As we come to the end of Offshore Wind Week, we thought it would be fitting to catch up with one of our captains who was involved right at the very beginning of the industry to hear from his point of view how offshore renewables has grown and changed over the years.
Captain John Tollady joined the Group in 1983 as third officer and progressed to captain ten years later in 1993. During that time, and since, he has worked around the world on telecommunications installations and repairs, route surveys, in the oil & gas sector as well as more recently in offshore renewables.
“It was 2002 and I was working on the Horns Rev 1 project. Horns Rev was an 80 turbine wind farm and was bigger than anything anybody had ever done at that time. We were to install the interconnector cables linking each individual turbine.
We operated a small utility vessel called the Katliz, out of Esbjerg in Denmark. She was 479, tonnes, 42m long, 15m wide and had 1m freeboard. She only had a static tank, in which to coil the uncooperative, stiff cables, a single manually operated winch on each corner, with which to deploy anchors to hold her in position, no accommodation for the installation team and certainly no DP. We could only get half a dozen sections of cable in to the static tank at a time and so had to return to port every time we had installed those, to load again.
The guys would work their shifts onboard before being taken back to Esbjerg in a launch to accommodation cabins, located directly on the dock wall in Esbjerg. Several hours later the guys would jump onboard the launch again for the one and a half hour journey back out to the Katliz and take over operations again from the other shift.
For the first time we were issued with survival suits for working offshore. Our project office in the town was manned by a project team who had access to computers and one of the team actually had a mobile phone! Times have changed significantly since then even just in terms of technology making it so much easier to stay connected, as you can all imagine.
This was new territory for us, like everyone in the industry at that time, so there was not past experience to call upon, or lessons to learn from the past. It wasn’t straight forward, and we learned very quickly that wind farm work required many more resources, much more planning and a new type of engineering skill. The project was a success thanks to a lot of hard work across the team, but the learning curve was very steep.
17 years on we use vessels such as the C.S. Sovereign or Global Symphony for inter-array cable installation work. C.S. Sovereign is DP2, has two carousels for the cable, plenty of accommodation and a wealth of experience. Everything is so much safer, more organised and better understood. Today, every task follows an agreed procedure. All that had yet to be imagined back in 2002. ROVs are routinely employed during installation. Back then, it was a bit of a mystery where the cable actually was, once it entered the water. Nowadays, we load all the cables for an installation project in one go and know their exact position on and then under the seabed at all times.
More recently as part of the Group, I have worked onboard the C.S. Sovereign for EMEC, installing cables for their tidal energy research programme, as well as Thornton Bank Phase 2 and GT1 wind farms. I also worked on the CS Recorder on the Walney Extension wind farm operations in 2017.”
Utility vessel the Katliz was chartered to complete the Horns Rev 1 project in 2002
C.S. Sovereign and another similar DP2 vessels are now set up for cable installation at offshore wind farms