Messing Around in Boats

Gold Coast City Marina

Yes, that’s two nautical analogies already and there could well be more, shipmates. Gold Coast City Marina (GCCM) is not just a parking lot for yachts; it’s much, much more and claims to be “the largest marina of its kind in the southern hemisphere,” in terms of being both a marina and a working shipyard, lifting more than 3,000 boats per year. As such, it is in a unique position to sense not only the turning of the tide but even the direction of the wind, and Dean senses there is an upswing in people’s desire to get onto the water again that may herald both a return to consumer confidence and perhaps more money in the pocketbook.

“Fingers crossed, it might be a sign of change,” he says. The exhibition attracted some 20,000 visitors over a weekend. “As organiser and vice-president of the event, what I was saying to everyone coming through the gates was, ‘If you are not a boater already, consider boating.’ It was a real value-add to our industry.” The expo offered families a fun day out, several charity-related events, entertainments as well as the chance to get acquainted with some of GCCM’s facilities, which include not only moorings but dry storage, a shipyard and some 50 related marine businesses from sales to repairs and refits.

Everything from jet skis to kayaks to a super yacht was on show and in the water, unlike many boating exhibitions which take place on dry land in convention centres that Dean describes as sterile. “The biggest criticism I always hear is that the convention centre concept, while good on paper, lacks personality and is not a very hospitable environment for people to be showing their wares. I think ours is unique – we are showing our boats in motion; there were interactive displays every 15 minutes, from fishing shows to fashion displays and even the air show from the RAAF Roulettes, which was spectacular.” A team from Cookout Barbecues put on an exhibition of teppanyaki grilling and handed out complimentary food. People came not only from around the Gold Coast but interstate and as far away as Europe, Asia and the US. “A very diverse crowd.”

Generally, Dean says, boat shows are not run by boating enthusiasts and are seen purely as a profit centre rather than a business driver. “Part of the attraction was that this is a working shipyard,” explains Dean. “There are people making and fixing boats here 365 days a year.” In fact, the Expo took over two sites, the other being neighbouring Riviera Shipyard, Australia’s biggest fibreglass manufacturer according to Dean. He says they are competitors in selling boats but the cooperation was positive and served the “greater good” of the industry as a whole.

It is a core interest of the Leigh-Smith family that more people brave the waters of coastal Queensland as well as rivers, and the company slogan is, “let’s get more people into boating.” The family has been involved in brokerage since 1964 when Dean’s grandfather started up in Isle of Capri. A small hire-boat business transformed itself over time as more customers enquired about buying rather than hiring. More recently a family venture developed and built the Runaway Bay marina a few kilometres to the north, which Dean describes as “the first multi-faceted marina and shipyard of its kind, incorporating residential, commercial and industrial in one precinct, all taking advantage of the floating marina dock.” Runaway Bay also incorporates a number of retail outlets. “Fundamental for me is to get non-boating people enthused about boating. There are great people in this industry and a lot of families in the business running different aspects of it. The feedback is that our enthusiasm transfers across to the general public very quickly.”

The GCCM group includes Leigh Smith Cruiser Sales, the retail division, which also runs an importing business for Alaska motor yachts and Hampton yachts from China that start around 46 feet and go on up to the 100ft mark. “We design and ‘Australian-ise’ and modify them here.” It is true, Dean concedes, that more boats are imported in these days of the strong dollar, but he points out that it has always been the case that Australian built boats have used a large percentage of imported components and materials in any case – engines, resins, fibreglass matting, stainless steel, electronics, that sort of thing – “so the ‘Australian boat’ has always been something of a myth.”

The whole GCCM enterprise caters for the value end of the market too, serving the full spectrum of boating tastes and affordability. “To grow boating, my clients for the next ten to 20 years are the people we met at the Expo. We need to get today’s three-metre Quintrex tinnie buyer into his first boat. Boating is an evolution and once you get bitten by the bug you get the opportunity to become part of our extended family.”

The boating world is indeed a family of sorts, Dean explains, the Rule of the Sea still holding firm. While attention inevitably focuses on the glossy top-end super models, the bulk of the business done at the Expo was in the middle of the market, where dozens of trailer boat packages were sold. It doesn’t matter whether the boat is a Quintrex tinnie, an $80,000 30-foot Riviera or a new luxury super yacht, “we all fish in the same waters, drink the same cold beer and appreciate the same sunsets; it’s just the platform you have to go and enjoy it. It’s open to all.” Of both sexes, it should be stressed, for these days at least half of all trainees on a course run at GCCM for new boaters are women and the same goes for jet skis, water skiing and speedboats.

It is vital for the industry to attract the first-timers, says Dean, to “replenish our stocks. As a rule of thumb, people like to add a foot of boat for each year of their life. So by the time you hit 35, hopefully if all is going well you should be out of the dinghy and into a 35-foot family cruiser.” There is a complete ‘career path’ awaiting anyone who takes up boating, right through to the twilight years with “something more comfortable in which to put your feet up.”

Popularity of the pastime must of course be balanced against environmental concerns (see also our feature on the Marina Industries Association of which GCCM is a prominent member, in this issue). Dean says that an important point is the fuel economy of modern marine engines with their common-rail diesel technology emulating the efficiency of car engines, especially in comparison with the old traditional two-strokes. “Boating is no different to the automotive industry, with application of intelligent CAD design and super-efficient four-stroke outboards that are also quiet,” to minimise the noise pollution previously a feature of jet skis, for example. “We are constantly looking for new design features that will push the green envelope and make the boats greener.” New paint formulas, new propeller designs, biodegradable boat washes and detergents are being introduced, not to mention desalination units. Indeed, “most of these boats are making their own clean water to avoid any more strain on our water boards.” Sewerage, black water and grey water are all treated today to the point where they can be discharged straight to the sea without harm. “It’s part of the evolution of boating and it’s getting better every day.”

Given Dean’s self-evident enthusiasm for messing around in boats, it comes as no surprise that he and others in the family have been involved in many projects right around the world as well as in Australia, concerned with spreading the gospel, including training and consultation on marinas and docks. “One of our greatest exports in the boating industry is our IP,” Dean explains. In addition, he says, Australian (and Kiwi) skippers and boat crew are among the most sought-after worldwide for commercial and private yacht captains, engineers and crew, “held in very high esteem in the world’s super yacht market.”

Dean and brother Ryan (“with us, if you buy one, you get one free”) split the business right down the middle and are involved in just about every facet of GCCM; both have considerable experience afloat. “We see what is happening in the way of trends in this industry and identify pretty quickly what works and what doesn’t,” explains Dean. It’s a safe bet that, if you are considering boating – as a first timer, or dusting off a trailer boat, or thinking of treating yourself to an upgrade – GCCM will be able to take complete care of you.

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?

January 18, 2019, 3:31 AM AEDT