Maritime Tales: A Company History Series | Episode 6

Words by Dave McMillan, former CEO of Vard Marine Inc. (1989-2020)

Render of High Speed Monohull for Roadships Australia
High Speed Monohull for Roadships Australia

The High Speed Monohull (HSM) Focused Technology Development Project was one of the Maritech projects secured by the Annapolis office from the US government.  The design for the HSM was based on the extensive model testing and design work completed in Finland for Short Sea Shipping research in Europe carried out by Kai Levander’s design office at Kvaerner Masa Yards Technology (KMYT).  In partnership with KMYT, we were able to develop the design of a 40 knot+ monohull vessel for Transatlantic crossing focused on carrying time sensitive cargo.  We were in discussions with major clients about this concept including Fedex and Volvo.  The plan from Volvo was for a customer to be able to order a vehicle in North America and have it delivered to the dealer from the factory in Sweden within 14 days.  This required a fast 5-day transit from Sweden to Baltimore at approximately 35-40 knots.  Discussions with Fedex were on a similar vein to move parcels quickly across the Atlantic by sea rather than air.

This project ran for several years (2002 – 2006) and eventually was moved forward the most by Roadships Australia. Roadships wanted to move cargo from Sydney to Perth in 2.5 days (i.e. leave Sydney on Friday evening and be in Perth by Monday morning).  The traditional method of road or rail transportation was effective on this schedule but resulted in significant costs to maintain the road and railway infrastructure.

Over time, additional studies were also performed on short sea shipping applications where high speed overnight or 24-hour turnaround was an attractive option to the heavily congested road corridors on the East and West Coast of the US.  We had initially considered trimaran designs as the best alternative from our work with the Centre for the Commercial Deployment of Transportation Technologies (CCDoTT), but extensive cost modelling showed that a 40 knot monohull vessel using diesel propulsion offered lower freight rates i.e. dollars/ton/mile compared to road and rail, and would be much more reliable due to the lack of gridlock around major city hubs.  Unfortunately, the trucking industry had great lobbying power and any financial support to progress shore sea shipping was effectively blocked.