The number of river cruise passengers in Europe has increased 2.5-fold in the past ten years. About half of the 230 river cruise ships on the European rivers is younger than ten years old. One of the key players in this expansion has been Shipyard De Hoop, located in Lobith-Tolkamer, the Netherlands, and separated from Germany only by the Rhine.
The River Discovery II is the first of a series of three vessels De Hoop is building for Vantage Travel. The first two ships measure 135 metres, while the third is 110 metres, allowing access to smaller river such as the Moselle. Vantage Travel is not a new client for De Hoop. The ship owner took delivery of their first ship built by De Hoop in 2001, the Navigator. Their positive experiences led them back to Lobith for more ships. The company caters primarily to a North-American clientele, with a high degree of service and a large variety in cabin sizes. Initially, the plan was to also build a third 135 metre vessel for delivery in 2013, but this has been postponed for the time being.
The River Discovery II features a hydrodynamically efficient hull, based on the hull lines and construction of the S.S. Antoinette, for which a model testing programme was carried out in the towing tank. As a result, the ship can attain a service speed of 22 km/h with her two Caterpillar C32 ACERT main engines, rated at 746 kW, coupled to Veth rudder propellers with contra- rotating propellers. The thrusters are located in recesses, which allows operation with a draught as shallow as 1.45 metres, an important asset on European rivers where the water levels are often critical.
The bow thruster is driven directly by another C18 diesel engine from Caterpillar. A shaft generator is mounted between the diesel engine and the thruster, allowing the diesel to be used either for power generation (for a quieter aftship) or for manoeuvring. This solution allows for a complete shutdown of the aft engine room, provided one generator is enough, during night stays on the quayside. To save on electrical power, the entire ship has LED lighting. The emergency diesel generator, a 156 kVA C6.6 from Caterpillar is also housed in the bowthruster room. The bowthruster is a jet-type thruster from Veth with a rotating grid, allowing for thrust in every direction. During river trials, the River Discovery II could achieve a speed of ten km/h on the bowthruster alone, making it a very effective emergency propulsion system.
With a crew to guest ratio above 1/4, one of the highest in the industry, the River Discovery II has more crew cabins than usual. Extra crew cabins are located both forward and aft of the central part of the lower deck, which houses guest cabins, a fitness room and an internet café. An interesting evolution is the presence of eight single cabins on the lower deck. Occupying only 70% of a standard double cabin, this allows single travellers to book at more attractive rates than the standard double cabin rate. In accordance with the European regulations, a cabin for disabled passengers is also provided.
All cabins on the main and upper deck feature French balconies: a full height sliding window with a handrail for protection behind. On the upper deck, twelve suites offer additional seating space and a bath. The owner’s suite takes the space of two normal cabins and features a separate dressing area with vanity desk at the entrance.
Project manager Rick Tempelman explains: “To eliminate engine room noise from propagating into the salon above, the aft part of the superstructure is built as a separate box, mounted on vibration isolators from Rubber Design. By specifying more mounts, we could use a softer type, resulting in better performance.”
For the ceilings, De Hoop has used stretch ceilings for the first time. These consist of a canvas under tension, suspended only from the edges. The advantage is that this looks like a plastered ceiling, but can still be taken down easily if maintenance to the overhead systems is required. As the stretch ceilings do not constitute a fire boundary, this had to be compensated with B-15 wall extensions between every cabin and between the cabins and the corridor. Sprinkler heads are concealed behind a small plastic plate which automatically drops down when its wax- based attachment is subjected to heat.
The wet cells arrived as prefabricated units from Wetcab (Poland) with even the fancoil units for the airconditioning pre-attached and its plumbing in place. The electrical installation was done by Droste Electrotechniek, while Imtech took care of the HVAC and sprinkler systems.
All cabins have access to a complete entertainment system, including GPS tracking of the vessel, and free Wi-Fi can be enjoyed everywhere on board. An iPod/iPhone docking station is provided in every cabin. The internet connection can be established either through satellite receivers or through UMTS antennas.
For structural strength, river cruise ships are built to class societies’ standards for inland waterway vessels. River Discovery II is built under Bureau Veritas class. All other items, such as safety of passengers, pollution, navigation equipment, systems engineering etcetera, are covered by the European Directive 82/147/EEC for hotel passenger ships.
The compact engine room is located all the way in the aft, with exhausts exiting through the stern. Venturi nozzles give the exhaust gases an acceleration to avoid smells on the aft deck. Two main engines and two generators are all cooled with a LT circuit circulating through boxcoolers which are placed in the skeg. Using the ballast tanks, the vessel can be trimmed in such a way that the boxcoolers can be pulled out for cleaning without drydocking. Between the main engines is a diesel-fired boiler for the hotwater onboard, which is stored in four 500-liter insulated tanks in the aft.
Forward of the engine room is a technical space, the bulk of which is occupied by a Biocompact sewage treatment plant based on the bioreactor principle. A chiller unit, ballast pumps and the pumps for the firefighting and sprinkler system occupy the remainder of the space. While the engine room is protected with a gas fire extinguishing system (FM200), the accommodation has a traditional low-pressure wet sprinkler system.
The River Discovery II will be used on the entire length of the Rhine and Danube, from Amsterdam to the Black Sea. For a significant portion of the Main-Danube Canal, the air draught must be reduced to six metres to allow passage under bridges. It takes eight hours to fill the ballast tanks to achieve the required air draught. Even at the draught of 2.1 metres, the River Discovery II complies with all the damaged stability requirements. During the passage through the Main-Danube Canal, the upper deck will not be accessible for a long period. To create an open space during those times, the lounge on the aft upper deck has a roof section which can be opened by hydraulics. Furthermore, about half of the aft glass wall can be opened, to ensure an open-air experience. Alternatively, guests can use the terrace forward of the main lounge, which is surrounded by fixed glass walls to stop the strong headwinds.
A small tender boat for the crew – for example to set out mooring lines – is stored on the aft mooring deck on a cradle which can slide to the aft. The crane, mounted above the aft guest deck, can then pick the boat up and lower it into the water.
The River Discovery II is so quiet onboard that even the noise of water hitting the rubrail could be heard when the ship is in ballast mode. This problem was circumvented by giving the rubrail an inclined lower section. The rubrail has rubber sections in the areas prone to impact, such as the forward and aft corners, or the place where a bunker barge will come alongside for refuelling. For provisioning, two shell doors are provided on either side in the pantry above the galley. The galley, built by Metos (Amsterdam), is one large space with separate areas for dishwashing, cold food preparation and cooking. The crew onboard River Discovery II normally eats in the crew mess on the lower deck, except for the captain and the excursion tour directors, which join the passengers for meals. Hence the capacity of the restaurant, which at 182 seats is bigger than the maximum number of passengers (176).
While 2012 was a record year in the number of new river cruise vessels delivered, a slight decline is expected for 2013. However, with delivery times often around six months, anything can change. According to Fré Drenth, Shipyard De Hoop’s technical director, there are plenty of inquiries, but the biggest hurdle for ship owners is to secure financing for the construction of new ships. While the market in Europe may reach a plateau at some point, there is still very much growth potential in river cruising in Russia, China, Egypt and the United States.
In addition to the three ships for Vantage Travel, De Hoop is also building a river cruise vessel at its Foxhol shipyard for Lüftner Reisen. Traditionally, Shipyard De Hoop has always had a strong footing in both the rivercruise and the offshore shipbuilding. The 135 metre River Splendor will be launched this year, while the 110 metre River Venture will be ready for the 2013 season.