Development of Passenger / Vehicle Ferries
The Incat group evolved from local Hobart boat building companies, including the Sullivans Cove Ferry Company (SCFC) formed by Robert Clifford in 1972. SCFC built conventional steel mono-hull vessels, and operated small ferries across Hobart’s Derwent River. SCFC gained prominence transporting more than 9 million passengers in the two years following the 1975 Tasman Bridge collapse, the sole bridge link between the eastern and western shores of Hobart.
After the bridge re-opened, International Catamarans Pty Ltd specialised in the construction of fast ferries. Experience gained as both manufacturer and operator provided insight into the requirements of passengers and ferry operators. After extensive research the company commenced specialisation in aluminium construction.
In 1983 the Wave Piercing design was conceived, the 8.7 metre prototype craft Little Devil (013) first undergoing trials in 1984. The results encouraged International Catamarans to proceed with a 28 metre Wave Piercing Catamaran, Spirit of Victoria (016), which entered commercial operation in mid 1985. Tassie Devil 2001 (017) was launched in December 1986. The current range of Wave Piercing Catamarans still reflects the characteristics of these early craft.
On 20 May 1987 a contract was signed for the construction of a 51 metre Wave Piercing Catamaran for Sealink British Ferries, but agreement could not be reached on the commercial protection desired and the contract was not ratified by the board of Sea Containers.
A partnership between Robert Clifford – builder, and Phil Hercus - designer, amicably terminated in February 1988, allowing each partner to concentrate on their own respective businesses; Phil Hercus designing under the separate and unrelated business of Incat Designs (now trading as Incat Crowther), and Robert Clifford designing and building under a new company, Incat Tasmania Pty Ltd, based in Hobart.
Car Ferries and Trophies
A contract was finally signed with Sea Containers on 16th September 1988 for a 66 metre car-carrying passenger catamaran. This was subsequently amended to 72 metres and again to 74 metres as a result of further tank testing. The vessel was launched as Christopher Columbus (Incat Hull 025) on 28 January 1990 and renamed Hoverspeed Great Britain shortly afterwards.
The Hales Trophy for the fastest transatlantic crossing by a commercial passenger ship is not only a test of speed but a test of endurance and reliability. The distinctive prize is ornamented with a globe of the earth, mythological gods of the sea and miniature paintings of selected Blue Riband winners, amongst them the Hoverspeed Great Britain. The last liner to take the trophy was the United States in 1952, improving the Queen Mary’s record by 10 hours. That record stood the test of time until 1990 when on her delivery voyage from Australia to Britain the Hoverspeed Great Britain smashed the record by three hours and 14 minutes. Since then the Buquebus 91 metre Catalonia (Hull 047 and now P&O’s Express) captured the honour with a crossing of three days, nine hours and 40 minutes and the current holder is another Incat vessel, the 91 metre Fjord Cat now operating across the Skagerrak for Fjord Line.
It is interesting to note that the Portsmouth – Cherbourg fast craft, Normandie Express (Incat Hull 057), boasts a deadweight of 750 tonnes, almost four times the amount of the Hoverspeed Great Britain and in contrast to that first season of high speed operation in 1990 the largest Incat vessel in UK waters only missed four sailings in 2005 when gales battered the south coast of England and significant wave heights exceeded 4.5 metres at the end of the year.
In 1999 the Royal Australian Navy’s chartered the 86 metre Incat 045 for use in the East Timor crisis. Renamed HMAS Jervis Bay, the craft marked the first use of a high-speed application in an extended defence role and presented an opportunity for other nations to gauge the military potential of the latest Incat technology. It is a matter of history that the craft made quite an impact during its tenure with the Navy.
In 2001 joint forces from the US Military awarded the contract for the Incat 96m Wave Piercing Catamaran HSV-X1 Joint Venture (Incat Hull 050) for use as an evaluation platform for various trials and demonstrations for the different forces involved.
The Joint Venture excelled during her deployment in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Just hours after Operation Iraqi Freedom began the craft sped into the shallow Persian Gulf waters near the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, acting as an afloat forward staging base for Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams and Navy SEAL commandos.
While Joint Venture was shared by components of the Joint Forces Command, the US Army was keen to acquire a craft dedicated to their sole use. The result was TSV-1X Spearhead (Incat Hull 060), a pure Army craft benefiting from performance and engineering data gathered through their involvement with the Joint Venture.
A third Incat vessel, to support Mine Counter Warfare mission requirements, was HSV 2 Swift. Completed by Incat to military specifications, including deck and storage capacity for the large MH-60s and CH-46 helicopters, this vessel served as a platform to conduct a series of limited objective exercises, demonstrations and training events determined by Navy Warfare Development Command and the Marine Corps Combat Development Command. Flight deck certification operations brought a world first when the US Navy conducted a SH60 landing and take off at 40 knots of ship’s speed and 58 knots of wind speed.
Improving the Breed
Incat is not resting on its laurels and the next stage in the evolution of the Wave Piercing Catamaran has been realised through the construction of 112 metre catamarans at the Hobart shipyard, the first of which went into service with Japanese operator Higashi Nihon Ferry in September 2007.
The design is indeed a constant evolution. With each incremental increase in waterline length comes a myriad of modifications to the hull and structure, however the vessels within each generation are far from identical with a range of configuration, fit-out, and performance variations evident.
In 2008 Incat has built almost 40% of the world’s high speed vehicle-passenger ferry fleet over 50 metres in length. In deadweight terms Incat has built 60% of the world’s high speed ferries with capacity over 750 tonnes. While the ferries initially revolutionised transport links around the United Kingdom, Incat-built ships now operate in North and South America, Australasia, the Mediterranean, and throughout greater Europe. New markets are also coming to the fore, with interest from Asia in particular.
Incat’s international accolades
• 2001 Lloyd’s List Cruise & Ferry Awards: most significant newbuild – ferry; awarded for the vessel which made the most significant impact on the industry as a whole. Winner: Evolution 10-class, built by Incat Tasmania and owned by Fred Olsen, Canary Islands, Spain.
• 2001 Lloyd’s List Cruise & Ferry Awards: best technical development award for the most significant technical contribution to a cruise vessel, ferry or fast ferry. Winner: retractable T-foil produced jointly by Incat Tasmania and Maritime Dynamics Inc, USA.
• winner of the Hales Trophy three times within a decade
• 1996 Business Europe Review Award for the best Australian business achievement in Europe
• 1996 Australian British Chamber of Commerce, federal winner Australian British Export Award
• development of wave-piercing catamaran
• development of first high speed car ferry
• pioneer of the modern aluminium shipbuilding industry
• builder of K-class catamarans; fastest diesel catamarans in the world