Up close and personal

8 June 2021

Surrounded as we are by water, the ocean is interwoven into Australia’s national identity – an affinity that has made Australia a fixture on the international superyacht scene. Now, as attention turns to our shores, meet the mariners steering the future of this luxury industry at home.

Photography by Tourism Australia

From a world-famous urban harbour to the largest coral reef on the planet, Australia’s coastline has to be seen to be believed. And with year-round cruising, a reliable infrastructure and South Pacific islands as neighbours, it’s an ideal superyacht playground – one that remains blissfully crowd-free.

Australia’s vast shores hold myriad surprises and those craving luxury will certainly find it; whether that’s on the top deck at sunset with champagne in hand or on a helicopter being whisked to a private beach. With 35,000 kilometres of coastline to explore, Australia is a single nation of a million possibilities.

Yet, no matter the destination, at the core of the superyacht experience remains the people – and the Australian superyacht sector is driven by a passionate, close-knit community with a wealth of expertise to offer, whether that is the captains, crew, charter agents, marina owners or industry leaders.

Here, we introduce you to ten industry stalwarts shaping our industry.

MICHAEL GOODING, SILENTWORLD

Between stints in the navy and on prawn trawlers, dive boats, fast ferries, island resorts and now yachts, Michael Gooding has well and truly earned his sea legs. It’s a wealth of experience Michael draws on as captain of 40-metre superyacht Silentworld, in an industry that he believes can underestimate the skills people from other sectors contribute.

It’s why he invites every new addition to Silentworld’s tight-knit crew of eight to audit their existing procedures. “The fact that I’ve been in those other industries makes me believe that the same applies to other people as well – they bring other things to the table,” he says.

“There’s always different ways of achieving a similar result, so I like to be able to be a little bit flexible.”

Adaptability is an indispensable trait for a charter captain, who must tailor every trip exactly for each guest.

“Five star is about bespoke service – it’s not about a particular style, because everyone’s different,” Michael says.

His role, which calls for a mixture of maritime skill and top-level service, clicked for Michael, who knew he’d found his calling on Silentworld, which he’s captained since 2016.

With most of their typically well-travelled clientele used to the crowded Mediterranean, Michael’s team makes full use of Australia’s unspoiled waters. “It’s a unique opportunity for people that like to be surprised,” he says.

“It’s about us as a team working together and going, ‘This is going to be the best trip that they’ve ever been on. They’ve chartered 30 boats prior to us, and this is the one that they’re going to remember.’

“I love my job and the rewards it brings. I am able to offer guests an experience they will remember, and that is a trait and value that I try to bring to the team.”

It’s a long way from Toowoomba to Monaco, but that was the path Simon Hanrahan took en route to becoming a master for the acclaimed True North Adventure Cruises. A country boy from inland Queensland with a civil engineering degree, Simon worked up to captain over 18 years in the competitive Mediterranean superyacht market.

By 2014, Simon and his now-wife were ready to return to Australia when he was offered a two-week job aboard a True North expedition to Papua New Guinea. “I loved every minute,” Simon says.

“The crew worked extremely hard every day and we would cruise all night. They are the happiest, most dedicated and tightly knit crew I have worked with.” That fill-in role quickly became permanent.

True North spends nearly 300 days a year exploring the wild places of Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, with six months in the Kimberley, Western Australia. This ancient region is challenging to navigate, with serpentine rivers and 12-metre tides, but despite this (or, maybe because of it) it’s undoubtedly his favourite destination.

The Kimberley is one of the last remote wildernesses in the world. You can cruise for two weeks and not see another person.

Simon shares this passion as senior operations manager at Broome-based Marine Agents Australia, which provides everything from navigation to expert guides for yachts visiting Australia, particularly the Kimberley. Simon relishes any chance to help others discover the Kimberley. “You never get sick of hearing how this is the best holiday that they’ve ever had in their life.”

“The more you get to know it, the more you fall in love with the place. It’s hard to explain, but once you get up into the Kimberley it really does get into your blood.”

MARTIN AND JO DEBANKS, SPIRIT LUXURY CHARTERS

Can you imagine spending all day, every day, at sea with your significant other? For Jo and Martin Debanks, there’s no way they’d rather live.

Captain Martin and Cordon Bleu-trained chef Jo have spent thirty years living and working together in the yachting industry. The British-born couple met while travelling in Israel and worked on luxury dive and fishing charters before boarding their first superyacht in Mexico as newlyweds.

After years at sea, circumnavigating the globe twice, the professional nomads finally found a place to drop anchor in Australia. “When we first arrived in Australia fifteen years ago, we knew straight away it was where we wanted to settle down,” Jo says.

They landed in Tropical North Queensland where the avid divers felt they would find the quality of life they wanted while being able to further the careers they loved in the emerging Australian superyacht market.

The pair helms 35-metre motor yacht Spirit from its homeport of Cairns, offering luxury charters around the east coast of Australia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

Despite priding themselves and their crew on the highest levels of professionalism, Jo and Martin have a simple philosophy: happy crew, happy boat.

Their approach has paid dividends, with Spirit awarded 2019 Australian Voyage Award for its ten-day charter between Port Douglas and Lizard Island.

Even after so many years, Jo and Martin still approach every journey afresh. According to Jo, “Each charter is different. Spirit and her crew are all about creating a welcoming, professional and memorable experience.

“Making it special and unique for each guest is our main goal – we want our guests to go away wanting more.”

JOACHIM HOWARD, OCEAN ALLIANCE

For Ocean Alliance managing director Joachim Howard, not much comes close to the experience on a chartered superyacht. The ability for guests to customise every element of their journey – from the itinerary to cuisine to activities – along with the flexibility to change any element at any point offers a level of freedom not often found in the luxury travel market.

“The yachting experience on a professionally crewed vessel is completely customisable, completely curated – every touchpoint, every component of that experience is customised to the charterer and their group,” he says.

Joachim discovered this heady world in his early twenties, cutting his teeth on crews in Europe. Born beside the Pacific in Papua New Guinea and raised in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, sandwiched between Port Phillip Bay and the wild Bass Strait, Joachim had grown up on the water – surfing, diving, then crewing tourism boats and ferries.

The eight years he spent on superyachts exploring Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean he wouldn’t exchange for the world.

Returning home in 2006 and moving into yacht brokerage, Joachim quickly realised there were no full-service companies in Australia managing large charter yachts. He founded luxury yacht agency Ocean Alliance in 2011 with a single vessel on the books and now offers anything from day trips to weeks-long charters on board the region’s fleet of superyachts operating around Australia and the South Pacific.

The business has grown in tandem with the Australian industry, which Joachim believes is benefiting from charterers’ increasing desire to explore places they haven’t chartered before. His ambition is to help more local and overseas guests discover the Australian superyacht experience for themselves. “It really is a special experience, and one that can provide such great exposure to what Australia has to offer.”

JOANNE DRAKE, SUPERYACHT GROUP GREAT BARRIER REEF

When you have an explorer in the family bloodline, a maritime career might seem downright fated. Joanne Drake – a descendant of the infamous 16th-century English admiral Sir Francis Drake, as her grandmother tells it – grew up in Pemberton, a bucolic tree-encircled town in Western Australia.

But it wasn’t until she found herself working on a Great Barrier Reef expedition vessel that Joanne imagined making a career out of life on the ocean. Shortly after, she was invited to join a newly constructed yacht sailing out of Cairns, a voyage that would see her explore the world and meet her future husband on board. “It was a wonderful experience and I’ve never looked back,” Joanne says.

A 17-year superyacht career as chief stewardess, purser and medical-person-in-charge took Joanne as far afield as the South Pacific, the Caribbean, the US and the Mediterranean, but she’s returned to where it all began as manager of SuperYacht Group Great Barrier Reef.

Joanne’s primary duty is to convey the “appeal, diversity and capability” of her world-famous region to superyachts and their clientele, but she is equally committed to protecting Australia’s greatest living icon.

“Conveying the true story of the health of the Great Barrier Reef is of paramount importance,” Joanne says, who advocates for superyachts to become involved in the preservation, research and maintenance of the delicate ecosystem. By promoting the outstanding beauty of her corner of Australia, Joanne aims to convert every visitor into an ambassador for the reef and send them off with “living stories worthy of passing on to their grandchildren.

“My hope is for superyachts visiting the Great Barrier Reef to take the time to discover, enjoy and be a part of our work to preserve the outstanding, undiscovered experiences unique to our region and treasure those indelible memories forever.”

SEAN PROSSER, INFINITY PACIFIC

Sean Prosser starts planning his charters months out. Poring over charts, chatting to locals, putting in calls to other captains who have visited the intended destinations – as captain of the 40-metre Infinity Pacific, Sean thrives on finding new and unexpected experiences for his guests. By the end, every detail will be sorted – from isolated anchorages to secret fishing or snorkelling spots.

When guests arrive, everything is already arranged – making things flow seamlessly ensures they have the most relaxing and enjoyable experience. “The guests love it,” says Sean.

“We’re finding them these amazing locations to have a barbecue on the back deck while they’re fishing as the sun sets on a 40-metre superyacht. Everyone’s having a good time.”

Born in Perth, Sean was ocean-bound as much as possible from an early age. “It became a passion of mine to essentially be on the water as much as I could,” he says. By 25, he’d headed for Europe, working up from deckhand to captain over ten years on Mediterranean superyachts.

Although his time overseas exposed him to amazing places, Sean views it as the culmination of his career to be back cruising Australian waters. Australia’s scale means the Infinity Pacific can charter year-round, visiting the urban hubs of Sydney and Melbourne in summer and taking in the sun-kissed natural wonders of the Whitsundays, the Kimberley and northwest coast in the Southern Hemisphere’s cooler months.

Wherever they journey, after the crowded international scene, Australia’s isolation is a balm for Sean. “You can get out there and get into some of the most pristine waters in the world and not see another yacht for a day or two, which is unheard of in the Caribbean, the Americas and especially Europe,” he says.

Sean is never happier than when he is exploring the edges of the map: “Ultimately that’s why I do this job – to explore the world.”

CLARE ROBERTS, CHIEF STEWARDESS

To crew a superyacht is to strive for a level of perfection that eludes most five-star hotels. “It’s next level – it’s six-star,” says Clare Roberts, the Tasmanian-born chief stewardess of an exclusive private 60-metre Feadship (a Netherlands-built bespoke superyacht).

Every room must look untouched, every meal is delivered at fine-dining standards, and every whim anticipated and answered. The responsibility for this outward perfection rests with the chief stewardess.

When Clare first ventured onto a superyacht, it was simply to fund her European travels. With a one-way ticket to Antibes in France, where superyachts crew up for summer, Clare got her first job by dock-walking. “You’d walk along the docks, ringing the doorbells on these huge superyachts and just say, ‘Hi, I’m a stewardess looking for work.’”

Within a year, Clare realised this was more than a part-time career, and quickly worked her way up.

Despite having two degrees and a corporate career behind her, Clare vastly prefers the hands-on life and spontaneity of working on a superyacht.

“You have to be very energetic. And flexibility is key. People always put that in their CVs, but it takes on a whole new meaning when you’re on the boat; your life is the boat, your life is the guests and the crew.”

“You might have 12 guests one day for lunch and the next day a party of 120.” Her reputation has seen her hold chief stewardess roles for the past seven years without ever applying for a job.

Clare explored Australia on a superyacht for the first time just last year and was reminded of her homeland’s untamed beauty. “The untouched beaches and isolated anchorages that are becoming harder to find in popular yachting destinations such as the South of France and the Italian Riviera are huge drawcards for Australia as a yachting destination,” Clare says.

That pristine quality is one of Australia’s greatest assets, she believes. And Australia’s best superyacht destination? It has to be Tassie, of course.

PAUL DARROUZET, CORAL SEA MARINA RESORT

Even though it’s been near on forty years since Paul Darrouzet first encountered the Whitsundays, its beauty still strikes him. “It’s as pretty as anywhere in the world,” he says. A permanent resident since 2013, Paul owns the commercial marina, Coral Sea Marina, and waterfront hotel Coral Sea Marina Resort in Airlie Beach – a gateway to the 74 Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef.

A lifelong seafarer, growing up between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, Paul is also a champion of the Australian superyacht industry: “Five thousand of these bigger vessels float around the world and less than one per cent visited Australia last year,” Pauls says.

“There’s no reason – since we’re nominated as the first-, second- or third-best cruising ground on the planet and we’re unexplored – that we couldn’t welcome more vessels down under.”

Recent legislative changes reducing barriers to the industry look set to help Australia fulfil that promise, with the vibrant resort town of Airlie Beach certain to shine as a launchpad for adventures in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The future of Australian tourism is in high-yield, high-value customers. We want people who want to immerse themselves in all the things you can do here and soak it all up and really have a great time.

One of the oft-repeated charms of the Whitsunday islands is that, despite its justified fame, it’s rare for yachts to even sight another boat. Paul’s confident this isn’t going to change anytime soon, with ample remote anchorages and wide-open spaces for every visitor hankering after an empty beach or secret cove.

Although Paul offers some lesser-known spots, including Langford Reef off Hook Island and Goldsmith and Thomas islands, he maintains there’s no such thing as crowds in the Whitsundays. “There are many, many spots that are sort of a little bit off the beaten track, which isn’t that beaten anyway.”

MARYANNE EDWARDS, GLOBAL MARINE BUSINESS ADVISORS

In the Australian superyacht world, not many leaders can claim a CV as comprehensive as MaryAnne Edwards. As the Australian and New Zealand representative for Global Marine Business Advisors – a collective of 12 international marine industry experts – and former CEO of the Australian Marine Export Group (AIMEX) and Superyacht Australia, MaryAnne has helped shape the industry.

With a background in a multitude of other industries, MaryAnne’s expertise lies in “driving struggling businesses forward,” she says. The New Zealand-born executive merged AIMEX and Superyacht Australia in 2012 and, with the support of industry, lobbied for changes to Australia’s restrictive charter regulations and advocated the value of superyachts as a high-end luxury tourism product for Australia. “I love the superyacht industry,” she says. “It combines so many aspects of the issues I am passionate about.”

Between Australia’s renowned manufacturing and refitting capabilities, its year-round season and world-class marinas and support services – to say nothing of its natural attributes and iconic destinations – MaryAnne believes Australia can safely claim to be among the top superyacht destinations on the planet.

Globally, our offering is second to none. Everything that a high-end boat owner might want, we can deliver right here in Australia.

“We have pristine waters, unique experiences, can cater for every superyacht’s wants and needs, and have a myriad of luxury high-end experiences,” she says. “In my view, we’re probably one of the best-positioned countries in the world to take advantage of the superyacht market.”

As more superyachts turn their prows toward the Southern Hemisphere, MaryAnne is confident captains, crews and charter guests alike will find what they’re looking for in Australia. “In the world we are currently living in, safe, pristine, clean environments are a big priority for everyone, and Australia and the wider Pacific have it all.”

DAVID GOOD, SUPERYACHT AUSTRALIA

Growing up in Perth, David Good has vivid memories of the 1987 America’s Cup, encountering crews of all nationalities lined up along the Fremantle waterfront. “For me, it was a geography lesson,” he says.

Years later, it’s his responsibility to lure boats from around the world into Australian waters as CEO of Superyacht Australia, the national body for the industry.

Having previously managed the country’s top superyacht marina in Cairns, David sees vast potential in Australia as a superyacht destination, partly predicated on our reputation as seafarers. “Most of us grew up near the coast or near a waterway. It makes us fairly unique in the world; our reputation over the years as good sailors has made us attractive as crew.”

So much so, that Superyacht Australia estimates a quarter of all superyacht crew globally are Australian, each one an advocate for their homeland. Add to that the uncrowded waters encircling Australia and proximity to the South Pacific and you have a potent offering to lure yachts away from the dominant Mediterranean and Caribbean markets.

One of our catch cries is, Australia has it all – There’s nothing that Australia doesn’t have.

Australia is a destination for visitation, but we also build superyachts, we can service superyachts, and we can provide the world’s best tradesmen and crew.

Although there’s been sustained growth in the multi-billion-dollar industry, David predicts that Australia is on the cusp of a doubling of visitation thanks to legislation passed last year permitting foreign superyachts to charter in domestic waters. Those who visit will discover that not only does Australia offer world-class cruising, it has the engineering expertise, crew and facilities to support them.

In time, David hopes the South Pacific will become one of the world’s top three superyacht destinations, with Australia leading the way. “We’ve got a way to go to get to that,” he admits. “But I think that’s our rightful place in the world.”

australia.com

 

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