We caught up with the Maritimo Founder and boating industry legend during Hamilton Island Race Week to discuss his renewed passion for sailing.
I grew up on a farm…in the Snowy Mountains before we came to Sydney. My early love of boating was through sailing. I sailed that area around Pittwater and on Sydney Harbour for years.
I remember buying a little kayak off one of the kids at school…It was just before I left school to start my apprenticeship. I had to paddle it eight miles back to Bayview [in Sydney’s Northern Beaches]. I was halfway back when I noticed some water and broken bits of plywood. So, I started pulling the bits out before I realised that was actually the bottom of the kayak! So, I stopped pulling and carefully paddled it back!
We built a couple of sail boats that we raced...Kendal [Barry-Cotter, Bill’s brother] was the sailmaker by trade and I was a boat builder. He’d make the sails and I would build the boat. Then we’d fight over the boat the whole time. Kendal would say ‘Don’t wreck my sails’ and I’d say ‘Well, don’t wreck my boat!’. The 1976 Sydney to Hobart Race with Kendal [in a Carter 33 named Ghost] was another treasured memory. I really enjoyed that.
Kendal and I started to build a six-metre yacht…but it was scrapped due to an argument over classification rules. Then I built a powerboat for [hairdresser and businessman] Stefan to race [in 1986]. And that was it. I gave the sailing away. It’s only been in the last four years that I’ve gotten involved in sailing again.
I’ve been buildings boats for 60 years now…You meet some really interesting people in this business. The people you sell boats to, the development of the new models and the changing market are what keep me inspired. Too many people in this industry are not really boat builders though. They don’t have that knowledge. It’s all practical experience and that lack of knowledge is a hard thing to overcome.
You need to keep pushing the technical side of boat building to stay ahead of the game…Whether it be in the materials, design or trying to make boats more economical fuel wise. You’ve just got to keep at it. For Australia, they’ve got to be very good sea boats. For other parts of the world that capability doesn’t matter as much but in Australia it’s critical. We’ve delivered over 40 Maritimos to Perth on water, most of them over the top, a few around the bottom. We’ve also delivered over 100 boats to New Zealand, all on water. Nobody else can even come close to that.
I’m always looking forward…The design side is now really all from Tom [Barry-Cotter, Bill’s son and Maritimo Managing Director]. With a nucleus of good people, he’s taken over the running of the business. I’m the Chairman, but not really involved in the day-to-day, aside from a few technical things that I like to get involved with.
It’s wonderful to see the great job Tom is doing…He’s really got a passion for it. For anybody, if you’ve got a passion for what you’re doing, you’ll be good at it.
Finding Katwinchar sparked my interest in sailing again…It was a boat that was built in England in 1904. Three guys sailed it to Australia after the war and entered it in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in 1951. My dad bought the boat [a 32-foot ketch] in 1960 and we used that boat for years around Pittwater. After Dad sold it we lost contact with it. Later, I looked for years trying to find it, one day someone rang me and said ‘It’s on Gumtree!’ So, I contacted the lady and found out that her husband had died. She kindly gave it to me, and it took the Maritimo Special Projects Team two years to restore it. We have a group of really skilled tradesmen at Maritimo that we literally use for special projects.
Katwinchar was just going to be a little boat to cruise around Pittwater…that was my original intention with restoring it. But as soon as Kendal gets involved all he wants to do is race! The boys sailed it as a grand veteran in the Sydney Hobart in 2019. It was great. After that, we thought it was a good idea to find something that was a bit saner to race, which became Maritimo 11.
Bringing the yacht to Australia was a nightmare…Kendal and Michael [Spies] found this vessel, called Swiftsure 11 [a 54-ft Westerly Marine-built yacht] in San Francisco. We bought it, and they were going to sail it back here but then COVID happened. So, we pulled the keel off it, put it on a ship and restored it as Maritimo 11.
We took some of our Maritimo owners out on Maritimo 11…We were up here at Hamilton Island for the Maritimo Migration. They were all blown away by the sailing. I was quite surprised coming from powerboat owners how much interest there was in the sailboat.
This was my first Hamilton Island Race Week…The whole environment of this place is great. So much effort has been put into it; the Oatley family have done such a great job. I went out on Maritimo 11 for the first race. I loved it but I was too sore the next day! I should have started sailing again 20 odd years ago. I love the freedom of it when you’re out there sailing. I’ve got a passion for the water.
Giving opportunities to the next generation is important…Addie [Addison Newland, 14-year-old Maritimo 11 crew member] is great. Michael [Spies, Maritimo 11 skipper] met Addie through the Southport Yacht Club and he has gone out of his way to help her. We made the offer for her to come up to Hamilton Island and race the boat. She’s done well.
We’re still learning with Maritimo 11…We’ll keep playing with it to see if we can get it a bit quicker. We’re also trying to get a new mast for it from another boat that was damaged in an accident. We’ll be competing the Sydney Hobart again this year. Michael and Kendal will be doing it again together. That’s the plan!
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