Good fortune on the horizon

By, John Maslin

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The launching this week of the biggest vessel Q-West Boat Builders has constructed has signalled the beginning of a boom year for the Wanganui company.

In the face of tough offshore competition, the Castlecliff boatyard continues to gather contracts and this year will be taking on more staff to fill the orders.

Managing director Myles Fothergill said the launch of the split hopper barge - now on its way to Auckland - kick-started a busy year.

At 40m long, 12m wide and 4m deep, it was too long for the company's bigger shed and too wide for the other shed, so was built in two halves.

Mr Fothergill said water depths in front of the Q-West slipway were too shallow for the launch, even for a barge drawing just 200mm, and some dredging had to be done.

"Not for the barge itself but for the tender vessels taking the barge from our slipway to the port basin," he said.

As that barge slips over the horizon, the ink has barely dried on another contract for Q-West, this one awarded by the Victorian state police in Australia and signed on Tuesday.

That contract is to build a 14.8m patrol boat that will police the Gippsland coast south of Melbourne.

"We've been working with the state authorities there for the past two years to win this one," Mr Fothergill told the Chronicle.

His company was up against 14 other boatyards in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore: "We've been quietly confident about Good fortune on boatbuilding horizon

getting that contract and it's a real coup for us.

"We'll be in the design phase next week and it will be another seven to eight weeks before we start cutting the aluminium for that vessel. It should be launched by the end of the year," he said.

Getting the contract and with other works under way or expected to arrive, meant the boat builder would be taking on more staff to handle the work guaranteed through this year at least.

"It's good work too because we've focused on getting good, solid contracts," Mr Fothergill said. "The margins in our industry are extremely competitive but we're winning contracts on our experience, our quality of workmanship and that's down to the outstanding team we've got here."

Work on hand included a 13m crew and supply vessel for an Australian gold mining company working in Papua New Guinea.

That vessel was about three months away from delivery.

"And we've got an intent from that company to buy a second vessel as well."

Winning that contract showed where Q-West stood in terms of aluminium boat-building, because the contract had attracted tenders from New Zealand and Australia as well as China and Vietnam.

"It says a lot when we can beat China and Vietnam, who run with extremely cheap labour costs.

"It all comes down to quality in the end," Mr Fothergill said.

Q-West has also signed a contract to provide an 18m motorised barge to be based in the Chatham Islands, as well as finalising contract details with a New Zealand port company to build an 18m pilot boat.

But he said markets remained tight and Whale Watch Kaikoura was indicative of that belt-tightening.

Q-West has built a number of boats for that firm but the impact of the Christchurch earthquakes and a drop in tourist numbers had seen Whale Watch carry out refits of its existing fleet rather than commit to building new boats.

"Our manager, Colin Mitchell, is in Kaikoura this week meeting with them about a refit of one of those boats.

"We did one last year and another is booked to come through here in May."

And he said there was other work the company was tendering for and should know whether it had been successful later this year.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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