Not the new kids on the block: a history of the Australian yachting industry

Not the new kids on the block: a history of the Australian yachting industry

Recently, Echo Yachts launched in Perth the 84-metre catamaran White Rabbit Golf.  Its impressive silhouette, styled by Sam Sorgiovanni, was impressive as it cruised up the West Australian coastline for seatrials.  It is the largest yacht to be constructed in Australia, yet it most certainly isn’t the first.

The foundations of the modern superyacht stretches back to the 1930s J-Class yachts of the America’s Cup and Royal Yachts of Europe of the late 1800s onwards thus creating the two recognised epicentres of yachting; the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.

At the same time, however, the yachting pastime was blossoming in Australia.  It is a country, after all, with 60,000 kilometres of coastline on the mainland and outlying islands worth discovering.  One of the first, and most notable yachts, which can still be found sailing on Sydney Harbour is S/Y Sayonara.  Built in Adelaide in 1897, she was designed by William Fife whose knowledge was instrumental in the development of the Royal Yachting Association.

As the century turned, many classic sailing yachts were built for the growing Australian population and their recreational needs.  In 1909, Norman Wright began building yachts on the Brisbane River and, in 1928, they launched the 90-foot motor yacht, Stradbroke II.  At the time of her launch, she was the largest privately owned in the Commonwealth and arguably the first Australian-built superyacht.  She had been commissioned by Mr G.W. Whatmore and her significance was such that the Mayor of Brisbane was at her christening.

Australia's first superyachtImage courtesy of Norman Wrights and Sons

The first yacht which was a challenger for the America’s Cup was Gretel.  She was commission by Sir Frank Packer, patriarch of a still a yachting family, and built by Lars Halvorsen in 1962.  She may not have stolen the cup yet her Alan Payne design laid the groundwork for a successful campaign 21 years later.

As time progressed so did the industry, moving from predominantly sailing yachts to motor yacht with activity centred around three distinct areas; West Australia, Queensland and Tasmania.  Perth-based, Oceanfast, produced 22 yachts many in a strategic relationship with legendary designer, Jon Bannenberg.  In 1997 another designer broke onto the scene, Sam Sorgiovanni.  In 2003, Sam designed M/Y Aussie Rules (now Nomad) for Australian golfing magnate, Greg Norman, which Oceanfast built.  At nearly 70 metres, it was the largest yacht the yard built.

Meanwhile on Australia’s east coast, Lloyds Ships were building superyachts from the late 1970s including yachts designed by European powerhouse, Benetti.  Their neighbour, Australian Yacht Builders, launched in 1991 S/Y The Other Woman (now FAM) who at the time was the largest sailing superyacht.  She had a top speed of 24 knots powered by MTU engines and KaMeWa jets and her 2-metre draft made her a very unusual yacht.

Yacht building in Australia

Image courtesy of Boat International

In the new millennium, north Queensland yacht, NQEA, designed and built M/Y Ophelia (now Flying Manta) a 36-metre semi displacement yacht whose paint colour was specifically developed just for that yacht.  Further south, Incat Crowther was developing a world-leading reputation for multihull design which produced M/Y Seafaris and the first White Rabbit whose interior was also a Sam Sorgiovanni creation.

SilverYachts drew on the long heritage of boat and yacht building in West Australia to launch their fleet of distinct steel and aluminium yachts.  Like Oceanfast and Jon Banneberg in the 1980s, the yard’s relationship with iconic Norwegian designer, Espen Øino, has given the market quality Australian-built yachts.

Over 100 years since Sayonara and 90 since Stradbroke II were launched, Australia is still delivering iconic superyachts to a global audience.  From provenance in wooden sailing yachts, the country is now emerging as a leader in aluminium and particularly, multihull motor yachts.  This is a history which will be celebrated at the 2019 Australian Superyacht Rendezvous as much as the event will foster the new designers, talents and yards.

Silver Yachts Silver Loft Yachting Building Australia