How a simple, tough hard worker took on the world
Dutchman Kommer Damen, still in his twenties, has arrived in Bahrain. There’s a hot wind pushing the mercury above 40 degrees. It’s the early seventies, world oil demand is soaring and this is where the big dredging companies are turning their attention: Middle Eastern ports, infrastructure, trade, export. There’s work to be done and the owner of a small Dutch shipyard believes he has just the workboat to do it, the Damen Pushy Cat 42.
More than 40 years later, the Damen Pushy Cat 42 has certainly earned its place in shipbuilding’s ‘Hall of Fame’. In fact, thanks to the efforts of Dina Damen, Kommer Damen’s sister, and Josien Damen, his wife, Damen Shipyards Gorinchem has chronicled the development of the standard Pushy Cat among a huge collection of memorabilia and company treasures. There are a lot of big impressive ships in Damen’s history, but as Dina Damen explains, the story began with a simple, tough hardworking boat that took on the world.
“The vision that Kommer had more than 40 years ago with the Pushy Cat is still the foundation of the company today. That’s why I think this vessel is so important in our history. You see Damen’s core values developing in one small workboat.”
1969 – The Damen Standard
Kommer Damen is 24 years old and has started out with the small shipyard founded by his father and uncle in Hardinxveld in 1927. The yard’s eight employees refit existing flat-bottomed launches for the dredging industry’s huge Delta Works projects. But Kommer Damen believes series production for stock will deliver the quality and cost benefits that these customers require. After listening carefully to customer feedback, his vision for the Damen Pushy Cat 42 takes shape. The 12-metre multipurpose heavy duty design can operate in all weather conditions in harbours, estuaries, and unprotected coastal waters. It’s a tough and strong vessel, with a 2.5-tonne bollard pull and 240 horsepower engine, a lot of onboard power at that time. The design is arguably the first workboat to feature a push bow with rubber fender.
1971 – Building from stock
The Damen Pushy Cat 42 is an immediate success. Dredging companies are very interested, not just in the functionality of the design, but also in the short delivery times. That’s made possible by modular construction and building from stock. Right from the start, Damen outsources hull construction to Shipyard Van Der Giessen, which later became Damen Marine Components Hardinxveld-Giessendam.
Building from stock was a unique and daring strategy in the shipbuilding industry at the time and was only made possible by Damen’s strong relationship with its suppliers. There is no better example than Caterpillar, who became part of the Damen Standard. In fact, they are the Cat in Pushy Cat.
1974 – One Damen family
With its innovative production approach, Damen can finish a Pushy Cat every 5 days. Rising production leads to the opening of a new, larger yard in Gorinchem, and taking on more personnel. It quickly becomes clear how much Damen values its people. Working at the yard means becoming part of the Damen family in a highly motivated, dedicated atmosphere. Today, more than 40 years later, Damen still has employees who joined the company during this crucial early phase.
1976 – Exceeding customer expectations
Before long Pushy Cat workboats begin appearing all over the world, establishing the Damen brand for quality and reliability. Yet Kommer Damen is always looking for ways to reach technical perfection. Spending Friday afternoons talking to the dredging companies becomes a habit. Through this customer feedback, Damen develops the series with more models and functionality. Clients can choose from a large number of optional features, such as fire-fighting equipment or hydrographic survey gear. This sees the Pushy Cat grow from a dredge tender into other roles, such as mooring launch, offshore launch, crew tender and pilot boat.
1978 – Excellent service network
Kommer Damen’s persistence during his first trips to Bahrain has paid off. There are around 100 Damen Pushy Cat workboats operating in the Middle East alone. Customers have no time to wait for lengthy maintenance or repairs so Damen takes the first step outside the Netherlands with a Service Hub in Bahrain. Having the Damen technician arrive on site in Doha or as far as Jeddah within days offers an extraordinary level of customer service for the time. There is no 24/7 service line, not even a reliable telephone connection, so Damen’s team in Bahrain communicates with Gorinchem through the trusty Telex machine. The yard, of course, has no computer database, but every part of the vessel has been carefully documented and filed – from the length of a remote cable to the correct size gasket – with all the details of each component.
Starting with its Middle East service hub, Damen’s international expansion takes off on a seemingly unstoppable path to the global group we know today, a path that in many ways can be traced back to the extraordinary 40-year career of one rough, tough little workboat. Production of the standard Pushy Cat continued for several decades and is still the basis of many Damen products, including the Stan Tug range. But it’s not quite time to label the Pushy Cat a museum item yet – there are still vessels built in the seventies hard at work.