done at 10 to 12 knots in most conditions.

“It is because of this speed and manoeuvrability that even when we are experiencing some very rough north or nor’easterly conditions in the Hauraki Gulf, especially out at the pilot’s station, the Waitemata can still affect a safe transfer.

“Sometimes when these marginal conditions prevail, as we approach the ship’s pilot ladder we will ask the master of the ship to make a momentary alteration of course to bring the bow around and allow us a window of lee or smooth water to duck into as we transfer the pilot,” says McCormack. “Once the pilot is safely on deck, the master resumes course as we pull away.”

Ensuring the efficiency of the pilot service at all times takes three crews of two, skipper and engineer, to work a roster of 12-hour shifts, four days on and two off, then four nights on and two days off. General mechanical and engineering maintenance and servicing is Keith Studd’s domain, while the skippers are responsible for ensuring that the vessel is kept clean and tidy, and that all electrics and electronics are maintained in full working order in keeping with the safe ship management policy on the vessel.

With this latest refit, the Waitemata is now set for her next five years service, in which she is expected to clock up over 10,000 hours at a service speed of 28 knots.