Power from Down Under

Lead Line — August 2001
By Richard Thiel

Power from Down Under
The Aussies and Kiwis have enjoyed success.
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Quick, name a continent that exports powerboats to the United States. Bet you said Europe, and no wonder. Builders from Italy, Great Britain, Germany, Holland, and France have made foreign boats not only acceptable, but also desirable over here.

Now name another exporting continent. You probably guessed Asia, thanks to yards like Cheoy Lee and Grand Banks. But farther south is an area that has been quietly sending pleasureboats to our shores for decades and is about to do so with considerable more fanfare: Australia and New Zealand. Everyone knows about their boat-designing and building prowess, thanks to their success in the America’s Cup. Both are also widely admired for the fuel-efficient power catamarans that have been showing up since the early ‘80s. But after visiting Australia’s Sanctuary Cove Boat Show last May, I discovered that both countries are also building high-quality, mainstream production boats–targeted at you.

The Aussies and Kiwis have already enjoyed success, and little wonder. They do things differently in the antipodes. Take the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show. Instead of the typical sprawling U.S. and European versions, it’s free, of a manageable scale, and nestled among waterfront hotels, shops, and restaurants, a highly civilized concept that invites leisurely perusing interspersed with a glass of wine, a bite of real food, and maybe a souvenir.

Among the boats I boarded there, the dominant name was Riviera, Australia’s largest yard and a major exporter to the United States with convertibles ranging from 30 to 56 feet. (Some 40 percent of its production comes here, either under its own brand or that of Wellcraft.) I already knew about Riviera from this year’s PMY project boat, a 40 Convertible. Riviera’s ads tout that its boats come from a country beset by two oceans and four seas, a fact that explains Office Ours’ solidity and strength. More surprising was my trip to the Riviera factory, just down the road from the show, where I saw one of the cleanest, best organized, most efficient plants anywhere.

Riviera may be the 400-pound gorilla, but it’s not the only player. I saw a striking 38-foot Express Cruiser from Mustang Cruisers, which also has a 46-footer underway and is exporting boats to the West Coast. Steber showed off a businesslike 52-foot Express Motor Cruiser, and Australian Motor Yachts announced construction of a high-speed aluminum 162-footer designed by Don Shead, to follow its 145-foot Silver Fox, delivered last year to an American. At the slower end of the spectrum was a world-capable, single-engine, all-steel, displacement 80-footer from Voyager, an Australian company building boats in Vietnam.

The Kiwis are just as aggressive. Their most impressive offering was a 65-foot convertible from Salthouse Marine, built like a tank, finished like a boardroom, and bristling with innovations like a two-piece sliding transom door. Look for a boat test this fall. Formula Cruisers displayed two highly engineered and nicely finished convertibles, a 54 and a 40, while Warwick Yacht Design unveiled a 90-foot catamaran sportfisherman with a reported top speed of 35 knots.

There were others, too many to list, and most representatives said they were either already in the American market or looking to establish a presence here. That shouldn’t be too hard, since the boats I saw were all superbly engineered and built and both the Aussie and Kiwi currencies had recently hit all-time lows against the dollar, making (in theory, at least) both countries’ boats attractively priced for U.S. buyers.

Both Australia and New Zealand are aggressively targeting the United States with boats that are really different. In fact, I’ll bet that in a couple of years, when someone asks you to name an area exporting pleasureboats to America, Australia and New Zealand will be on the tip of your tongue.


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

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