FEATURE - Boating through the Decades (Part 4)

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The 1990s started off ordinary, but it was a watershed period for Australian boatbuilders. TONY MACKAY notes this and other trends to emerge that shape today’s pleasureboating scene

FEATURE - Boating through the Decades (Part 4)
FEATURE — Boating through the Decades (Part 4)

The nineties arrived and it was about as exciting as being savaged by a dead sheep. The stock market crash at the end of 1987 had slowly but very perceptibly oozed it’s misery across the globe and it was all doom and gloom. No one was buying anything, certainly not toys. It was just like today, but we had horrid interest rates for those borrowing money. Consequently, the boats, beach houses, big hair and acrylic nails came to a dismal end.

The only bright spark was for Australian manufacturers who, with a dollar halved against the US, could ramp-up production and take a share of overseas markets. As time progressed they were able to improve quality and technology through the economies of scale of increased production. Australian goods were perceived as being new and dynamic, fresh and alive, brimming with the pioneer spirit.

The big success story for the next 20 years was undoubtedly, Riviera. With new models, better styling and more sophisticated packaging, it became one of our great export success stories.

The new range of 48, 43 and then 36-foot models were welcomed and embraced for their chunky good looks, sports performance, comfortable layouts and minimum maintenance requirements. Riviera’s 4000 Offshore sportsyacht started a big change for those who no longer wished to climb or clean flying bridges. Eventually, the whole range was improved and developed and you can read all the details of the various models in our special Riviera Buyer’s Guide tipon from the July 416 edition.

As the marinas and facilities advanced, thanks to Queensland investment in the ’80s, many sought solace from all the bad news by deciding to head north and explore.

The release of the Buizen 48 pilothouse yacht transformed the usual sailing trips into a far more luxurious mode of transport. A radical improvement over the builder’s previous Zeston range, the large panorama windscreens opened the four-cabin layout to the light and views. The comfortable and easily accessible step-out cockpit found immediate favour with those who had tired of being stuck down in the bilge. An internal helm station allowed luxury passages in really foul weather, the rain and waves whooshing up the windscreen while one settled back with a good book. They were a little hot on sunny days, but brought new comfort to the cruising yachtsman.

Another debut that was to turn into something of a star was the launch of the Palm Beach 38, which later developed into a superb 50, a snappy little 32 and finally a 65. They were built with uncompromising attention to detail and could truly hold the awards as Australia’s best production boat. The Palm Beach 50, a long and lean greyhound of the sea, set a whole new standard for good looks, stunning performance and quality fittings. We have tested several models and have always come home in awe and amazement.

The polar opposite of those looks were the US-built Carver models. (Sorry owners!). While enormously spacious for their size and quite ingenious in the layouts and space utilisation, they were not pretty. Quite extraordinary actually — and often the subject of bitter criticism. Better to be aboard enjoying the caravan-like comforts than having to be moored and looking at it. Still, they found a following and were competently engineered.

Bayliners were still popular but, like many of these price-point models, they often looked a little tired after the new shine wore off. Boatbuilders learned a lesson that dark-blue gelcoat did not last long in our sunshine, nor did any of the darker colours, and the only solution was to spray with two-pack Awlgrip for a lasting sheen. The problem was, that by the time the shine had gone, so too had any desire to carry out an expensive restoration. Like the Carver, they were filled with features and fittings that suited the grey nomads.

Thinking of the new breed of grey nomads, the luxury trailerboat era was dawning with the ongoing development of the Whittley brand. Quite a good looking vessel and packed with features. You could hitch them up behind a LandCruiser and set forth to all manner of destinations, which would otherwise be outside the realm of normal cruising folk.

Quite a vigorous owners group was developed and I recall on one occasion being moored in Sugarloaf Bay when 19 Whittleys descended upon us, ready to raft-up and party. They were zipping and whizzing around in circles like manic mice until the anchors were finally set with 10 boats facing forward and nine hitched aft. Party time, Whittley style. The company had great success but later encountered some difficulties with a new production facility in the US.

Catamarans, which had always been sniffed at by the traditionalists, were becoming more popular, not just with bearded beatnik adventurers, but those that enjoyed the huge platform comforts they offered. It always looked rather enticing, watching the catamaran cruises with the swimming net slung between the hulls, suntanned revelers being drenched through the bigger waves, with other horizontal exercise sessions planned for the not too distant future. Ocean Trek developed a 53ft enclosed flybridge model that found favour with many — some fishermen trading the standard twin Fiat AFIO diesels for bigger MTUs. Comfort and performance that appealed to many, and quite a handsome model today.

New Zealand was developing their brands and the Salthouse yachts and cruisers gained a foothold — certainly after the prestigious launch of Stanley Horwitz’s Abel Tasman. The Salthouse 50-foot-plus sportsfishing cruisers were beautifully developed, with prestige models for the select few. A few other manufacturers made other offerings but none could match the volume and production of the pacesetting Rivieras.

The usual selection from Asia drizzled in; a few Ocean 50s, a few De Fevers, the cheaply-built Primas, which weren’t too flash, and the Dyna 52 that sort of looked okay but never quite hit the mark like the Rangers had. A President 57 from Taiwan was not bad looking and very spacious.

Ocean Alexander made some stylishly designed boats with a lower saloon connected to a big cockpit and a raised pilothouse forward. Many of these have been overhauled, resprayed and refurbished by later owners who could see the potential in their layouts. Halvorsen continued with its ever-popular 32ft Island Gypsy, now ripped off by two other recent offerings but with a much diminished standard of quality.

Grand Banks carried on with their traditional offerings and they were well received, however, the later developments of the Eastbay series and collaboration with the C. Raymond Hunt Design team saw a radical overhaul of the Classic range, particularly underwater. They were transformed from a semi-displacement cruiser, not particularly efficient at planing speeds and heaving huge bow waves aside, to sports performance the envy of the "trawler" set.

Back in Australian factories, a few soldiered on with success, such as the evergreen Steber 36 and 41, which became the popular choice for the police and rescue associations. Solidly built to survey standards and most capable in heavy weather, the Steber models have quietly moved ahead in a competitive market niche.

In the caravan alternative set, the Fairway 36 looked quite acceptable and was probably the modern plastic replacement for the old Halvorsen 36 hire cruiser. A Honeymoon cruiser was similar and a canoe-terned 30ft flybridge cruiser called a Cuddles lured those who may have wished to fan the flames of romance aboard — as long as they did not head to sea, where imminent and acrimonious divorce beckoned. A Witchcraft 27 looked smart but was awful in any weather, although no more horrible than the small flying bridge Mariners and Riv’s in a big swell. Sorry kids, but stay in port.

Yachts were faster, lighter, funkier looking and it became the era of the North Shore range, the Bavarias, Cavaliers and a new but powerful influence from Europe, the Jenneaus and Benneteaus. These European models are progressively developed, built to a price and have generated a strong following. They perform well too.

Being a classic boat buff, I cannot report on much else that brought me a thrill and as Trade-a-Boat moved into editorial and boat test mode in 1997, you may like to consider some of the list of memorable tests of the 1990s and onwards. If I offended anyone with these articles, mission accomplished. Just be grateful they won’t let me do a Jeremy Clarkson in some of the not-so-fabulous vessels that I have been aboard, although it could be a laugh. Happy Boating.

It was in mid-1997, while working as deputy editor on Modern Boating magazine, that your present editor received a call inviting him aboard to create an editorial section in Trade-a-Boat.

The September 1997 edition carried our first test, that of a Black Watch 40 gamefisher, which would go on to establish itself as a very competent offshore boat for the big-fish set. Here are some of the other standout boats we tested from 1997 till the end of 1999.

1997: Black Watch 40, Riviera 36 Pro Tournament, Steber 1050 Super Sedan.

1998: Black Watch 26, Bluewater 420 Raised Saloon yacht, Bertram 45 Flybridge, Riviera 4000 Offshore, Beneteau First 33.7 yacht, O’Brien 43, Swanson 40 Pilothouse, Caribbean 35, Buizen 48, Riviera Platinum Series 48, Horizon 78 Elegance, Northshore 460 yacht, Steber 43, Scarab 33 AVS, Caribbean 26 Runabout, Beneteau 40.7.

1999: Cranchi Giada 30, Wellcraft Martinique 3000, Fountaine-Pajot Athena 38, Riviera 4000 Pro Tournament, Mariner 3850, Jeanneau 34.2, Boesch 680, Azimut 85 Ultimate, Seawind 1000, Princess V50, Caribbean 28, Caribbean 40, X-Yachts X332, Arvor 20, Pleysier 40 Shakara, Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 45.2, Riviera 34 Platinum 2000, Riviera 3000 Offshore, Fairline Targa 43, Catalina 310, Powercat 268, Fairline Squadron 55, Assegai Marine 40, X-Yachts X442, Riviera 43 Pro Tournament.


1). Premier Australian luxury boatbuilder Riviera boomed in the nineties with popular models like the 48 Enclosed Flybridge.

2, 3, 4). The Seawind 1000 (photo 2) — today the company is Australia's biggest catamaran maker and one of our top marine exporters. The Arvor 20 (photo 3) has been manufactured in Nowra, NSW, since 1999. Back in the late '90s, the Italian Azimut 85 Ultimate (photo 4) fetched the princely sum of $7.35 million as tested.

5). Riviera built 205 3000 Offshore sportscruisers from 1999.

6, 7). The Scarab 33
AVS (photo 6) had eye-watering 60kts performance straight out of the box. Wooden sportsboats were none sharper than the Boesch 680 Costa-Bravo (photo 7) from Switzerland.

8). One of Riviera's top sellers is the 4000 Offshore Enclosed with 244 built (inc. the Offshore Open).

9). The Powercat 268 won an Australian design award in 1991.

10, 11, 12, 13). Smart sportscruisers from overseas included the Princess V50 (photo 10), Wellcraft Martinique 3000 (photo 11), Fairline Targa 43 (photo 12), and the Cranchi Giada 30 (photo 13) — all still looking the part.

14, 15). Sales of sails were on the rise, too, with notable models including the X-Yachts X-442 (photo 14) and the Fountaine-Pajot Athena 38 sailcat (photo 15).

16, 17). The cruiser-racing brigade got to enjoy stylish performers such as the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 45.2 (photo 16) and the Catalina 310 (photo 17).


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