FEATURE - Boating Through The Decades (Part 2)

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The second installment in our Boating through the Decades series identifies the best boats from the sideburn-and-Suzi Quatro 1970s. TONY MACKAY reflects

FEATURE - Boating Through The Decades (Part 2)
FEATURE — Boating Through The Decades (Part 2)

Those people who think they have led fashionable lives, displaying the very pinnacle of style and taste, can be easily reduced to a quivering ruin of embarrassment by the simple opening of a family photo album, the contents, a horror story of quite ghastly proportions. It’s called the ’70s. Platform shoes, flared jeans, Miller western shirts open to the waist exposing hairy chests with gold medallions nestled among the fur, bowl-style hairstyles and perhaps even a handlebar moustache. And that’s just the women! The K-tel Hair Magician created miserable children, and as photographic record proves, the probable coiffure of one female New Zealand prime minister. Mercifully, the boating world was immune to many of these nightmares. Our series continues…

With the arrival of the 1970s, leisure boaters were being dazzled by the onslaught of fibreglass or correctly termed, glass reinforced plastic. GRP, the new wonder product, was claimed by various snake oil salesmen to be maintenance-free, "will last forever" or bulletproof. While first developed in the ’40s and ’50s, it was not until the first Hatteras 41-footer that the material came into common and more considered usage. And it was not until the 1970s that the industry had stopped apologising for the material and started enjoying its strength and benefits. They had little or no idea about fading gelcoat or osmosis, but were certain to find out in later decades, with various solutions being discovered along the way.

The escalation of labour rates forced some boatbuilders to reduce production hours through a variety of means, all leaving the legacy of an era. For the first time, labour was more expensive than the materials. Savings were found by using less GRP. Some builders used the popular method of ‘guesswork’ when ‘calculating’ the strength of their hulls. Some boats are built like trucks (Hatteras and HMG) and some others are very ordinary and even have glassed-over particle board for bulkheads. (I’m not telling!). Aluminium window frames and fittings replaced teak and stainless steel, vinyl replaced leather and the world became slightly more synthetic. Carpets became plastic and ‘frontrunner’ lining fabric covered a multitude of builders’ sins. Some stalwarts clung to traditional values but were eventually forced to move forward, wherever that destination may be.

Let us not be too negative. At least the styling remained reasonably conservative as the functioning designers were of that mindset (the others from the ’60s probably languishing in re-hab). Most of the boats looked good and it took another decade for the styling situation to fall off a cliff, in some quarters anyway. It does not take much experience to walk down a large marina and spot the generations in boating. Other factors such as the 1973 fuel crisis, the Whitlam Government policies and the cost of labour changed demand and production. The ghastly word ‘lifestyle’ started to come into modern parlance and new market sectors such as sportsboats filled a need in some quarters. Out with the gold chains and Speedos.

Engineering started to change dramatically and allowed designers far greater scope with layouts and concepts. The success of the sterndrive set everything aft and gave over the middle and forward sections of the hull to hugely improved accommodation. Hence, the dawn of the sportscruiser.

Diesel engines had the fat trimmed from them and designers extracted massive improvements in power-to-weight ratios, particularly with the advances in turbocharging. The famous Caterpillar 3208 series, the Cummins 6BT models and the bulletproof Detroit diesels led the way for reliable cruising, with the added safety and reliability of diesel. It was the beginning of the demise of the big petrol engines, certainly for boats above 35 feet.

My pick of the defining boats of this era was the Bertram. In 1960 Richard Bertram won the Miami to Nassau race in a Raymond Hunt designed deep-vee hull that cut a swathe through choppy seas like a hot knife through butter.

The famous Moppie led to a range of high-performance cruisers, which have been beloved for more than 40 years and are still made in very slightly modified incarnations. The glorious 35 flying bridge model, with a slightly nose-down aggressive attitude, roared past everyone in choppy seas. The 25, with sterndrive MerCruisers, was sold by the score. A 28 and 42 completed the mainstay of the Australian range, which was made under license in Victoria and are now badged Caribbean. Still good-looking, still performing and still very popular competing with all the gadget-laden newcomers. It shows how conservative good looks stand the test of time.

Those wishing for traditional comfort and frugal fuel consumption turned to the Grand Banks cruisers, hyped by some marketing gurus as trawlers, a rather silly moniker. They were often semi-displacement (another confusing expression as they will either plane or not) and economical with the standard 120hp Ford Lehman donk, which could not be killed with an axe.

The 32-, 36- and 42-foot models were imported by Halvorsen along with the Alaskan 49 and 53, the whole lot being built by American Marine in Hong Kong and then later in Singapore. It is a sad indictment on Australian industry that Halvorsen made more out of importing a 42 GB than they did making a custom-built 60ft cruiser. Easy to see why they all rushed to Asia.

Grand Banks have focused on timeless conservative design, which has lasted extremely well. Their latest models are a product of evolution rather than revolution and this sits very comfortably with their buyers.

When GB moved to Singapore, Halvorsen bought the HK yard and commenced production of the Island Gypsy range from 30 to 80 feet, firstly in timber and then in GRP. These Kong & Halvorsen cruisers have been well received over the years and the 44 aft cabin is a particularly outstanding model with a full-beam aft cabin and deck above, a superior design to the trunk cabin models of earlier years. A direct competitor to the Grand Banks range, the flared bow and various modifications were touted as fixing problems in the competitors’ fleets. War among the trawler people!

Other offerings were the early Clippers —
the 30 (awful) and 34 (much better) — Tradewinds 39 and 44 and a variety of others, all built in Taiwan. Some not very well. Mainland China did not start building pleasureboats until Halvorsen Marine opened there in the 1980s.

The Savage cruisers were both attractive and ruggedly constructed. The popular 26 Lancer and 33 flying bridge models were top performers with big-block Chrysler or MerCruiser V8 shaftdrives. The 24- and 28-footers were copies of the Bertram and looked well, too. Some smaller launches completed a well-built fleet.

The HMG (Halvorsen, Morson, & Gowland) company built custom racing yachts of impeccable pedigree such as Apollo and Southern Cross; Trygve and Magnus Halvorsen having won the Sydney Hobart classic on four occasions. A 31-foot motorsailor and two cruisers, the 36ft and the venerable 43ft Sports Fisherman, were the semi-production range. The 43s were well built, highly regarded for their seakeeping ability and are sought after by the gamefishing mob in recent times. Yet again, those handsome and classic looks having staying power.

Out of all this came the Mariner cruisers whose 25ft Pacer was clearly modeled on the Savage Lancer, while its later 43ft was the design bought after the HMG company ceased to trade. The flying bridge 30 and smart looking 34 were the mainstays of its fleet during the 1970s and they were built and packaged to a price, which made them affordable to many entry-level boaters.

The smaller Mariners were perfect for fair-weather coastal cruising and boasted comfortable layouts and that maintenance-free construction. Trade-a-Boat’s recently renovated Ralfy V project boat, was described as the Pittwater Valiant, while the 30 was known as the Kingswood of the Sea.

The more muscular Cresta 46, with her exaggerated bows and broad beam, gained particular favour with the gamefishing mob, following the success of the 32 sedan (also built by Steber) and sports models. Unfortunately, some of the interiors were completed with slightly doubtful trim and décor, although most have been overhauled by now. They were a little tender in a following sea.

The imports set the pace with new designs, particularly the advent of the sportscruiser concept, which arrived with the Sea Ray brand. These embodied American comfort features, particularly reflected in stylised upholstery and seating layouts. Like the Bayliners, one would not wish to head out in heavy weather but for inshore fishing, sun baking and general mooching about they offered a new style of boating for Australian waters. Mind you it didn’t take too long before they were all encapsulated in the dreaded clears after half the owners were either drenched in foul weather or scorched to a crisp in the blazing Australian sun.

The Swedish Fjord 24- and 30-foot models were a rather more up-market version of this genre, as were the superbly built and more dramatically styled Coronet cruisers built in Denmark. The Coronet hull was as sturdy and capable as anything offered anywhere, all having been thoroughly tested in the rigours of the North Sea (not nice!). Nothing of note came from the UK as most styling efforts were dreary at best, the currency was definitely against us and freight charges were very high.

The real dazzlers from the US were the handsome and well-constructed Hatteras models, particularly the 53ft Sports Fisherman. From the design desk of the brilliant Jack Hargrave, this model, in its various guises, was its most popular boat ever, some 684 being launched. That’s about seven miles of Hatterases! Bob Dyer’s Blue Rhapsody and John Toohey’s Nooroo III were legendary in the sportsfishing fleets and turned heads as they roared past the fleets.

Of course, there were many other Hatteras models, but few were imported here, and one has to remember that money was not flowing with such abundance in those days. A 52ft was built under license in Australia but failed to gain a following. Not the real McCoy.

Those who required more authentic seakeeping skills for offshore passagemaking would order genuine trawler hulls completed with cruiser comforts in an effort to attain the best of both worlds. With most Australian ports having bar access and poor marina facilities there were very few who were doing long coastal passages with confidence or safety. Many of the Queensland-style cruisers were built for these conditions and to a style which suited the traditional buyer. Plus they fitted in well, moored with the rustic fishing boats, where more glitzy boats would look rather incongruous among the locals.

Yachts were well represented in the 1970s with production boats such as the comfortable Columbia 27 and 34, the aft-cabin Mottle 33 and a variety of Swanson models. The Compass 27 and 28 yachts still look good as do anything Peter Cole or Bob Miller (aka Ben Lexcen) designed.

There were Tritons, Hoods (a few in the sales offices too!), Cavalier, Marauder, Santana, Pacific, Holland and the very solid and capable Hallberg-Rassy. If you had ‘real money’ you may have imported a Swan.

Many custom yachts were race winners, and builders such as HMG, Cec Quilkey, and Griffin accounted for many glorious designs. Full-length keels, wine glass transoms and classic styling was still the order of the day, the more radical designs of Bruce Farr and others, a little way off.

There were many dreamers, who built in the backyard, sometimes to rather lacklustre, mail order designs, using steel and occasionally, the much maligned but rather robust, ferro cement. Without the skills of qualified shipwrights, many of these boats were perhaps not so well received (see how nice I can be when I try) and many have gone somewhere to hand in their tusks. It would be an interesting statistic to know the divorce rate with backyard boatbuilders. Or murder, most foul.

Among this mass-production melee, the custom boatbuilders still had their niche and of particular note were timber cruisers from Millkraft, Griffin, Norman R Wright, and Lars Halvorsen & Sons.

The decade started off particularly well with Griffin’s ultimate offering, the 64ft5in Sundowner, built for Woolworths chairman Sir Theo Kelly in 1971. (No special license needed less than 65 feet in those days).

Gamefishing aficionado’s were positively dazzled when Halvorsen launched the 57ft sportsfisherman Sinana built for Holden car king Sir Frederick Sutton. With acres of teak decks, a varnished cockpit, transom and cabin sides, one would have been positively terrified to catch a fish and bring it onboard. The roar of Sinana’s V12 Detroit diesels was heard from miles away.

But far and away the crowning glory of Australian boatbuilding came on June 20, 1976 when the mighty motoryacht Emma was launched by Halvorsen in Sydney for the tobacco tycoon, Arthur Nelson. At 90 feet and with 2700hp from her V12 MTU diesels (the same as in the Manly hydrofoils), Emma became the first ‘superyacht’ launched in this country, and one of the last traditional wooden boats built by Halvorsen. She set the other builders back into their blocks. Thirty-five years later she is still a head turner, with her elegant lines and classic proportions, not to mention her top speed of 25kts. She is still the glamour puss of Sydney’s Pittwater and certainly the cherry on the cake of 1970s Australian boating.

Rating the ’70s

* Space-saving sterndrives allowed more adventurous interiors
* GRP strength and maintenance-free advantages
* Conservative designs still rule and still look handsome
* Significant advances in diesel technology, particularly turbocharging
* Deep-V hulls gave confidence in bad weather.
* Anodised aluminium windows that didn’t leak or rot

* Some awful production methods, produced less than adequate results
* The ‘plastic generation’ made boats feel cheap
* Osmosis blisters brewing under the water, with gelcoat fading in the sun
* Did anyone know how much it cost to keep a sterndrive happy?
* Frontrunner lining was not nice
* Anodised aluminium windows are not pretty
* Hairstyles and flared jeans


1). Three iconic brands of the '70s, from left to right, Grand Banks, Savage, and Mariner.

2). Gamefishers were bedazzled when Halvorsen launched the 57ft sporsfisherman Sinana.

3). The crowning glory of Australian boatbuilding in the '70s was the launch of the Halvorsen 90-foot motoryacht Emma. She's regarded as our first superyacht.

4). The Grand Banks 36 (in this photo and photo 1) is owned by Bob Joy.

5). Ralfy V was fully restored by her original builder Mr Maritimo, Bill Barry-Cotter.

6). Ian Kissin with his Savage 33. These boats were top performers in their day with big-block Chrysler or MerCruiser V8 shaftdrives.

7). Ralfy (foreground) awaits restoration alongside million-dollar siblings at Maritimo's Gold Coast factory.

8). The Savage 26 was rated among the 10 Best Classic boats of all time in our 400th special Collector's Edition of Trade-a-Boat magazine last year.

9). The Mariner 43 is a HMG (Halvorsen, Morson & Gowland) design.

10 & 11). Joy points our the details and nameplates found on his nicely maintained Honey Rush.


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