A Whirlwind Tour Down Under
Sailors bound westward for Australia will find awaiting them not only lavish cruising grounds but also a teeming marine industry. For the rest of us, Aussie exporters are increasingly sending their wares our way. "Special Report" from our December 2011 issue.
Should you ever get asked to have a glass of wine, a bite to eat, and a look around Australia, I’d advise you to accept, as the first two should prove delicious and the latter quite interesting. Earlier this year, AIMEX, the Australian International Marine Export Group, hosted a tour for marine editors so we could get a look at the industry Down Under. Our travels began in Brisbane, where we spent two days tooling about the Gold Coast in an assortment of boats. From there, it was off to Sydney and then on to Melbourne before we wrapped things up with a two-day catamaran jaunt through the Whitsundays.
What was most striking, I thought, was the passion we found along these eastern and southern coastal locales for anything relating to the water, be it sailing, powerboating, surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, parasailing—you name it. What follows is a notebook recounting our travels, presented roughly in the order in which they unfolded.
A Long Ways Away
For visitors coming from the United States, there’s truly no easy way to get to Australia, which is worth considering when you think about what’s involved in exporting a sailboat or gear to the States or Europe: One literally travels to the other side of the world. Boats must be either sailed on their own bottoms or sent by ship, which in either case adds considerably to the cost. Gear manufacturers, such as Ronstan, have things a bit easier because airfreight is an option for them, but still they face supply and manufacturing costs that others elsewhere in the world might avoid. All Australian manufacturers in recent times, meanwhile, face a common challenge in that a high Aussie dollar compared to a low U.S. dollar has made exchange rates relatively unattractive. The fact that many do continue to compete for customers in North America indicates that to keep in the game, they’ve had to be innovative in their product development and efficient in their methods of production.
Cams for cam cleats (right) are molded at Ronstan.
Lightwave Yachts and the Marine Precinct
Our first visit after landing in Brisbane took us to Morton Bay, where we spent the afternoon aboard a Lightwave 38 catamaran. Rigged for charter, the boat proved to be a nimble sailer as we tacked and reached, often at seven knots or better in light winds, across the protected inshore waters. Morton Bay is a well-traveled body of water and part of an expansive and popular cruising ground that stretches north along the coast.
The next day, we returned to Lightwave and this time met Roger Overell, the founder and managing director of the company. Relatively unknown in the United States, where only one boat has been imported during the last 15 years, Lightwaves seemed to be common sights in Australia. At the time of our visit, Roger had just launched his 74th catamaran. The line includes 38- and 45-foot sailing cats, a 46-foot powercat, and a 47-foot motorsailer.
We headed out on one of the 45s and set sails in the Broadwater region, a waterway whose name we found quite deceiving. “Thinwater” might be more appropriate. The area consists of a number of channels that cut through large areas of shallows, all tucked behind a row of barrier islands. One must pay close attention to navigation buoys to stay out of trouble here. Though houses lined the mainland shores, lush islands were everywhere, providing what looked to be many fine anchorages.
This Lightwave 45 catamaran features sleek lines and comes with a hot tub molded into the foredeck.
Lightwave, Roger said, has 25 employees and a plant in the Gold Coast Marine Precinct, where it built eight boats in 2010; the company was to launch 11 this year. As a hedge against slow times in the boat business, Lightwave also builds fiberglass septic tanks for a Japanese construction-supply company.
The day also included a tour of the Gold Coast City Marina, the anchor business in a nearly 700-acre marine manufacturing district located on the Coomera River, which provides nearby access to the Pacific Ocean. The marina itself has 200 berths and is surrounded by some 60 other facilities, ranging from small manufacturing and repair lofts to plants housing the likes of Riviera, Maritimo, Perry Catamarans, and Mercury Marine.
Said managing director Jeff Leigh-Smith, “At the end of the day, it’s really a shopping center for boat maintenance.”
Plans call for the precinct eventually to have berths for 1,000 boats as well as superyacht facilities. Precinct executives noted that 10 percent of the world’s superyachts make it across the Pacific, and the goal is to attract more than the current 2 percent or so that stop in the region for visits and repairs.