Power Catamarans Ltd is the achievement of Rod Baker, a Cornish boat builder who has been constructing vessels for private and commercial use with a small team of skilled craftsmen since 1974. During the first few years, the company was invested in the creation of high speed boats for the lobster industry – at that time the only maritime industry on the north coast of Cornwall, UK – but eventually began receiving enquiries for larger designs.
“I jumped from a one-man 17 footer to a large 36 foot fast fishing vessel,” says Rod. “It was a planing-style fishing boat capable of reaching 23 or 24 knots and turned out to be the first fast fishing vessel serving the UK’s lobster industry. This set a precedent for us, specialising in staying on top of the game. I designed many different types of boat based on speed with trihedral lines through the years, but eventually decided on going a different way in trying to make my designs much smoother to ride. That is how I ended up with the design that is the focus of Power Catamarans today; I went to Australia in 1998 and purchased the design from the world’s leading cat designer, bringing back what was the UK’s first commercial power cat specification.”
Having divested most of its other model types, selling them on to other yards, Power Catamaran today focuses primarily on this principle that Rod terms high performance displacement cat (HPDC). Unlike the planing cat, a more popular design in the UK that is essentially comparable to a planing monohull in size and weight, the HPDC comprises a far narrower hull shape that offers a great number of advantages to vessels of 40 foot and up. Not only does the reduced surface area mean reduced resistance and drag thereby increasing speed at lower fuel costs but also vessel stability is improved, during both transit and stationary parking; this means a smoother journey as well as easier boarding and disembarking of the vessel.
An excellent example of the benefits of a Power Catamaran vessel can be seen in Vanishing Point, a Powerglide 46 wind farm crew boat, skippered by Terry Batt and currently serving Walney Offshore Windfarm in the Irish Sea. The 46-foot HPDC has been transferring crew for eight months, maintaining a cruising speed of approximately 20 to 22 knots, safely cutting through waves of up to three metres, and achieving a 100 per cent service record throughout the contract. The Vanishing Point was the only vessel on site to hit this benchmark, and did so with huge cost savings as well: whilst a comparable planing cat would burn £18,000 per month in fuel, Terry’s monthly expenditure is at most £4,000.
Despite this example the domestic market has been slow to recognise the advantages of displacement cats, many owners continuing to rely instead on the more traditional planing designs. Rod illustrates, however, that clients elsewhere have been less cagey: “It is still having difficulties breaking into the commercial market but many countries are now stepping up. We have been selling to Denmark and Norway and receiving a huge number of enquiries from across Europe, primarily to private individuals but occasionally companies as well.”
Nonetheless, with the rapid expansion of the UK’s wind farm industry and the beginning of Round 3 in just a few years, Power Catamaran’s position in the UK market is likely to flourish. Even though the vessels are made from fibreglass, Rod and his team’s extensive experience with the material has enabled customisation of the company’s models to an unrivalled extent by changing and breaking away parts of the mould as necessary. This ability closes down the customisation gap between fibreglass and aluminium, giving the future of HPCDs in the UK a firm footing on which to capitalise; with the wind farm industry requiring up to 8000 boats in the next ten years, this appears to be the perfect opportunity.
“We’ve upgraded our manufacturing and quality control systems to comply with Lloyds rules, meaning we can now build to just about every safety and quality standard around,” says Rod in explaining Power Catamaran’s ongoing commitment to remaining ahead of the competition. “It’s a huge system shock of paperwork and not everybody can handle it, so it is a big thing for us. Also, because of the recession, a lot of skilled labour that wouldn’t normally be available to us here in north Cornwall did become available so we have many good people on the team now.”
Power Catamarans is already occupied for the near future with two builds ongoing and two further vessels in the order book. Rod has plans for the next upgrade, a 20-metre cat for the wind farm industry that can handle three metre waves with minimal fuss, and for the next newbuild project that will involve creating a more modular style of boat allowing other builders to make use of individual components supplied by Power Catamarans. “This boat will be a big project and we will have to pull in additional investment to complete it but we will get it done,” he confidently concludes. “At the moment I have some designs that see our vessels lasting for another 15 or 20 years. Plus I am forever redesigning and looking at new developments to make sure we stay ahead of the market and, for the foreseeable future, we plan to keep doing what we do best: thriving on innovation.”