Boating through the Decades (Part 5) - Noughty but Nice

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The Noughties were a roller coaster for pleasureboaters, with incredible peaks and commensurate troughs. DAVID LOCKWOOD, <I>Trade-a-Boat’</I>s chief boat tester, reflects…

Boating through the Decades (Part 5) - Noughty but Nice
Boating through the Decades (Part 5) — Noughty but Nice

Combine naughty with nought and you get The Noughties, a decade that will be remembered for many things, not least excess and largesse, the rising power of the internet, if not the marginalised effects of modernism that led to 9/11. A case of the haves and the third-world have-nots, in an increasingly cashed-up world.

Meantime, Australian boaters were living it up in a range of boats more diverse than they had ever seen before. I remember the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Shows from the mid-Noughties well. There were more Yankee boats than you could imagine, each backed by a President or Sales Executive eager to shake your hand.

At the same time, favourable exchange rates buoyed our local boatbuilders who went into export overdrive. As the boom times hit a zenith, the top end of town demanded yet-bigger boats. This was met by the imported motoryachts from Europe and the UK. I remember the Princess 22 Metre (photo 1) for $4.6 million tested in our September 2000 edition very well.

Money needs a home and new money was pouring into the pleasureboat market from the banking and finance sectors awash with big cash bonuses. These buyers sought instant gratification, a just-add water fix, and they drove demand for luxury boats.

Fuel wasn’t an issue, so plenty of serious boats were steaming to Hamilton Island and gamefishing tournaments like that at Lizard Island each year. The sailing industry was gaining momentum, too, with record fleets at the bacchanalian Hamilton Island Race Week, where the food and booze flowed.

In 2002, Bill Barry-Cotter sold Riviera for $168 million (through a management buyout, led by his former right-hand man Wes Moxey) and reportedly walked away with $140 million from the deal. He was boatbuilding again a year later, establishing Maritimo across the road from Riviera's Coomera factory. We tested the new Maritimo 60 (about $2.25 million) in 2004.

Between them all, the choice was overwhelming. We were run ragged trying to keep up with all the boat tests. At the same time, yours truly bought a 42-footer and embarked on our own East Coast adventures. We caught marlin, cruised extensively, lived aboard and, along the way, we spawned two kids.

Here’s a look back at the Noughties, a decade that may well go down as the golden era for pleasureboating. Everyone was doing it, money was plentiful, and the parties were long and liquid. But for how long?

Many of the boats and owners were merely transient and some of the operators were opportunistic as lending was out of control. Phhttt! What’s that? The bubble burst and in 2008 when we had the Global Financial Crisis. We still haven’t recovered.

Riviera went into administration (now receivership), though it trades strongly on its incredible brand power, after which Mustang closed the doors before Barry-Cotter bought its assets. It’s not a bad thing, mind you, as pleasureboating has come back down to earth and our boats have become more intelligent.

Here are the picks from a decade of driving boats in the heady Noughties, a decade of profound change that we’re unlikely to ever see again…

In January 2000, we tested the Mariner 3350 (photo 2). Its big downfall was an engineroom that was tighter than the proverbial. But if you were an owner, chances are the servicing would be left to someone else. And as a small flybridge cruiser with Aussie utility, the 3350 was pretty good buying at $250,000 fully loaded with twin 210hp Cummins diesel engines.

At the same time, Bavaria was making a splash on the local yachting scene with budget-priced boats like the 34 (photo 3) for $194,000 as tested. A decade on and, well, the same money will buy you even more yacht these days. X-Yachts from Denmark and Scanyacht from Sweden arrived on the scene.

The Scanyacht 399DS (photo 4) was the first yacht we tested (2001) with local agents Windcraft, who now handles Hanse, Dehler and Moody as well. Catalina from America had a good hold with yachts like the big 470, and compatriots Hunter joined the space race with its high-volume 380 and 410.

Back in cruiser world, we saw fringe players like Gobbi (photo 5) from Italy, Silverton from the USA, local Leeder relaunching some tired designs, and boutique Sorrento in Melbourne and Lord Launches in Sydney indulge.

The two big American badges of Bayliner and Sea Ray released their new-season Cierra sportscruiser and Express cruiser styles, Wellcraft was around with its dashing cruisers, as the all-American Baja 33 Outlaw (photo 6) screamed Miami, and the Cranchi 39 from Italy impressed.

The Fairline Phantom 38 (photo 7) for $700,000 was a more elegant rendition of the sportscruiser built in the UK. On the flipside, our own Mustang came out with the Club Sport 2200 for the burgeoning entry-level market. From little things big things grow and the company surfed a wave of newbie boaters for years to follow.

TOP 40
The highlight of 2000 was the Riviera 40 (photo 8), among the best selling of all Rivieras, with fittingly termed Millennium styling featuring more curvaceous deck mouldings. This was a trait of the early-to-mid Noughties when CNC routers and 3D design programs suddenly allowed designers to create curves for the fun of it. As with most design eras, it would date soon. Not so the Riv 40.

In 2000, I tested the Solo 47 (photo 9) built in Asia by Jet-Tern Marine and Harvey Halvorsen from the former Kong & Halvorsen yard in Hong Kong. Priced at $970,000 loaded with single Cummins 220hp diesel engine and all the goodies, this timeless trawler was a hit in America as indeed it would be in today’s pared-back market. Ditto the Nordhavn 57 tested two months’ later in 2000.

We had some great yachts from French stables such as the Beneteau 47.7, Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 37 (photo 10), and the Wauquiez 40 Pilot Saloon. But the Oyster 53 (photo 11) — especially in Deck Saloon variant — from the UK set the bar for luxury cruising. The Sydney 38 from Nowra in NSW became a popular One Design racer, the local Bluewater 420 Centre Cockpit was more timeless, while the Aussie-made Austral Club Super 30 was a sprightly sportsyacht.

In 2001, now-defunct Salthouse had a terrific 65 flybridge cruiser (photo 12) with great engineering, even though the hull was a tad narrow and stretched from its 55 we tested a year earlier. More of a one-off, the Uniesse 42 sportsyacht I drove offshore had a great ride and a great big ticket of $900,000-plus. We tested a Uniesse 48 later in the year.

A wonderful Palm Beach 38 (photo 13) (about $450,000) was a highlight of mid-2001. It’s a local picnic boat par excellence. Riviera released its big selling 37 for about $470,000 loaded, then local sportscruiser company Sunrunner arrived on the scene with its 3400 and award-winning 3700. Meantime, the Caribbean 35 was updated to some degree.

On the mini-motoryacht front, Italian yard Azimut delivered a 42 in mid-2001 that was smart, Princess and Fairline both had 40-footers that were more enduring, and we tested a Sealine 43 (photo 14) from the UK that dared to be different. Compatriot Sunseeker solicited attention with its sleek Predator 56 and thereafter the brand rocketed to success in Australia.

The Kiwi Genesis Targa 400 (photo 15) was a pretty good boat, but for its outward sloping foredeck. And the Blackwatch 26 in its original form, without the raised cockpit sole but an engine box, ran well if not a tad tender. Mariner released the 370 in 2002 and the excellent 430 rebadged as a Wellcraft in America. It’s a great performing sportscruiser with twin petrol or (doughy) diesel sterndrives.

Catering for the top end of town were the Horizon 80 (photo 16) and Monte Fino 96 motoryachts. And by mid-2002, Princess had grown to V65 size and Fairline had a 62. Both boats were in the $3 million league.

July 2002 saw us test the Scimitar 1010 (photo 17) that, in 1997 while on another marine magazine, we bestowed our Boat of the Year Award. I tested the latest rendition of this same boat last month. It’s an evergreen, economical cruising cat.

On the local front, Riviera’s 58 (photo 18) (about $2 million) and best-selling 47 were released in 2002 to cater for the new big-boat order, as was Palm Beach’s 50. This writer was so taken by the ride of the Riviera 42 (photo 19) from 2003 that his family went on to buy one. The Riviera 51 from the same year also sold well overseas.

On the sailing front, we tested a homegrown Northshore 369 and a Fairway 36. Both Aussie boats are now history. Kay Cottee built a 56-footer that failed to ignite the market, while Seawind was kicking goals with its 1200 cat.

The Hanse 311 (photo 20) from Germany marked the beginning of something b-i-g and by 2005 the 411 and the badge was a tearaway success. Bavaria arrived with some yachts and then powerboats in mid-2004, while Four Winns from America added to the sportscruiser mix.

The Alaska 45 and Halvorsen 32 Gourmet Cruiser from Asia were from the classic fibreglass trawler mould. The Beneteau Swift Trawler 42 (photo 21) from the same year was a very nice French rendition and a best-seller to be.

Out of leftfield came the world-class Warren 75 (photo 22) that would so impress the Americans that they eventually bought the brand and opened a Queensland factory before the GFC sunk the lot.

Meantime, Mustang kept churning them out on the Gold Coast with sportscruisers to 46ft, before Maritimo released its first boat, a 60, to great fanfare in Sydney. Bill Barry-Cotter was back.

The pleasureboating world was positively heaving by 2005 when American brands like Larson, Boston Whaler, Silverton, Maxum, Meridian, Hydra-Sports, Tiara, Cruisers, Albin, Monterey, Carver, Regal, Viking, and Chris-Craft arrived like a Yankee landing party. So much fibreglass and faux chrome.

A Sunseeker 75 (photo 23) for about $6 million found a local home in 2005, as Riviera built M360 and M400 sportscruisers, the latter requiring a recall to fix a carbon monoxide issue. The Riviera 60 was launched, a Maritimo 53 (about $1.2 million) followed with questionable styling, and a Warren 87S ended the dazzling year of 2005.

Things were still rollicking in 2006. Highlights centre on the Pershing 50 (photo 24) with Arneson surface drives, the Chris-Craft 36, a Sunseeker Predator 82 for $6.95 million, a Bertram 670E, before a brace of Riva 33 Aquariva (photo 25, foreground) and 44 Rivaramas (phto 25, background) lobbed.

Riviera’s 56 and the best-selling Maritimo, the 48 (photo 26) with more than 100 built, were local stars in 2006. The Precision 58 was impressive before that company folded. Then in October we tested the Beneteau Flyer (photo 27) with Volvo Penta IPS pod drives. Yep, that was five years ago!

Grand Banks, Chris-Craft and Back Cove upped the ante in late 2006 with their upmarket boats for boating buffs. I drove a high priced Hatteras 68 Convertible (photo 28) in 2007 in a year that saw even more sportscruisers lob.

In the background, Beneteau and Jeanneau were ramping up production, but it was Hanse who was setting the sailing world on fire with some avant garde designs.

By now I was boating often, so the Marlow 57 (photo 29) ($2.86 million as tested) struck a chord in 2007 — the
ideal liveaboard —
as nautical style arrived via local handbuilt Pegiva dayboats, the Hanse Fjord 40, the Atlantis 55 and the Chris-Craft Catalina 29.

Steadfast boats took hold in 2008. Examples include the Alaska 56 Pilothouse, Grand Banks 47 Heritage and 65 Aleutian, Marlow Explorer 65, Fleming 55, and Hampton 680 Pilothouse (photo 30).

The dealer was left holding the San Lorenzo 72 motoryacht from Italy, as the Riviera 48 Offshore built for the American market held marginally more appeal. But the Maritimo C60 Sports Cabriolet (photo 31) for $1.65 million impressed this writer, almost as much as the Moody 45 Deck Saloon (photo 32) yacht with clever liveaboard design.

In October 2008, we also tested the Riviera 70 (photo 33) flagship for $5.45 million and the new gamefish-styled 500 Offshore from Maritimo that hasn’t caught that many.

Of course, 2009 was tougher still. Maritimo released its Aegean series for the European markets but there were few nibbles. The Asian-made Selene 55 marked a return to conservative values, as did the Outer Reef 63 passagemaker for footloose retirees, the last bastion of boatbuyers.

There were standouts like the Lazarra 75 LSX (photo 34) with triple IPS, and the Grand Banks 41 Heritage (photo 35) with Zeus pod drives. Back Cove had a nice 33 and 37. Then Maritimo released its flagship 73 for $4.7-plus million mid-2009 as the world contracted.

Riviera’s 5800 Sport Yacht with Euro styling was well-received, when the yard was in administration. We liked the Beneteau Swift Trawler 34, though the $495,000 ticket was an ask as the Asian yards gained traction again.

Sales of our December-January 2010 issue fell in concert with sentiments worldwide. But 2010 is the start of the next decade and already there are green shoots in the boating industry. Time will tell what the standouts will be but there has been a real flight to quality.

For pleasureboat builders it’s no longer just about numbers but keeping custom, building smarter, and using innovation to excite the market. The new blood hasn’t yet returned to boating, so most buyers are well-educated converts realising their long-held dreams.

I’d expect a few more choppy years before a serious shift to manufacturing overseas. This might be in the form of hulls and decks, with assembly onshore. While demand for commodities rages, our dollar will remain high and there will be challenges for local yards to compete. The so-called grey-imports are another issue.

But for consumers, it’s a good time to be buying and boating. Simply, we have more bargaining power in a market with smarter albeit less boats.


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