NYC Ferries: A Collaborative Approach
By Joseph Keefe
Innovative boats, unusual collaboration: Hornblower, Horizon, Incat and Metal Shark team up on one of the most significant newbuilding projects of the year.
When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this year announced the selection of Hornblower to operate as many as 20 ferries to connect a similar number of New York City neighborhoods, the magnitude of the award immediately outweighed the details of the contract. The vessels, intended to eventually form the backbone of a modern, comfortable and efficient urban ferry fleet, will also be New York City’s first city-wide ferry system in over 100 years.
Now on track to launch in 2017, the news service is predicated on the on-time delivery of high tech, newbuild hulls now being constructed on the U.S. Gulf Coast. It is here where an unusually collaborative effort – in more ways than one – is shaping up as the model for future projects.
The selection of Hornblower ended a year-long competition controlled by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYEDC). According to NYCEDC, the City received multiple responses to that RFP and selected Hornblower on the basis of its ability to provide the highest quality service at the best value to taxpayers.
Hornblower in March promised to create more than 150 new jobs in New York Harbor, augmenting their already significant presence of local maritime professionals in the Empire State. But before any of that can happen, the new boats must be built and delivered. A focused visit to the U.S. Gulf Coast by Marine News in October showed that not only are building plans on track, they include a collaborative approach that includes Hornblower itself, two boatbuilders and the vessel’s designers.
Meet the Builders
In the immediate wake of the exciting NYEDC announcement, Hornblower wasted little time in awarding two familiar Gulf Coast shipbuilders the contracts to build the new fleet of ferries. Metal Shark of Franklin, LA and Horizon Shipbuilding of Bayou La Batre, AL immediately got to work. Each has been awarded and undisclosed number of hulls in the initial building phase, with options for more in the future. The two yards will construct identical Incat Crowther designed, 26-meter, 149-passenger aluminum high-speed ferries.
For its part, Hornblower didn’t put all their eggs into one basket, effectively splitting the risk between two yards both known for their ability to produce high quality series-build hulls, on time and on budget. Separately, Incat Crowther also immediately set about delivering production engineering to satisfy an aggressive build schedule at multiple shipyards, with at least a dozen boats scheduled to be delivered in 2017. Hornblower’s decision in this case sets up both a unique competitive process while at the same time fostering a collaborative atmosphere for one of the largest – and most aggressive – multiple hull contracts seen in some time.
In October both yards were building the hulls totally under cover and expanding local workspaces to make sure that remained the case. Horizon, which has expanded its facilities and production capabilities in recent years, will build the ferries using an assembly-line type roll-out with the first boat ready for delivery in the first quarter of 2017. Travis Short, President of Horizon Shipbuilding, told Marine News during an extensive tour of its Alabama production facilities, “We started building on the 6th of July. Our history has been about 30-35 percent of our output is aluminum. So, we’re no stranger to the exacting needs of aluminum hulls.”
Separately, Metal Shark’s newbuild program is also moving full steam ahead. One of the better known U.S. builders in aluminum hulls, Metal Shark also knows how to execute a series-build, high volume contract. In advance of the contract award, Metal Shark also won a MARAD grant and will complete a 150’ x 80’ auxiliary structure for final assembly, which was partially funded by the MARAD grant. A new 160-ton Marine Lift transporter arrives in January and will significantly facilitate the movement of boats around the yard and to the water for launch.
Horizon Shipbuilding President Travis Short declined to disclose the number of hulls that Horizon had been awarded, instead saying, “We received the contract from Hornblower in June 2016. There are several, with options for more.” Asked why Horizon was chosen for the contract, he replied, “Quick turnaround. For example, we recently completed a job where we had to complete 40 crewboats in 20 months. So, we’ve been set up before to do multiple hull construction and they knew that we had the physical capacity to do it and the fact that our area is known to have skilled aluminum boat fabricators.” Horizon has already brought on 100 additional workers just for this project.
As for experience, Short has Horizon is up for just about anything industry could ask. “We’ve always tried to be as diverse as we can. We’ve done a lot of government vessels over the years and my first aluminum boat, we built in 1992. And, we’ve competed in the foreign markets; we’ve done that in places like West Africa. And, I think the biggest reason we can compete overseas is that we build a good quality boat. Over time, we’ve delivered over 50 boats to foreign customers.”
Without a doubt, there is a lot riding on this contract. That reality wasn’t lost on Short, who explained, “There’s a lot at stake; there’s a lot of good that come out of this project for a job well done. And, our history has always been, ‘We’ve gotten the next project because of the last project.’ It might six months apart or it could be six years later, but you’ll get good projects because of a job well done on another project. And this project, it will take us to new ones.”
And, Horizon has ridden out the storm that the last two years have wrought, arguably as well anyone. Current projects and contracts include a utility vessel for an undisclosed East Coast client, Florida Marine Transport pushboats (another series build project now on its 20th hull), multiple escort tugs for McAllister, and repair jobs for both the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Short adds, “We’re also doing a yacht refit and we’ve got options for more boats with two of our current clients.”
For Travis Short, the long-term picture is most important. “I want to develop a longstanding relationship with Hornblower. And, secondly, I want other operators, when think of Horizon, they think of a place where they can get a lot of good boats in a short amount of time. We’re as customer-friendly as you can get.” He points to his proprietary Gordhead software package – actively being used by all players in this multi-company project – as the perfect manifestation of that.
According to Short, Hornblower liked the transparency of the software and its ability to collaboratively track the building process, share information between all parties in real time, all without having to have boots on the ground at all times. Short even set up closed circuit TV in all work areas common to the Hornblower project. He explained, “Hornblower requested it and we set them up. I think it had everything to do with informing their clients as what was going on at all times.”
Separately, Cameron Clark, Vice President and General Manager for Hornblower, commented on the contract award, saying, ““When we were looking for shipyards, we wanted to work with builders that had the same can-do attitude and innovative approach to business that we have. Being able to stay connected with the project 24/7 to resolve issues quickly was critical for us. We were impressed with the transparency of Horizon and their software, and we are confident in their ability to deliver a world class ferry product for our future NYC customers.”
A late October stop in Bayou La Batre showed the Hornblower work in full swing, with the yard expanding its indoor workshops in order to accommodate the new work. Short told Marine News, “The goal is to keep ALL of it inside. When we were building the 40 crew boats, every week we flipped a hull, started a hull, and once we got rolling, we delivered a hull every Friday. We’ve got a similar schedule here with the ferries – the boats are twice as big, so the intervals will be longer, but the concept is exactly the same.”
Almost 4 hours and 250 miles to the west of Bayou La Batre, Alabama sits Franklin, Louisiana, and the other half of Hornblower’s ambitious newbuild equation. Marine News drove east to west in late October to find that Metal Shark currently houses about 60 out of its current 250 strong workforce there, with the remainder at its second, Jeanerette, LA production facility. The firm expects to have 100+ personnel at Franklin by the second quarter of next year. Metal Shark President & CEO Chris Allard told Marine News, “As of today there are roughly 45 people involved in aspects of the production of the first three ferries. This number will increase significantly as the vessels take shape and additional boats enter production.”
Metal Shark will produce its version of the ferries at its Franklin, Louisiana shipyard, a 25-acre waterfront facility which recently received a Small Shipyard Grant from the United States Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) to expand its facilities and shipbuilding capabilities. Since the start of Hornblower production, Metal Shark has hired approximately 20 additional employees involved either directly or indirectly with this project. Allard adds, “At the moment we are actively recruiting new employees to support Hornblower and numerous other upcoming projects.”
Horizon isn’t the only yard known for efficient series-build production, and Metal Shark has set a brisk pace from the outset. Aluminum cutting for Hornblower hulls commenced in July with assembly beginning shortly thereafter. The first hull is on schedule, set to be delivered in the 1st quarter of 2017, with Metal Shark set to deliver one every other week after that. According to Allard, in late October, the first boat was 90% welded and outfitting had begun. The second hull was 60% welded, and the next hull’s had already commenced.
Allard summed up the yard’s progress succinctly, saying, “We are right on schedule. Trials for vessel number 1 will commence in mid-February 2017 and the vessel will be ready for delivery in the first quarter. A second hull is following close behind and hulls 3 and 4 will complete in April. We received orders for two more vessels last month, and we will deliver both of those in May. By mid-March we will be delivering a ferry approximately every two weeks.”
Metal Shark assigned four naval architects/marine engineers to the project for production engineering and to provide assembly drawings. This, said Allard, enables shop workers to focus solely on assembly, not fitting components or problem solving. He explained further, “That, coupled with tight planning, a dedicated project management team, extensive use of jigs and fixtures, and our rigorous QC processes, are keeping us on track.”
Like horizon, Metal Shark remains busy on other fronts, as well. In addition to the Hornblower boats, Franklin is currently producing 45’ patrol boats for an 18-boat FMS contract. Other contracts include a 60’ dive tender for the U.S. Navy, a survey boat for the Army Corps of Engineers, a 70’ supply boat for Long Island, a multi-boat Navy contract for 50’ high speed vessels, a 45’ pilot boat for the Caribbean, and a 48-meter Incat catamaran for a private client.
And, with all of that going on, Metal shark was preparing to commence construction of a new, fully enclosed, 200’ x 80’ large vessel assembly building enabling weather-independent construction of vessels up to 180 feet in length. In addition, a new stand-alone office building with over 4,000 square feet of space for Franklin executive, engineering, project management, and administrative personnel will be up and running by the second quarter of 2017.
“The tremendous support we received from Incat Crowther helped make this project a reality,” according to Carl Wegener, Metal Shark’s director of commercial sales. “The entire collaborative process between Hornblower, Incat Crowther, and Metal Shark has been outstanding, and we’re proud to be a part of one of the largest domestic ferry builds in the past decade.”
Separately, Cameron Clark, VP and GM at Hornblower said in a prepared statement, “It’s full steam ahead for New York City’s first citywide system in over 100 years and a system that will offer a new way to work, live, play. We are using the most advanced maritime practices and Metal Shark’s experience delivering large quantities of state-of-the-art vessels under a tight window to ensure that the newest additions to New York Harbor are up and floating before Summer 2017.”
Collaboration + Competition = Successful Completion
During the design part of the project, all four parties to the boats – Incat, Hornblower, Horizon and Metal Shark – are collaborating on design and production through one web site. Given that operational reality, it might be easy to forget that Horizon and Metal shark are still competitors. They are also competitors with an important, common client, one who would like all parties to work and play well together to the successful completion of a common goal.
The USCG subchapter T ferries will ultimately delivers a 25-knot operating speed while reducing environmental impact by incorporating low emission engines and low wake technology. The bicycle and stroller-friendly vessels are ADA-compliant and boast 360-degree views. Passenger amenities include onboard WiFi, power ports for small electronics such as computers and cell phones, and large LED infotainment screens.
Before anyone gets to use any of those amenities, the boats have to be built and delivered. That part of the equation, Marine News found out in October, is in very good hands. The first vessels from both yards are expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2017. From our perspective, those morning commutes in the Big Apple will very soon be just a little more pleasant.
(As published in the December 2016 edition of Marine News)
Other stories from December 2016 issue
- Op/Ed: Shipping's Energy Challenge page: 18
- Op/Ed: Opportunities for US Shipyards in 2017 and Beyond page: 20
- Energy, Finance & the GoM page: 22
- Port Infrastructure and the Role of Government page: 24
- LNG: Lagging, Not Gone page: 30
- San Francisco’s New Fireboat is Like No Other page: 34
- NYC Ferries: A Collaborative Approach page: 38
- Innovative Boats: Marine News' Best of 2016 page: 42
- Marine Battery Systems Come of Age page: 48