Waves of Enthusiasm

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-By John Boley

If you follow the America’s Cup you will know already that the next version, in San Francisco in 2013, will feature 72-foot catamarans. Monohulls look to be an endangered species as the faster, spectacular twin-hulls take centre stage.

And so it is with sailing vessels for the less hectic sport of cruising. The ‘cat’ has made enormous inroads on the traditional single-hull market in the last two decades, and one of the brands most responsible has been Seawind, 30 years old next year and proudly Australian. Seawind has become Australia’s leading catamaran builder due to an uncompromising level of quality, ensuring each boat is always built complete to its high level of standards. Innovations in design have always been ahead of the field with concepts never considered before that prove time and time again to be successful.

Seawind was founded in 1982 and has been steered through the subsequent growth years by its owner and managing director Richard Ward, who was recently recognised by his peers for his significant impact and contribution to the Australian marine industry with an Export Champion award (please see sidebar for further details). Richard himself was recently in Vietnam, supervising the opening of an extension to Seawind’s production, so we talked to sales and marketing manager Brent Vaughn, who began by explaining that Seawind had acquired Corsair, probably the world’s leading trailer trimaran builder, late last year. Much of Corsair’s production has long been done in Vietnam, for cost reasons, and “for some time Richard has been looking at various options to take some of our production offshore because building costs here are very high” – not to mention the strength of the dollar, of course. When you’re talking about boats worth half a million dollars or more, a 10 per cent currency fluctuation means a dramatic difference in the price.

So Seawind is gearing up to produce around two-thirds of its annual output of cats in Vietnam, employing around 140 staff under expat supervision, while retaining some 40 staff in Australia (headquarters is in Wollongong). “We work in a very competitive niche in the industry, which is quite price-sensitive – more so now than it has ever been – and we either sink or we swim, if you’ll pardon the expression! We would rather keep swimming.”

Brent says the company itself was probably more concerned than anyone about the perception of its products being built offshore, but “everyone accepts that they are buying a product that will be the same whether it’s built here or overseas.”

Cats have become popular compared with single-hull yachts, says the company, in part because “leaning over at 25 degrees can be exciting and fun – for a while – but in a very short time the novelty wears off and the attraction of level sailing is pretty obvious. The cruising cat rarely heels more than five degrees and most often less. This makes offshore passages less tiring, helps drink and food stay on the table, sleeping doesn’t involve a balancing act and reefing in heavy weather is not done on a rolling slippery deck.”

Seawind builds luxury cruising cats that are used by people going off on long-range cruises, or sailing round Sydney Harbour, or even chartering. But these craft are not toys, not mere playthings for top-earning executives. “Some of those that buy our products use them as toys, I guess, but for many owners it’s a long-term lifestyle change that they have been working towards for some years – for example a retirement plan of moving onto a boat and cruising,” explains Brent.

In this regard and several others, this market is quite different from the powerboat industry. These cats are built with the latest technology and are capable of far more performance than most owners need – although every boat undergoes a maiden test voyage in the Tasman, which can test the best – but most owners do use them seriously and appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into every boat. Richard himself caught the racing bug in his twenties and experienced a Sydney to Hobart before turning to cruising, then in 1982 beginning production of a small “off the beach” catamaran, four to five metres in length and known as the Maricat. These recreational craft quickly became the most popular Australian produced catamarans, with over 3,000 built.

In its first decade the company was best known for the highly successful Seawind 24. Years ahead of its competitors at the time, this 24ft cruising catamaran became a world benchmark for small cat design and over 350 were built. They were successfully exported to North America, Japan, Holland, Hawaii, Thailand and Papua New Guinea as well as finding popularity in Australia.

Australia’s market is extremely buoyant (pun intended). “It’s probably one of the strongest markets in the world at the moment. A few years ago, the competitors – mainly from Europe and South Africa really disregarded Australia as a serious market and did very little marketing here and we held a very comfortable majority share of the market here for a long time – we still do, we have a good home base here. But through the GFC the American market really suffered dramatically and even Europe suffered quite a bit, so Australia is one of the few markets still not only buying boats but doing so quite enthusiastically.

And with the growth in popularity of multi-hulls, Brent says, there are “certainly opportunities for very strong growth for our company in those areas over the shorter term and the next ten years. There is a lot of activity at the leading edge of yachting at the moment and that can only be good for a company specialising in catamarans and trimarans, like us.”

Seawind is mindful of its owners and instituted a programme a couple of years ago in which members of the public can contact Seawind Holidays to find details of charters, including cruises, available around the world and operated by companies running Seawind’s craft. If you want to cruise the Caribbean or pootle round Phuket, this service will find the most suitable charter for you as a value-added service for its customers. Seawind also hosts a series of social regattas and rallies around Australia and the Americas to help foster new owners and support the family feel amongst Seawind owners.

By the end of this year Seawind is due to unveil a brand new facility in Sydney Harbour, an investment project in which the company is involved and which will offer offices, leisure and its very own service centre for cats. The emphasis here is on wide berthing, slipways and lifting to take account of the greater footprint of a cat compared with monohulls. The new building will, says Brent, act as Seawind’s new headquarters as well. “We think it will be the first such centre – a one-stop shop specifically designed for multi-hull craft.”

Further innovations are due to include sailing classes for beginners or those trading up to twin hulls from monohulls or powerboats. This ensures Seawind can appeal to sailors at “a whole range of levels”, says Brent. It also ensures competitors are left trailing – literally – in Seawind’s wake.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 16, 2018, 3:52 PM AEDT