[caption id="attachment_224611" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A screen that wraps around a model of a ship shows a simulation of navigating the Atlantic Ocean with a wind turbines. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
BALTIMORE — With a click, a Coast Guard cutter can be navigating around the field of wind turbines on a calm, sunny day. With another click, those skies can turn stormy and the waters can turn choppy, tossing the vessel while still sailing between the towering steel structures.With the help of a simulator installed through a partnership with Ørstedand the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies (MITAGS), boat pilots — from those sailing small fishing trawlers to 200-foot barges — can train ahead of the upcoming installation of the Skipjack wind farm 17 miles off the coast of Bethany Beach.“What we see is a lot of people come in with preconceived notions. You get some really strange ones, but there’s also well-founded concerns because there’s nothing really to ground our reality here in the United States,” Ørsted Northeast Marine Affairs Manager John Mansolillo said. “I think it is really important for people to feel that they're gonna be able to make good risk-based decisions as they navigate these waters.”Based in Linthicum Heights, Md., MITAGS is a nonprofit maritime training center that offers training for masters, mates and pilots primarily in the Delmarva region. With the highest technology available, the institute offers courses to marine merchants to continue their education in navigation, which include virtual simulators. In addition, MITAGS also runs an international safety program for pilots of oil tankers in partnership with Croatia, the Philippines, India and Australia.MIGTAGS attracts members of the Coast Guard, fishing trawlers and other merchants sometimes as far north as the C&D Canal to the Chesapeake Bay. It can run simulation exercises for the Port of Baltimore, the Port of Miami or 100 other locations and 300 other types of vessels.
[caption id="attachment_224612" align="alignleft" width="300"] Ørsted Northeast Marine Affairs Manager John Mansolillo explains how the training facility works at MITAGS. The simulator includes screens and dradar as well as a steering wheel and a throttle. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABE;LING[/caption]
Back in 2020, MITGAS partnered with Ørsted to create a unique virtual simulator that allows mariners to experience piloting through a commercial-scale wind farm. Ørsted officials provided the nonprofit with the specs of its turbines, the grid pattern of how they would be built, roughly between three-quarters to a mile apart.In the long run, the simulator is expected to save a significant amount of money in training. Once the turbines are in the water, Ørsted will also use the simulator to train local transfer crew vessels and other service operator workforces to train for approaches and departures from the wind farms, as well as maneuvering around fishing trawlers with nets out.“Our goal is to make a safer life at sea for everyone, and this simulation will help us give mariners the opportunity to prepare,” said Catherine Gianello, NSAP manager and lead simulator operator for MITAGS. “When you have a chance to interact with something like this, you’re able to make a game plan on how to go through the channel and how much wiggle room you really have. It’s not just about the view, it’s about how a mariner looks at it and using your tools to support the wind farms.”Trainees would stand in a room designed to look like a ship’s bridge, complete with radar screens and a window. Outside the window plays a video screen that wraps around the ship’s bow. MITAGS trainers can change the time of the day, weather conditions, and the size of the boat. They can even add other vessels out on the water.Right now, Ørsted has been focused on providing watermen and other stakeholders an answer for long-lingering questions. The Skipjack project was proposed back in 2017, and many concerns about visibility, lighting patterns and size have emerged ever since. The project includes General Electric Haliade-X 12 turbines, the largest on the market to date and has been awarded a second lease off the border of Fenwick Island and Ocean City, Md.So the Danish green energy company has invited commercial mariners, members of the American Pilots Association as well as policymakers to test it out. A quick survey by the end of the simulator shows that most of the questions on space between the turbines, lights and navigation have been addressed.“Generally, the takeaway is that people feel like they have more education than they've been self-educated. I think that’s important, whatever how you feel in this process,” Mansolillo said.