Aussie Rules — By Diane M. Byrne —
The Courage of His Convictions
|Greg Norman is sticking to his guns on “sparkies’” skills and owners’ responsibilities to get more involved in the yacht industry.|
Greg Norman does not mince words.
“It’s about bloody time,” he says emphatically, in the course of our discussion on how the MCA Code is affecting yacht building. “You’ve got to outweigh the cost with safety. I applaud it—it’s going to educate everybody in the industry that you have to maintain a certain level of safety.”
While the man who’s world-renowned for his golfing prowess has long been passionate about the boating lifestyle, few people—including me, until I spoke at length with him—realize he has more than just passing knowledge about yacht construction. A large part of Norman’s education came from commissioning a yacht with his wife Laura that presented a challenge to both the couple and to Oceanfast. The 228-foot Aussie Rules, a mothership that’s also a luxurious, self-sufficient floating home, represents both the largest yacht he’s ever owned and the largest project ever built by the Australian yard.
But most of all, the knowledge stems from his fervent belief that he, as owner, had to be personally involved in every aspect of her planning and engineering. “I’ve always been a hands-on guy,” he explains, “I want to know where my money is going.” This is a man who, despite participating in golf tournaments and engaging in other diverse business activities, spent months consulting the industry’s leading survey and design experts before taking a year to personally write out a set of specifications that were “so tight and so technically correct,” he says, that it “eliminated change orders” from both him and Oceanfast. As a result, he has high praise for the yard and more faith than ever in Australia’s “sparkies,” the name he gives to the yacht welders of his native Australia (“I am very patriotic,” he acknowledges). And he has more than just passing advice for anyone contracting a custom yacht.
The story begins at the 1999 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. Norman says he went there with the mission of making the step into new construction, having owned a Feadship, the ex-Cakewalk, he’d purchased on the brokerage market. He’d already looked at many yachts and accommodations plans, so he had a good idea of what he wanted: a 190-footer that could tote a custom sportfisherman (along with abundant stowage for related gear, including a whopping 200 rods). At the show he met with John Rothwell, chairman of Austal, the fast-ferry and military-ship builder that owns Oceanfast. Norman was attracted to Oceanfast for three main reasons, beyond the allure of helping to promote the Australian boating industry. First, he was convinced that the yard had “the best aluminum welders in the world,” mostly due to the series of 90-meter fast ferries Austal had been building, one of which Norman inspected months prior. (“I can’t stress it enough, our sparkies down there are the best in the world,” he proudly proclaims.) Second, having looked at many different yachts, he felt the finish work of the Oceanfast craftsmen was better and cleaner than what he’d seen elsewhere. And third, Rothwell promised he would personally intervene on Norman’s behalf if any difficulties arose, recognizing how a project of Aussie Rules’ magnitude and, obviously, Norman’s high profile could in turn raise the yard’s profile on the world stage.
Norman did, however, have one significant reservation: Aussie Rules was to be larger than anything Oceanfast had built. In fact, as she grew from 190 to 228 feet in the course of accommodating a bigger engine room, a larger sportfishing tender (the 42-foot Gamefisherman appropriately named No Rules), and more usable room due to space lost to MCA-required watertight bulkheads, Aussie Rules became the largest aluminum-hulled yacht in the world. “Did I have trepidation? Absolutely,” he says. But he adds that he ultimately felt comfortable with his decision to work with the yard because of the time he’d taken to write out the specifications and, equally important, because he’d put two key individuals onsite at Oceanfast “before the first plate was even cut.”
Next page > Part 2: At her reported cruise speed of 15 knots, she sees an incredible 8,000-NM range. > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
This article originally appeared in the February 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.