Song of the South

Sensation’s “Aria”
Sensation’s Aria By Diane M. Byrne — November 2001

Song of the South
Forget Bali Ha'i--an American couple commissions a New Zealand yard for a yacht to let them enjoy some enchanted evenings.

 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Aria
• Part 2: Aria continued
• Aria Specs
• Aria Deck Plans
• Aria Photo Gallery

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• Sensation New Zealand

Forget Bali Ha'i--an American couple commissions a New Zealand yard for a yacht to let them enjoy some enchanted evenings.

Bob Milhous knows what he wants in a long-range cruiser. After all, this Florida resident has about 20 years' experience owning both sailing yachts and motoryachts from 60 to 123 feet, under the hulls of which he's put a good number of nautical miles. Milhous wants a boat built by committed, skilled craftsmen who work for a management team that strives to satisfy. Equally important, he wants the benefit of excellent communication no matter where he is in the world, and, given his and his wife Gail's passion for music, extensive home theater and entertainment systems throughout the boat.

While Ivan Erceg understands what owners like the Milhouses want in a boat, he knows what he wants in a boatyard. Three years ago Erceg became a full partner in Sensation New Zealand, the Auckland-based builder known for fine sailing yachts. At the time Sensation was finishing the 148-foot ketch Mari Chai III, which later that year broke the transatlantic record for sailboats between the southern tip of England and New York. As significant as that launch was, Erceg recognized the larger--and growing--market was motoryachts. Since his partnership deal included the opportunity to purchase the yard in full, he did soon after. He made significant investments in upgrading the factory, purchasing adjacent property, constructing two new boatbuilding bays, and quadrupling the staff (from 100 to more than 400) to redirect Sensation's efforts.

So it's fitting that Bob Milhous met Erceg in 1998, six weeks after the yard had begun a 156-foot, long-range motoryacht on spec. In a way, the two men probably felt that conveying their convictions to the other was like preaching to the choir, for after three or four weeks of negotiations, the spec project became the American couple's Aria. She also became a significant breakthrough in the yard's efforts to compete in the global motoryacht market.

Sensation, which opened its doors 20 years ago, had actually launched two previous motoryachts, a 54-footer in 1988 and a 126-footer in 1995. But the remaining two dozen vessels that it delivered in its history were all sailing craft. Where others might see this as a hindrance, however, Erceg sees a benefit. Pointing especially to the yard's work on Mari Chai III, he says, "I believe we have a unique philosophy in terms of how we approach our clients and our projects and the attention we give to building a vessel that is advanced for its time as well as exceeding the very high standards set by the international marketplace and ourselves. As a result, the expertise we have in the complex sailing-yacht area is a distinct advantage for us in that we can bring these learnings to the discipline of motoryacht construction."

Next page > Aria continued > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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