A team of engineers and naval architects was given the brief to create a large, fast, and stable catamaran to cruise the waters of Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River with minimal noise and emissions.
The result is 33.8-metre Spirit of the Wild, a commercial hybrid propulsion system equipped with 10V2000M72 MTU diesel engines, integrated with ABB Electric Motor E-Drives and Kohler generators. Her top speeds are 24 knots in diesel mode, and 27 knots in combined electric and diesel boost mode. There is also a quiet mode, running via one low-decibel generator. Here the company’s owner, and Group Chief Executive of RACT Ltd, Harvey Lennon, discusses the investment.
How would you describe the area Spirit of the Wild operates in, the UNESCO Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA)?
TWWHA is one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Areas in the world that meet seven of the 10 criteria required for listing. The area remains largely as it was millennia ago. Many of the trees are thousands of years old. To give you an idea of the scale of Macquarie Harbour, the mouth of the Gordon River is 35km from Strahan (our departure point).
Why did you find it important to have Spirit of the Wild designed specifically for her environment?
There are maximum speed and wake limits imposed on vessels plying the Gordon River to help to preserve it. Our previous vessel complied, but we thought we should do more than just comply. We wanted to deliver a vessel which used less fuel in the TWWHA and which operated more quietly, delivering an experience in keeping with the pristine environment. Tannin-like finishes ensure she almost vanishes on the river, and a unique hybrid-propulsion system allows quiet cruising on electric motors.
What are Spirit of the Wild’s other special features?
Apart from quiet cruising, the vessel has several features designed to enhance the experience, including expensive self-washing windows, a fit out including Tasmanian timber and plush leather reclining seats on the Premier Upper Deck. The food and beverage offering on the Premier Upper Deck features fresh Tasmanian produce. It’s been designed to complement and enhance the experience. The viewing deck offers 360-degree views of the surroundings. We have opted to deliver a superior guest experience rather than focus on volume: the new vessel has a capacity of 190 guests, and replaces one with a capacity of 212.
What was the process like to develop a hybrid system with low emissions and low noise?
Simon Currant, a doyen of the Tasmanian Tourism Industry, led the process for us, working with maritime engineers Incat Crowther to develop the concept. We awarded the build cohort to local ship builder Richardson Devine Marine. They couldn’t have been better to work with, helping to ensure we had a high-quality vessel in all respects.
Can you see low-impact hybrid technology being used on vessels designed specifically for other places in the world?
As with all new technologies, I expect it will continue to evolve. It has application in any river cruising aimed at an immersive nature experience that seeks to honour the values of the environment in which it operates.
What kind of feedback have you had from visitors so far?
Based on guest surveys to date, we’re seeing strong feedback relating to the new vessel. 95 percent of our respondents are rating their Spirit of the Wild experience as five out of five, and it’s encouraging to hear consistently positive feedback on the ‘quiet cruising’ experience we offer.