Composite water taxi fleet enters service
Dutch yard Damen is best-known for its policy of standardising designs and using common parts as much as possible throughout the range, but recently the Damen group has embarked on what it describes as “a truly unique project” - an unusual composite vessel.
The project began with Damen’s entry into a competition held by the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) which asked designers in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia to come up with a new water taxi to be operated in the Dubai Creek.
This is the first time Dubai has used boats for unscheduled/on demand public transport and was also a first for Damen, which has built composite vessels in the past, but never used carbon-fibre to any great extent.
In mid 2008, Damen was announced as the winner and work began soon afterwards. As befits the image of Dubai, the Damen water taxi focuses on luxury, with leather seats, personal TV screens, air-conditioning, tinted glass and plenty of legroom. It is intended to carry up to 10 passengers in comfort at a 34 knot cruising speed.
“We do not create vessels like this every day but this distinguishes us from other shipbuilders and shows that we are capable of taking on such a challenging project,” says product director Henk Grunstra.
“With the Water Taxi there was a good vision in the first place and there was a very conscious design.” The design limits imposed a certain weight, and using carbon composite enabled this, he adds.
Because the final product had to echo the design exactly, some new thinking was needed. This included working with several specialists, not necessarily traditional marine suppliers, such as Design Triangle, an industrial design house involved in the transport sector, rather than a naval architect. And because of the weight constraints, Damen partnered with Lightweight Structures of Delft, which is experienced with carbon-fibre composites in the aviation and automotive industries.
Dubai’s extreme temperatures meant that the water taxi should include large air conditioning units and additionally, Damen developed special overlapping side windows to provide extra shade for the soaring summer temperatures. Another major challenge was the front window with a double curvature effect, and for this Damen chose a specialist automotive glass manufacturer from the luxury car sector. The gold-coloured roof is intended to echo Dubai’s metro stations in shape and colour.
The composite hulls were built at Lightweight Structures, using 45 moulds for each vessel. These were fitted out, and the interior design developed, at Damen in Gorinchem.
Work started on the first water taxis in November 2008 and the first prototype was tested at Gorinchem in summer 2009. The first five vessels were completed in March 2010, and are expected to be followed by more before the end of the year.
The contract included crew training by Damen, and the company’s service hub in Dubai will provide maintenance and support services, as well as any extra training.
“We have gained a great deal of knowledge during this project and we would certainly take on a composite build again where we can make full use of our experiences,” emphasises Grunstra.
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