Feature: Rigdon's on the Point

Monday, January 10, 2005
A recent visit to New Orleans afforded MR a chat with Larry Rigdon, a man who has stirred controversy and heated debate among offshore vessel providers, while steadfastly building what is far from the largest but arguably the finest fleet of boats serving the offshore market. – by Greg Trauthwein

Politics, Money & Competition: By all accounts, Larry Rigdon has had an interesting run through his mid-50s. While thoughts of the majority of men his age are turning to 401K values and retirement, Rigdon decided to design and build a fleet of ten 210- x 54- x 19-ft. diesel-electric platform supply vessels, vessels designed to offer the offshore market an unprecedented level of performance via an adherence to top technical specification. At the same time his alliance with a French organization to help finance the construction endeavor brought critics – including former colleagues and friends – out of the woodwork in an attempt to ground the project before it started. On the morning following the christening of Iberville – the fifth vessel in the 10 vessel fleet – a relaxed and seemingly satisfied Larry Rigdon shared with Maritime Reporter his thoughts on the past, present and future of the offshore boat business and Rigdon Marine’s place in it.

Established in November, 2002, Rigdon Marine was designed to create a technological revolution in the offshore marine services industry with its design of the GPA 640 Platform Supply Vessels (PSV). Designed by Guido Perla and Associates, and built at Bender Shipyard in Mobile, Ala., these supply boats are designed to effectively reinvent the way the marine offshore industry does business.

While it is impossible to focus on just one aspect of the vessel as the most attractive, Rigdon concedes that the fleet’s Dynamic Positioning capability – to the class 2 (DP-2) standard – is the cornerstone of the vessel’s capability, and the driving reason for selecting the diesel/electric propulsion solution, which he reckons otherwise is not a cost-effective choice.

Prior to starting his own company, Rigdon served for two major international offshore service companies, including his stint at Tidewater where he lost in his bid to become the company’s president and CEO to Dean E. Taylor.

“I was competing with Dean Taylor for the head of Tidewater,” Rigdon said. “He got the job and he didn’t want me to stay, which is understandable.”

During his tenure, Rigdon felt these companies were not reacting quickly enough to adapt to fast paced business environment of the offshore energy and oil industry. Specifically, he felt the fleet renewal programs were not conducted effectively, with ordering sporadic versus a continual, reasoned approach with an eye at continually updating a fleet’s capabilities with the best technologies available.

Following a self-admitted short retirement, Rigdon was anxious to return to the business that had been his life’s work for the previous three decades. Putting his money as well as that of a corporate investor from France at stake, Rigdon set out to design and build a fleet of vessels that “would make a realistic speed at full load. These vessels deliver a true 13-knot speed at full load line.” This story is more than of a man, his boats, and a business, however, as once Rigdon’s plans to build were unveiled he as assailed with an accusations avalanche from competitors and a noted politician, who generally characterized Rigdon’s financing plans as outside of the rules, namely the Jones Act and the Foreign Lease Finance law.

“Frankly,” Rigdon conceded, “the attitude and response surprised me, especially considering came from colleagues and friends.”

Claims and counterclaims notwithstanding, fast-forward to December 2004 and the result of the row is plain to see with the delivery of the fifth Rigdon vessel. Ironically, when the plan to build a fleet and a company bearing his name was hatched he feared that he might have started too late. But the notorious cycles of the offshore business played in Rigdon’s favor. “As it turns out, though, it was perfect (timing),” he said. He noted that he started in the offshore business during the last big boom, and that the huge building splurge of the late 1970s and early 1980s is just now ending. There is still an abundance of 20 years and older vessels working, and Ridgon figures the market is still evaluating how to proceed, either by dumping money into older tonnage or investing in modern vessels and technologies.

Rigdon’s took the Guido Perla and Associates design of a diesel-electric PSV with DP-2 certification and a streamlined hull for fuel efficiency, able to produce a top speed of 13 knots fully loaded and 15 knots in light conditions, and shopped it to shipyards, with Bender Shipbuilding of Mobile, Ala., winning the contract. As for the future, Rigdon envisions additional consolidation, but not necessarily in the form of complete corporate takeovers. He believes there will be more loose affiliations between companies in an effort to share costs, and while he admits his company is engaged in conversations along these lines, he was not ready to share details.

To build and grow the business, Rigdon has invested in people as well as boats, hand selecting his key executive staff, which consists mainly of young, very technically competent people, to build a solid foundation for the company’s growth and long-term future. Among the recent new hires are James (Jay) A. Harkness as Vice President and CFO; Richard M. Currence, Vice President, Operations; and Thomas Sweeney as Marine Superintendent.

Harkness is responsible for the financial management of the company, including fiscal controls, insurance placement and claims management and financial reporting. Mr. Harkness has been involved in the marine services industry for over fourteen years, and spent the last seven, prior to joining Rigdon Maine, as the Financial Controller for Europe and Africa for a major offshore energy support company. As Vice President, Operations, Mr. Currence is responsible for the company's vessel operations, vessel construction, conversions, repair and maintenance, purchasing, and sub-contract management. He has more than 14 years of experience in the offshore marine services, offshore drilling, and shipbuilding industries.

Sweeney, along with Ken Dawson, will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of Rigdon Marine’s vessels and crews, tasked to ensure crew safety, vessel staffing schedules, operational performance, in-field customer service, environmental responsibility, ship inspections, ship-to-shore communications, and safety meetings.

The GPA 640

The GPA 640 Platform Offshore Supply boats are 210 x 54 x 19-ft. diesel-electric PSVs with a dynamic positioning class 2 (DP-2) certification and a modern streamline hull designed for fuel efficiency with top speeds of 13 knots fully loaded and 15 knots in light conditions.

The Guido Perla and Associates designed (GPA 640) vessels are equipped with two stern-mounted Steerprop SP 20 azimuthing Z-drive units that are driven by two Alconza 2,100-hp variable-frequency AC electric motors, which provide the main propulsion. A further enhancement to the diesel- electric drives is the technologically advanced dynamic positioning system and vessel management system from Alstom Power Conversion that provides the total system redundancy required for the DP-2 certification.

The cargo capacity is increased due to the space saving diesel-electric engine room which hosts two 1,825kw (2,500 hp) generators driven by Cummins QSK 60 engines and a third 910kw (1,200 hp) generator driven by a Cummins KTA 38 engine. The fuel burn of the system has been rated at 230 gph at 13 knots when fully loaded, and only 88 gph at 10 knots.

The vessels can carry 7,133 cu. ft. of bulk material and 5,100 barrels of liquid mud in self-cleaning oval tanks. The vessels' two Mission Magnum 5-in. x 4-in. x 14-ft. pumps deliver mud to a height of 196 ft. above water. The two 80-PSI air compressors can also deliver 50 metric tons of dry cement or barite per hour to the same height.


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