Built for Hamilton Island-based Explore Group, Ocean Explorer is a high-end tourist dive boat for a luxury Whitsundays resort.
Designed to be comfortable and economical but retaining a good service speed of 20 knots with a top of 25 knots available if required, she is a stylish looking vessel with impressive interior design and ride control.
One2Three Designs is one of Australia’s leading global firms of naval architects, and is noted for its ferries, patrol and very innovative work boats that are mostly, but not always, designed to be fast. They are available in one, two or three hulls. In this case, they have teamed with the reputable Queensland aluminium shipyards Wildcat Marine and Commercial Marine Australia, to create a memorable catamaran vessel that does everything it is intended to do – very smoothly and effectively at medium speed from Hamilton Island to the Great Barrier Reef.
“One of the interesting things about this project,” One2Three told Baird Maritime, “is the hull was purchased partially built at auction and repurposed from a commuter ferry to something suitable for the luxury tour market. Once we sat with the new owner it became immediately apparent that we need significantly more internal deck area that was possible. Faced with the crewing limitation of being less than 24 metres length we decided to cut the boat down the middle (no mean feat for a 24-metre catamaran) and added one metre to the centre section and overall beam.”
One2Three added that the design brief for Ocean Explorer was focused around differentiation by delivering an experience from the moment one steps onboard. The usual specification terms including fuel efficiency, seakeeping and robustness were in place, but the over-arching requirement was a vessel defined by luxurious finishes created by Spear Green, super quiet interiors, reduced passenger numbers for a more intimate experience and high crew service levels.
“She is a dual-purpose vessel,” Commercial Marine Australia (CMA) remarked. “She is a fully equipped dive vessel that transforms into a dinner/sunset cocktail cruiser and fitted out to a very high standard with the ability to carry over 200 passengers for cruise ship transfers.”
To fulfil its intended roles, the vessel has been fitted with numerous large and easily accessible relaxation areas including a sun deck, two full service bars, an outdoor barbecue, dive kitting benches, and transom beach access. There are also onboard air compressors, storage tanks, space for two 4.5-metre dive tenders, and underwater lighting to aid in nighttime reef diving excursions.
The completion and delivery of Ocean Explorer in 2020 were carried out successfully even amid a number of challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic and tightening regulations.
“There is no doubt that the commercial workboat industry is suffering under a ‘Covid cloud,’” explained One2Three, “and this is likely to continue throughout 2021. Para-military and defence spending is up, but typically these projects have such long lead and incubation timeframes that attempts to transition to this sector is often met with delays.
“Covid-19 saw a global retraction across the tourism, commuter and transport sectors, which comprise the majority of our core business. However, the pleasure yacht market sustained our staff on a full-time basis for the majority of the year.”
CMA, on the other hand, has cited toughening of fire regulations, and the resultant increase in fitout costs, as the most significant challenge to come about recently.
Both companies agree, however, that 2021 will provide enough opportunities that will allow them to make up for the slowdown in 2020.
“We see 2021 producing a slow return to pre-Covid construction,” One2Three told Baird Maritime, “with the more savvy operators recognising now is a great time to refresh their fleet and commence construction on new innovative tourism products. This is manifesting itself in new vessel construction and refitting with energy efficient and zero-emission propulsion technology.
“The shipyards are hungry for work and the worst of Covid is hopefully behind us, though delivery times continue to be lower than average. But we remain very optimistic and look forward to the later half of 2021 and a bumper 2022.”
To accommodate the growing demand for newbuild tourist vessels in Australia, both One2Three and CMA believe that success in this regard will be determined by how willing companies can be in terms of incorporating low-emission technology.
“In the short term,” commented One2Three, “progress will be slow, though smarter operators will be concentrating on refreshing their vessels and innovating with new low fuel burn and emission technology. The medium- and long-term outlook is more encouraging. With an ageing tourism fleet having survived the 2008 global financial crises and, more recently, Covid, it will not be long before it becomes imperative for operators to offer new and exciting products to entice the international and domestic tourism markets.”
One2Three added that green energy and emission free operations in zoned areas of routes will mean increased takeup of hybrid drivelines. As proof of this, alternative fuel sources and reduction in greenhouse gases have both been observed as having become major design considerations in any new vessel.