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.
An Aquatic Playland
On a Saturday, we found ourselves back at Broadwater, with hoards of sail and powerboats seemingly everywhere: Owners were enjoying the sunshine and blue skies that bless Queensland 90 percent of the time. We spent the morning screaming up and down the Gold Coast’s offshore waters on big Riviera and Maritimo powerboats. OK, I’ll admit that this sailor found these sedans and cruisers to be a blast to drive. I’m not sure which dial on the instrument panel was more intriguing, the knotmeter or the gauge showing how much fuel we consumed each hour.
At lunch, we rafted up in a cove, surrounded by anchored sailboats, jet-skis, ski boats, and people all along the shore fishing, swimming, and enjoying a day off at the beach. I have no documentation to prove this, but I’d wager that boating ranks high as a national pastime.
A worker at EMP, a composite design and manufacturing shop, monitors the flow of resin during the layup process. The company makes components for a wide range of products.
A View of the Opera House
Sunday found us in Sydney, where we began our tour of the famous harbor aboard a Stebercraft workboat built by Steber International, a 65-year-old boatbuilder that began working in fiberglass in 1959. The company’s boats are popular with fishermen and law-enforcement agencies, with several models in production.
More to my liking, the Stebercraft ferried us to an anchored Seawind 1160 catamaran. It was a hot, humid morning, and just as we stepped aboard the sailboat, the skies darkened, the wind went from a gentle breeze to a noteworthy blow in minutes, and the mercury plunged 20 degrees in a snap of one’s fingers. Though we hadn’t come looking for one, we saw first hand one of the famed Aussie southerly busters, the term that locals use for the fronts that pass along the coast. By the time reefed sails were set and the anchor was up, the wind had the harbor whipped to a froth of whitecaps. We flew past the Opera House on our harbor tour, during which we clocked a gust of about 40 knots across the deck. Around us, crews scrambled to shorten sails, but an impressive number of locals seemed to take it all in stride and remained out on the water.
Our stopover in Sydney included a visit to Sydney City Marine, a full-service superyacht marina that’s being developed in the heart of the city, as well as a look at the site where Seawind Catamarans plans to build a new service facility along 300 feet of city shoreline. The marina will include 18 multihull berths, refit and charter services, a café, a slipway, a commissioning facility, and a showroom.
That night in Sydney’s Chinatown, we watched the Chinese New Year parade, a festive procession that wove its way along pedestrian-lined streets. The selection of restaurants was staggering.
The Gear Guys
During our factory visits and at three evening events held at Sanctuary Cove, in Queensland; Sydney City Marine; and the Sandringham Yacht Club, in Victoria, we met the representatives of scores of small marine-related companies, which, taken together, constitute a vibrant home-grown industry that’s innovative in finding ways to sell products and services beyond the nation’s watery borders.
Aqualuma Marine Lighting is one such company that comes quickly to mind. Brothers Carl and Grant Amor, both with backgrounds in the automobile business, were restoring a boat when they discovered that they couldn’t find light fixtures to suit their fancy. From that somewhat vexing dilemma sprang a company that’s today well represented at boat shows around the world, where it sells a complete line of interior, deck, and through-hull L.E.D. lights. The brothers picked us up at our hotel in Sanctuary Cove one evening in a pair of very classic cars and took us to Carl’s nearby house (Grant lives just across the street) for an authentic and delicious Aussie barbecue. There were no shrimp.
We visited Aeronaut Automation, a company that few may have heard of but one that many of us can thank for the sails that power our boats. The company produces automated cutters and the software that drives them, and its client roster includes North, Quantum, Ullman, Sobstad, UK-Halsey, and Doyle. Aeronaut Automation’s machinery is used to build nearly all the string and laminate sails produced worldwide, company representatives said.
A much more common name in American markets is Ronstan, whose factory in Braeside was the largest manufacturing plant we visited. In fact, the company is the largest maker of marine fittings in the country, and its line of products—rigging, blocks, cams, clothing, wire fittings—can be found on boats ranging in size from dinghies right on up to 100-footers.
The company’s expanding product line now includes drum furlers, and just this fall, Ronstan introduced its recently acquired Andersen winches to North America. Ronstan is also a diversified company, manufacturing a line of architectural rigging. Its boating products are found in most U.S. marine stores, and the company maintains offices Stateside as well.
Ronstan was established in Melbourne in 1953 by dinghy sailors Ron Allatt and Stan Le Nepveu. Since 1999, it’s been owned by its management team, most of whom carry on that tradition of sailors building gear for sailors. Managing director Alistair Murray—currently AIMEX president—gave us a tour of the manufacturing plant, and he proved during lunch and later at a networking event to be an able spokesman on behalf of the Australian marine industry at large.
Another name you might recognize from American boat shows is Barz Optics. Company founder Kevin Barz is a former surfing champ who developed a line of specialty sport sunglasses for people working and playing on the water. Being a fellow, myself, who needs reading glasses to see chart and chart-plotter details, I can attest to the quality of his line of polarized bifocals.
Some of the coolest products we found in our travels came from a company called Sealite, which designs and manufactures intelligent aids to navigation for ships and airplanes. Its rotomolded navigation buoys use L.E.D.s and specially designed lenses for low-power consumption, and the buoys can be controlled remotely to adjust, say, the light’s period. As leading lights, they can be set, as they are when used for airport landing lights, to pulsate and guide a ship down a channel at night. They’re also used by the military in cases in which, perhaps, a darkened harbor might provide a tactical advantage at one time, while at others, the buoys must be lit for ship traffic.