What is it Like to Boat Through a Wind Farm?

Test-driving Ørsted’s Block Island Wind Revolution video simulator.

“You can just step out of the room if you start to feel sick. It happens sometimes,” Brian Holden said. That’s something to think about when experiencing a 180° video simulator of an 80’ trawler navigating through 100 wind turbines in a 12’ following sea. With everything seeming to move on deck you can’t help but lean to port when the boat heels, then ducking a bit when a wave explodes over the bow rail and salts the windshields.

Holden is Chairman and President of the US Maritime Resource Center in Middletown and has worked closely with Ørsted, a Danish energy corporation that negotiated offshore lease agreements in several locations from Virginia to Massachusetts, in developing interactive software to show potential conditions for mariners and anglers. This simulator focuses on their lease east of Block Island, named cleverly enough, Revolution Wind. With controls designed for a 34’ Contender-style center console and an 80’ commercial dragger, you stand at the helm with full electronics and stern screens showing outboards, net drum, and wake. Every detail, from turbine heights, paint schemes, Coast Guard mandated lighting and aerial lighting have been coded into the software. It is nothing shy of fantastic.

To be constructed 15 miles south of the RI mainland, 11-megawatt turbines will be positioned in a north/south, east/west configuration with approximately three-quarters of a mile between them on the diagonal. At peak performance, that equates to approximately 400 megawatts of power to Rhode Island and 304 megawatts to Connecticut. The Coast Guard considers them aids to navigation with no security zone so fishermen will continue to enjoy access to everything in the farm with the exception of tying up to them.

Gripping the ship’s wheel, surrounded by controls and screens, you absorb redundant sweeping radar arms marking a grid of dots where turbines will be positioned, chart plotters with electronic Coast Guard charts tracking position while overhead, rudder angle, magnetic and gyrocompass headings, sea state, winds and ship speed are clearly displayed to keep you on course.

As natural conditions will change, Holden can adjust seas, winds, skies, stars, fog, and other inevitable environmentals from down the hall. One captain wanted to see typical summer afternoon seas so within a few moments, Holden had cranked up a southwest breeze and set the ship for a course of 220°. The hull rose and fell as seas increased. Her stern shifted, reacting to a pushing sea. As Paul Eidman turned the chrome wheel to port, the bow followed while watchers behind him leaned to starboard, in unison. It’s easy to lose your footing in a following sea.

The simulator affords an amazing view of blades turning slowly on a bluebird day, which, considering their location so far from shore, will be a view for a small number of ships. We saw them at night, with stars and constellations above, a classic juxtaposition of steel and concrete blinking below the heavens, miles from land. And we saw them in a hard breeze with seas to challenge good captains with the occasional Navy destroyer steaming right for your bow. Holden clearly gets a kick out of sending along unexpected vessels to test your reaction time in a sea of turbines.

“We are greatly influenced by the information we get from the commercial fishing industry,” Ørsted’s Fisheries Relations Manager Ross Pearsall said. Ørsted’s simulator helps not only with navigating but understanding how one hundred offshore turbines might affect recreational fishing. Considering the risk of large ships trafficking through and hitting a turbine, a comment was made that if you can’t manage a ship safely through a one-mile wide gap, you should take up golf. It might not be quite so easy. We did not deploy a bag behind the trawler to experience risks association with tons of net, chains, wire, doors and fish affecting travel or any incidence of gear fetching up on stanchions or seafloor aggregate which could turn a ship quickly, compounded by sea conditions. Commercial and recreational industry members have been invited to use and should continue to experience the simulator.

One takeaway was the importance of always having someone on watch, whether running at full RPM’s on your way to a secret spot or steaming at eight knots through the night. Accidents involving ship strikes and turbines are statistically rare. In this age of screens and social media, will a charter boat captain be posting to his favorite site to attract more sports instead of watching his distance to a turbine? It could happen. One hundred is a lot of structure to avoid.

Those turbines just might also be helping to build a Mahi factory. All that structure, with anticipated commensal growth sloughing off over time to resettle on the bottom, which may enjoy regeneration with a reduction in commercial dragging, might prove to be a boom for anglers. Will cod and haddock move in? Will turbines push commercial boats to traditional recreationally-fished waters? Will some positive growth between turbines over a few years bring back commercial draggers looking for fish or scallops then deter the recreational crowd? These are just some of the unknowns in what we now call energy zones. What is known is that wind farms have tremendous momentum right now, with calls for increased green energy production and weaning off a fossil fuel siphon.

“The goal is to get as many people through this as we can,” Ørsted’s RI/MA Fisheries Liaison Chris Sarro offered. The simulator is available to groups who might find themselves in the deep water so if you have a small group of boaters or fishermen who would like to experience the simulator, contact Ross Pearsall, at ROSPE@orsted.com. Wherever you stand or lean on the ideas of offshore wind farms, Ørsted’s simulator affords a valuable opportunity to navigate through and perhaps appreciate how our world is changing. You might want pack a few Dramamine for the ride.

Learn more at us.orsted.com

2 on “What is it Like to Boat Through a Wind Farm?

  1. Roman

    Just wondering why it doesn’t show the entire picture? These are fishing hotspots like on Coxes Ledge. Notice you don’t see recreational or commercial fishing boats? Where is the lobster gear? They say that these windmills are fishing hotspots but it doesn’t show that. You would have to maneuver around them as well. Or did they destroy the fishing spot. Don’t be fooled by the crap they are telling you. They don’t care about the recreational angler. The input is coming from the commercial guys. What happens when you are anchored near one and a commercial dragged comes along? Do we have to move or do they have to alter their path? Water pollution is what it is.

  2. MSL

    We need electricity. I am hopeful offshore or mountain turbines can replace hydro-dams in New England. This is a new venture, but it feels better than our hydro power option. We need our herring runs to improve.

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