INNOVATING TO SURVIVE
During the mid
1960’s, we won a contract to build 11 Landing Craft for the Australian
LCM8 Landing Craft built for
Production Line – LCM8’s – 1964
the production of the landing craft, designing special jigs to achieve
serious production gains. We built the first vessel in 9 months and one
thereafter every 5 weeks. We built them using the same team which had
just finished building the roof structure for the Cairns Bulk Sugar
was successful. We delivered on time, within budget and defect free.
It was a financial success and paved the way for our shipbuilding.
later, we built our first Roll On Roll Off Vessel to a design provided
by Riley, Hercus and Boulton at a time when the trio were together.
MV “Straitsman” – RORO Vessel
launched 1971 - transported across the mud flats on a
purpose built 20 foot gauge rail.
MV“Straitsman” still in
As our ships
became larger, so did the effort to launch. In 1975, we began the
transfer of our works to be close to our slipway, although it still
involved a road crossing.
I think I am
the only person in Australia who has built a fully riveted ship (well
almost), a 6000 tonne tin dredge barge erected 100 miles west of
Cairns. It was all rivetted to meet the requirements of the Scottish
designers. This was an experience. I salute those early shipbuilders.
Garnet Tin Dredge – fully rivetted barge
“The best results come from a
combination of practical
experience and theoretical knowledge.”
My patrol boat
days were best. Taking on the contract as a 35 year old was a real
adventure. We could not raise the funds to guarantee the down payment
but contact with Sir John Bjelke Petersen soon fixed that – it meant work
for Queensland. I heard the expression first hand “Don’t you worry
Don Fry signing Fremantle
Patrol Boat Contract (1977)
Fremantle Class Patrol Boats on Sea Trials
The design was
from Brooke Marine in the UK. The detail was provided in 1/10 scale
transparent drawings arranged for overhead projection onto the plate or
by a special cutting machine which traced the 1/10 scale drawings. The
cut components were not accurate and construction time was excessive.
I took the
plunge to install a numerical control plate cutting machine. The
technology was in its infancy. The only unit in Australia was a
demonstration model held by CIG which I saw at a machine tool exhibition
in Melbourne. I placed an order at the exhibition. The CIG Sales
Engineer at the time was the infamous Peter Farley, later to found
Farley Cutting Machines. The machine was one thing but how to change the
1/10 drawings to a punched paper tape format was a challenge.
Fremantle Class Patrol Boats in NQEA workshops
required relofting the lines. By this time in my life I realized
obtaining permission from Navy for this would be impossible but it had
to be done so I just did it. I located a company in Norway which could
refair the lines by computational means and generate the NC data. I
recall having to take the original lines plan from Brooke Marine
handcuffed to their chief loftsman. They were paranoid about losing
their prize lines.
We halved the
assembly time and along with the benefit of using the first Australian
developed and built NC pipe bending machine (a tribute to Robert
Pongrass of Pongrass Industries in Sydney), the project became very
building Seajet, many of our earlier fast ferries were designed by Phil
Hercus of Incat Designs, Sydney, and many of his wavepiercer designs
were built by my company.
“Prince of Venice” – Incat
Operation from Venice to Lubliana
Jet Cats on Sydney Harbour
built by NQEA
It was this
type of enterprise which paved the way for the Australian high speed
shipbuilding industry for which Australia is a world leader.
specialised more recently with low wash ferries.
show Rivercats® operating on Sydney Harbour, designed by Grahame Parker
of Sydney, followed by our own design based on an extensive research
One of six Rivercats® on Sydney
Harbour – built in Cairns
1/5 Scale Radio Controlled Models on
Lake Barrine, North Queensland
Tests on Seajet Model – SSPA, Sweden
Our low wash
ferries now operate at 25 – 30 knots in Sydney, Rotterdam, Bora Bora and
on the Thames in London. They are state of the art and take pride of
place amongst the ferries plying the Thames.
200 passengers, 30 knots on
Thames River, London
120 passengers, 25 knots with
negligible wash on the
Thames River, London
But then our
dredge “Brisbane” was another Australian first using a revolutionary
fluidised cargo concept which allowed the dredged material be pumped
ashore, via a central weir. This arrangement significantly increased
dredging and reclamation efficiency.
Ocean going Dredge “Brisbane”
4,000 tonne deadweight
To show my
confidence and win the contract, I agreed to fund the whole design and
construction and be paid in full once it operated successfully,
including the auto dredge and piloting functions.
won the Queensland Engineers Australia, Engineering Excellence Award –
RWH Hawken Award - in 2001. We were paid.
story reminds me of another adventure where I teamed with Stuart
Ballantyne to build his design of 3,000 tonne Ore Carrier and NQEA
designed and built the automatic filling and discharge system. Again
the client was nervous about my invention which was a travelling gantry
mounted bucket wheel reclaimer with top mounted travelling plough to
fill the hopper from an overhead conveyor fed from the land based
When asked for
more detail before contract signing, I advised most of the detail was
still in my head. “What happens if you die after we give you the
contract?” I quickly provided a written statement which declared I
would live for at least the next eight weeks and complete the design.
We signed immediately. Like the dredge, I funded the build with our
Bank’s support, until proven. The “Aburri” has since transferred 3.875
million tonnes of lead zinc ore since it was built.
vessels were fitted with automatic docking devices which were developed
in model form at my Malanda farm.
Testing of docking device
AutoDock with auto retract and
used on the QCL barge, “John Oxley”. This device enabled
reduced manning levels from 23 to 4.
of this was used on the Danish Ferries which enable turn around times of
8 minutes be achieved with 450 passengers and 120 cars unloading and
“If you have an idea and you
believe it is possible, then do it.”
development of the semi swath hull form incorporated in the Seajet
series of ferry coupled with the use of marinised gas turbines each
delivering 14 mW driving waterjet which you could crawl through, rates
high on my excitement list.
We were to
have built these vessels in Australia but for complex reasons, I
licensed the Danish company, Danyard, to build them. The builder was
nervous about warranting the speed so I offered to forfeit the whole
licence fee in the event the ferry failed to reach 42 knots in the
specified Sea State.
imagine my anxiety whilst standing on the bridge during trials.
Thankfully we reached 48 knots and 50 plus knots when light. The
seakeeping was excellent.
Our very first
catamaran, built from steel in 1976, incorporated a semi swath concept
forward by virtue of its extended bulbous bow. It provided excellent
seakeeping and is still in service operating to the reef from Cairns.
250 ton deadweight
Powered by 2 GE LM1600 gas
producing total of 28000 kW
4 KaMeWa water jets
Model of the Seajet Autodok System