Seawind remains very proud of its Australian Heritage. Over 35 years ago Richard Ward started the seawind story. Literally thousands of boats of all sizes and hundreds of large cruising cats later, he is still as excited by the challenge as he was on the first day.
Over the years Seawind steadily grew and became the manufacturer of the two most successful sailing boats, in terms of production numbers ever built in Australia (1000 and 1160). A few years ago Richard purchased the Corsair brand and associated factory and assets etc. Corsair started in Australia, moved to California and then to Vietnam.
Richard had identified the need to insulate some production in Australia against rapidly rising costs and particularly the high Australian dollar. Corsair and Seawind are both leaders in their market area and the Corsair factory still contained many expatriate Australians. For these and many other reasons Seawind acquired Corsair and moved some production from Wollongong to Ho Chi Minh City. Ultimately all production will come out of the factory complex in Vietnam.
This has seen a structural realignment of the business with Richard focussing entirely on the production side of the business, with the sales of Seawinds in Australia and marketing of Seawinds world wide being handled by Brent Vaughan and team from Multihull Central.
I spent significant time at the factory late last year. The level of energy is high and getting higher, new Corsair models are being developed and production capacity and speed on the Seawind lines is being enhanced continually. Its already a fairly large complex with 3 large factories and ancillary buildings with 8,000 square metres undercover. The largest of the factories houses the Seawind final assembly and fit-out processes. There are a number of support buildings including Timber Shop and Varnish/Paint complex.
Perhaps the most interesting outbuilding is the store. Imagine a large chandlery – but with only one customer – the Seawind Corsair operation. Everything from resins to life rings is kept in stock to support the planned ramp up of production. There is a huge investment in holding this stock, but its a very necessary part of expanding the business.
220 employees call the complex home. The key positions are filled primarily with expatriates, not because expats are better than Vietnamese, its simply that the people chosen for the roles have significant experience and history with Seawind and Corsair.
Factory manager James Sganzeria( ex Corsair) is supported on the Corsair side of the business by Trimaran Production controller, Zam Bevan, who many people will know from Allyacht Spars in Brisbane.
On the Seawind Lines, Shane Grover is the Manager, again many in the industry will remember Shane from Seawind in Wollongong. Other people I recognised were Drew Barker (SW1000 Production Supervisor & formerly a shipwright at Seawind Australia), Mitchell Burke (SW1160 Production Supervisor & formerly a shipwright at Seawind Australia), Tayla Burns (SW 1000 & 1160 Assembly Supervisor & formerly a shipwright at Seawind Australia).
I spoke with Kevin Landry (currently SW1000 & 1160 Timber Fitout) & Michael Kluftinger (Lamination Manager) who each had over 20 years experience in their fields in Australia. They and others that I met and re-met were all enthusiastic about the new facility and really excited about the opportunity that was there for a new chapter in their lives.
Electrical matters are supervised by Brian Jackson who many may remember from his work in Australia and elsewhere, particularly on some of Alan Carwardines boat ( See separate story on what Alan is doing with the radical lightweight Stealth Designs).
Many of the senior people in Australia also spend significant time in Ho Chi Minh City.
The design drafting team is lead by Vinh, a Belgian Vietnamese who has two support staff. The rest of the factory is staffed by Vietnamese workers. Vietnam is a communist country so suggestions that workers are taken advantage of are fairly wide of the mark, indeed the labour regime is quite rigorous. Certainly labour costs are reduced compared to Australia, but industrial relations issues are as strong or stronger.
Overall it was an excellent experience, I spent much of my time there talking with Richard and his teams about the evolution of the Seawind products. I have owned a Seawind for 4 years, indeed owning a Seawind is what lead me to working with Seawind, I liked the boats that much that I became enthusiastic about marketing them. Over that time, and through talking with other owners many ideas are developed for changes, small and large to the boats and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to spend a lot of time working on future models and possibilities.
As an aside Vietnam is one of the most interesting countries I have been to. Whilst it is communist a huge number of people are actively pursuing their own business opportunities, the food is fantastic and cheap, the people pleasant and friendly and some of the geography, like Halong Bay and Phong Nha national Park is spectacular. It has its problems, litter is amazing in its volume for example, but overall it is a really rewarding experience.
Travel to Vietnam – it truly is a wonderful country and if you do, contact Multihull Central and they can organise a visit to the factory for you.
Andrew Crawford is a multihull tragic based in Brisbane Qld. He is the agent for Seawind Catamarans for Southern Queensland. He sails and loves his Seawind 1000XL, but can appreciate a wide range of designs and is a supporter of the Australian designers and their products.