FEATURE - 400 not out

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  • Trade-A-Boat

As <I>Trade-a-Boat</I> celebrates its fabulous 400th edition, we look back at the magazine’s incredible path from backyard leaflet to Australian boating bible. Former Trader Classifieds editorial Chief of Staff GREG LEECH tells all

FEATURE - 400 not out
FEATURE - 400 not out

Yes, 400 issues! We are proud of that achievement. At a time when the Australian media landscape is undergoing such huge change, Trade-a-Boat remains buoyant, a must-buy for boaties across the country.

Yes, the magazine has come a long way.

To celebrate all this, we take a look at the long and winding road that has brought us to this special 400th issue…

Trade-a-Boat owes its inception to a man by the name of Max Morton. After returning from overseas, Max was on the hunt for a new boat, but noted that it was difficult to judge a boat (with a view to purchase) prior to viewing it. This was due to the classified advertising of the time featuring descriptions but no pictures.

"It was just impossible to get an idea of what a boat was really like. It might be 40ft long and with a nine-foot beam and a five-foot draft, but that didn’t give you any idea," says Max.

Teaming up with good mate Alex Morrison, they tipped in $8200 between them and the magazine was born and hurriedly produced out of the team’s Williamstown (Vic) premises. That was July of 1977.

The first print run was 2000 copies for the four-page ‘magazine’ of which 1500 sold. Trade-a-Boat now sells in excess of 20,000 copies in the big summer issue and averages sales of 16,732 every issue (source ABC Audit, December 2009). And we around 300 to 350 pages each edition, by far the biggest boating title on the newsstands.

Over subsequent years, the magazine built credibility in the marine business to become a stalwart in the industry, so-much-so that it came under the gaze of one Kerry Packer in 1986. After some negotiation, it and a number of other titles with which Morton and Morrison had become involved were sold. Thereafter Trade-a-Boat entered the heady stable of Packer’s venerable Australian Consolidated Press and she was one of Kerry’s favourite reads.

Fast forward to 1995. With Trade-a-Boat now established as the number one choice for those looking to buy and sell all things marine, how best to take the magazine to yet another level?

It was decided that editorial content would complement the excellent advertising support the magazine enjoyed. Boat tests, product reviews, marine industry news…

The first editor was appointed, one Michael Sinclair. He remembers it fondly.

"Trade-a-Boat was the largest circulating boating magazine by quite a margin and we were looking for a way to ‘talk’ to our readership, in addition to the buying and selling element," said Sinclair.

"It became a voice for the industry. Because everyone who was anyone in the marine business was involved with the magazine, our boat tests quickly became trusted, mainly due to the fact that we were not beholden to any particular group. Therefore, our tests became known for their impartiality and truthfulness.

"A reader knew that the appraisal they read in Trade-a-Boat for any particular boat would tell them the real world truth, and that doctrine continues to this day.

"Trust. It’s a word that we valued then and Trade-a-Boat still does today. You can’t afford to lose a reader’s ‘belief’ and while we may have put a few noses out of joint in the industry along the way, the manufacturers ultimately knew that a good write-up for a boat in Trade-a-Boat was gold, based on the fact that they knew we were telling the truth. And so did the readers," Sinclair said.

Next to take over the editing helm was lifelong sailor Vanessa Dudley. A high-performance sailor of note, Vanessa has sailed everything from Laser Radials to fast ocean racers. She's won Dinghy National titles and sailed in 15 Sydney Hobart Races. A life in boats and indeed boating media saw Vanessa’s knowledge greatly enhance the magazine to the point that the queue of manufacturers of boats and associated products for tests grew ever longer.

The bar was set for editors that followed, it was now certain that any person leading the magazine had to have huge credibility in the industry, and the appointments to the hallowed position have always carried that ‘knowledge’ element.

Geoff Middleton was next in the hot seat. A sailor of some note and stalwart boatie, Geoff famously purchased Jesse Martin’s S&S 34 Lionheart (in 1999, at the age of just 18, Martin sailed into the record books in his yacht Lionheart by becoming the youngest person ever to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world). Geoff continues to race the boat locally and remains an avid mariner.

"Trade-a-Boat was a must-read for me well before I assumed the position of editor, so I felt I had grown up with the product. To be involved with a publication of this sort of note and to be able to combine my two loves of the written word and boating was a dream come true. We took the magazine very seriously and the product showed our commitment. It still does!" says Middo.

But today’s editor, David Lockwood, needs no introduction. A lifelong boating journalist and enthusiast, he has been Trade-a-Boat’s key boat tester since editorial was introduced in the September 1997 edition.

At the same time, David has maintained his popular columns in national newspapers, thereby holding the title of Australia’s best-read boating writer, and inspiring oodles of would-be weekend skippers to take the plunge and go pleasureboating. Little wonder the waterways are getting crowded.

"Trade-a-Boat holds a very special place in my heart. It’s the bible I always turned to, which I still relish with glee, to peruse all the latest new and used boats.

"We bought our current 42-footer from betwixt its pages and, with that not inconsiderable purchase, have become expert at all levels of pleasureboating and the realities of ‘big-boat’ ownership," Lockwood says.

But it’s not just Lockwood who writes with authority in Trade-a-Boat these days. The first thing he did upon being appointed editor was establish a core team of boat-owner contributors. Our writers go boating for work and pleasure.

"All our crew own boats, are experts in their fields, and boating believers. So we don’t need to gush, we can tell the reader the truth when we test a boat, write about new gear, share our DIY secrets, and so on," Lockwood explains. "We write with absolute authority and this is what makes our editorial so special in an industry accustomed to fawning. And the redesign in this 400th edition will now make reading Trade-a-Boat an even more enjoyable experience."

There you have it. Well, actually, it isn’t quite that easy. What you don’t see behind the scenes is the great toil and commitment of our unsung staff and crew. With their undying assistance, we have produced 400 issues of Trade-a-Boat.

Here’s to the next 400!


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