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Celebrating international ties – Record numbers at the 2024 Southport Captain’s Long Lunch

Record numbers attended the 2024 Rivergate and Southport Yacht Club Superyacht Captains’ Long Lunch, savouring the chance to socialise ahead of a huge month for the marine industry.

The 11th annual Rivergate and Southport Yacht Club Superyacht Captains’ Long Lunch was held on the Club’s Western Deck, overlooking the Waterscape Pontoon Bar and marina. This year’s event, hosted by Rivergate Marina & Shipyard and Southport Yacht Club, welcomed 44 guests, representing visiting international experts ahead of speaking engagements at the ASMEX Conference, superyacht Captains, industry proponents from AIMEX-Superyacht Australia, MSQ, agents and suppliers.

Esteemed international guests included Theo Hooning, Secretary General, Superyacht Builders Association (SYBAss), Kitty McGowan, President, US Superyacht Association, and Mark Mellinger, President, Headhunter Inc.

With the first hint of winter in the salty air, guests gathered on SYC’s Western Deck, with commanding views across the Broadwater and to the Megayacht Berth – Australia’s largest at 163-metres.

Steve Fisher, Rivergate’s Director of International Business, welcomed guests in his inimitable and succinct style, and introduced Rivergate Director, Tom Hill who thanked Captains for their continued support of Rivergate. Patriarch, Bob Hill was also in attendance.

As with all of Rivergate’s social events, it didn’t take long for guests to find common ground, discussing the upcoming ASMEX Conference, Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show, and the diverse issues and current topics of interest in international superyacht spheres.

Several of the skippers made a special effort to attend, taking time off from overseeing refit works at Rivergate, including Captain Damien Dempsey, skipper of 37-metre sailing yacht, Radiance. The Ed Dubois-designed sloop has been at Rivergate for seven months, undertaking a thorough refit ahead of resuming its global voyage.

A veteran of more than 30 years of sailing, helming private yachts and charter vessels in the cruising grounds of Alaska, the Pacific, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, Captain Damien admits he is certainly “landsick” and eager to get back on board and onto the next destination.

“Thankfully, Rivergate has been a wonderful place to base Radiance and undertake works,” he said. “Along with excellent facilities, it’s important to find a refit team who understand what we’re trying to achieve and who will look after the boat during major works. It is after all, a five-star floating hotel.

“Andrew Cannon and the team are knowledgeable. They focus on the customer and the job to be done. Andrew is very diplomatic and knows how to liaise with all the trades and contractors to make the project work. We are very satisfied.”

This was Captain Damien’s first Rivergate Captains’ Long Lunch, and he said he appreciated the opportunity to “meet, hang out, shoot the breeze with other Captains”.

“In Palm (de Mallorca, Spain) where I’m based, we have a Captains’ Club that holds similar get togethers. We exchange information about anchorages and destinations. It’s great to discuss these things with others who share the same livelihood and lifestyle – and what a lifestyle! And it’s a good chance to gossip about people who don’t attend!” he joked.

The Captain of the 41-metre, world-cruising motor yacht, Batavia, Mark Clacher, has been skipper for the same owners for 20 years, and at the helm of Batavia for seven years, exploring the waters of Lankawi, Thailand, the Maldives, Indonesia, Cambodia and Borneo.

Now back in Australia to enjoy Sydney and the Whitsundays, Captain Mark said there was nothing better than some time off the boat to catch up with old mates and meet new people.

“It’s refreshing to hear stories from other Captains, how they find the various yards, who they recommend and share our experiences. And it’s just nice to socialise with people who understand what you do and why we love it!”

Captain Scott Carter, skipper of the 42-metre, triple-masted, Southern Cloud, was looking forward to completing refit works at Rivergate ahead of setting sail to Fiji with owners on board for a season of surfing, fishing and diving.

Captain Adam Conde, one of two relief skippers aboard 46-metre Benetti, MY More, said he is planning to take the freshly refit vessel north to the Whitsundays and eventually, the Kimberleys during its first season in charter.

Charter, one of the key topics of discussion over lunch, is only growing stronger in Australia, and seems to be impervious to economical fluctuations and ‘cost of living pressures’.

“Charter is very popular with families,” explained Captain Glen Gray of MY Quantum, the 37-metre Warren S120 which is currently for sale and on the Gold Coast to attend SCIBS.

“I would say the corporate side has dried up somewhat, but there are still busy months: February, October, December, and events like the Rugby League Grand Final in September,” said Captain Glen.

“In January, families like to head up to Palm Beach and in February, there’s an influx of celebrities into Sydney for shows, such as Pink and Taylor Swift. In August and September, it’s all about the Whitsundays, based around Race Week.”

Another topic of discussion was the constant challenge to source quality crew.

“It’s a never-ending challenge!” said Captain Bruce Jenkins of 48-metre charter yacht, MY Big Sky. “There’s no simple solution, you just have to persevere.”

Asked if reality TV series such as Below Deck were helpful in attracting new blood to the business, the resounding response on this occasion was “No!”

“In fact, in many cases it attracts the wrong people to the industry. They see the show and think it’s all parties and jacuzzis. They don’t realise the level of service and skills required for charter.”

Captain Charlie Howell of 27-metre Horizon, MY Encore, based on the Gold Coast, was thrilled to catch up with fellow Captains on home turf. “It’s a great networking event, a chance to discuss business, but also let our hair down a little and have some fun.”

From Carter Marine Agencies, Carrie Carter is a regular at Rivergate events. She said, “It’s always wonderful to see friends in the industry who live far and wide and catch up with their news – who’s looking for work, where they’re off to next, how we can help. Southport Yacht Club is a lovely venue, great food and fabulous company!”

Geoff Majer, Director at Major Yacht Services Australia, based in Sydney, with another office in Cairns, said the event this year was “a great format and the location was spot on!”

“It was a great turnout of Captains – a lot of the more seasoned skippers who I have known for 25 or so years, and they went overseas and did their thing, and now they’re back. It was great to reconnect with them.

“I appreciated the update from pilots for the area, MSQ, and it was good to hear what’s happening in the Broadwater in terms of new marina developments.”

Sarah Egan, Director of BoatStyle, who was the Designer/Project Manager for the refit of MY More, commented, “It’s important for me to touch base with Captains, many of whom I’ve known for many years.

“I like being able to speak with them about the technical systems that work on board for them, software programs, management programs; and itineraries, where they take their owners and guests. I like to pass on their suggestions to my clients.”

Kitty McGowan, a native of Florida and President of the US Superyacht Association, has previously visited Australia for the ASMEX Conference and said she is thrilled to be back.

“It’s always fun, and I learn so much from the local industry and delegates to the conference.”

It was Director of SYBASS, Theo Hooning’s first visit to Australia, and fresh off the plane, he was quick to praise the Megayacht Berth as world-class.

AIMEX-Superyacht Australia CEO, David Good deemed this year’s RMS-SYC Superyacht Captains’ Long Lunch “The best one by far!”

“There was a really good mix of Captains, the best food I’ve experienced at Southport Yacht Club, and all the overseas guests were impressed by the hospitality, as well as the Megayacht Berth. I think they were surprised at the level of infrastructure, and the Gold Coast marina and shipyard tours on Wednesday 22 May will further impress them.”

Steve Fisher, who ended his duties on the day with a cuddle with the youngest member of the Rivergate team, 7-month-old Violet Hill (daughter of Tom and Shannelle Hill), was pleased with the response to the event and notched it up as “one of the best ever”.

“There’s no doubt that we all benefit from these social occasions. It is about networking and talking business in a casual setting, but really, the friendships that unite us over the years are the most important.”