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Composites top traditional aluminium to deliver high performance pilot boat

Seeking to break into the pilot boat market, Western Australian boat designer and builder John Fitzhardinge saw the opportunity to build a boat that would stand-out in the market by combining the tradition aluminium hull and deck with a superlight and super strong demountable wheelhouse.

John Fitzhardinge MD of Dongara Marine
Berkeley - inside fitout
Images: Dongara Managing Director, John Fitzhardinge. 
Inside, the composite wheelhouse has a high quality finish and design features to maximise comfort and safety for pilots.Images courtesy Southerly Designs.

Co-founder of Southerly Designs and owner of Dongara Marine, Mr Fitzhardinge says the feedback he is getting from Freemantle Pilots using the innovative 18.5m Berkeley vessel (pictured above) vindicates his novel solution.

The project represents a significant investment by the Port Denison commercial and leisure boat builder seeking to break into new markets.

“There are a lot of ageing pilot boats out there and we saw the opportunity to design and build something special that would be competitive in the market,” says Mr Fitzhardinge.

Southerly Designs set out to design a vessel that would outperform traditional pilot boats in the areas of fuel economy, speed, comfort and safety. The design went to GURIT for engineering design support and compliance with the Lloyds Register Service Craft Rule and National Standard for Commercial Vessels Code.

To maximise strength and weight savings, reduce noise and achieve a quality finish, Dongara use a resin infusion process for the composite boat building projects. They partnered with GURIT for the structural cores, e-glass and Carbon Unidirectionals.

Martin Hannon, Gurit Design Engineer said: “The choice of composites over aluminium for the super structure has reduced overall weight, minimised clearances and offers better sound and thermal insulation due to the high performance properties of the sandwich core panel”.

Designed and built to sit low on the hull, to maximise stability and fuel economy, fixing points and lifting points are integrated into the superstructure, enabling efficient removal and replacement of the wheelhouse structure providing excellent engine access for maintenance.

Other design features include fully integrated internal fittings and furnishings, increased visibility by minimising mullion sections on the wheelhouse windows designed to achieve a modern industrial look, plus excellent sound dampening through the thick-cored floor which required no framing and could therefore sit low on the hull. Every effort was made to improve safety for the pilots, especially on the transfer to and from ships.

The Berkeley is on lease to Freemantle Pilots. Dongara Marine manager Rohan Warr said: “John wanted to build a concept boat and get it out there on trial. We are getting really positive feedback especially in terms of the fuel efficiency, handling and performance of the Berkeley and our fender system.”

Using the lessons learned from the Berkeley, Dongara Marine is currently building a composite wheelhouse for what will be the largest crayfishing vessel in the region.

More information

Southerly Designs
Dongara Marine