Super Yacht Builder Laps up Hauraki Plains Lifestyle
"I’ve got the best team I’ve ever had and I found it in Ngatea."
The sleepy rural settlement of Pipiroa, a short meander northwest of Thames, is an unlikely place to find someone manufacturing world class, luxury yachts. But just down the blackberry-lined road from Piako Pete’s flounder shop, Lifestyle Yachts Ltd owner/operator, Aaron Beattie, is doing just that.
His latest build, a 12m, Ron Given designed, wood/epoxy catamaran, bound for Noumea, was launched on the Pipiroa River at low tide on Tuesday March 5, 2013. The fourth boat manufactured in Aaron’s purpose built 400 sqm shed, the new cat, named POE METI, sports twin 220hp Volvos with vee-drive boxes, a genset (for backup power) and an onboard water maker to allow it to stay away from harbours and marinas for long periods of time. Other features include accommodation for eight, three fridges, built in deep freeze, 32” LED TV, Bose stereo, deck crane, and 3.1m Zodiac with 20hp Suzuki outboard.
With more than 25 years experience in all facets of boat building, including the design and construction of super yacht interiors, it’s no surprise Aaron is now manufacturing his own line of boats. What some may find surprising however is that he has chosen to manufacture them away from the bustle and berths of Auckland’s busy waterfront.
With his father and numerous uncles in the merchant navy, Aaron, who grew up messing about with sailboats in Wellington, expected he would one day follow suit. However, he enjoyed helping his father with weekend house building work enough to combine the two interests and become a boat builder instead.
An apprenticeship at a small Auckland yard in 1989, taught him a bit of everything over the next five years. Once qualified he went to McMullen & Wing, whose biggest claim to fame at the time was building Ceramco, New Zealand’s first ocean racing maxi yacht, for Sir Peter Blake’s around the world attempt in 1981. In 1987 the company also built the world’s first 12m fibreglass yacht for New Zealand’s debut in the America’s Cup, and when this country eventually sailed to America’s Cup victory in 1995 it was also at the helm of a McMullen & Wing built vessel.
Working on super yacht interiors was an eye opener for Aaron, especially in terms of how the other half lived.
“They (super yacht interiors) were like overdone hotel rooms with no expense spared,” he says, “The owners would spend ridiculous amounts of money - $50,000 on a coffee table, $100,000 on stereo units...”
His stint at McMullen & Wing led onto a couple of years with award winning, super yacht builders, Alloy Yachts NZ, where his wife- to-be, Christina, worked in accounts. She and Aaron continued to see each other once he left that company and a few years later they set up their own business, Global Marine Interiors, doing contract work for a number of Auckland super yacht yards.
“We leased a shed (in West Auckland) and had six guys working for us up there,” says Aaron, “But we were paying $50,000 per year just in rent, let alone rates and insurance. We would have had to put $100,000 more than we do now on each boat if we built them up there just to cover costs.”
In 2003, things came to a head. Tired of unreasonable landlords, astronomical overheads, and the prohibitive price of Auckland commercial property; the couple decided to leave the city in search of cheaper business overheads. Christina’s daughter, Shannen, was ten at the time and Christina was on maternity leave with the couple’s son, Luke, now nine.
Trawling the country online from Nelson to the Bay of Islands, Christina spotted her dream home in Pipiroa. It was the last place Aaron would have thought to look, but just an hour’s drive from Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga, with a low maintenance three bedroom home, four acres on which to custom build his own boat building facilities, and the Pipiroa River 100 metres down the road for ease of launching, he had to admit the property ticked all the boxes. To heap even more icing on the three-tiered cake, the asking price was less than the price of an Auckland shed alone.
The couple bought the property and in 2004 Lifestyle Yachts Ltd was born. The company’s first build was Katatriana, a 14.5m sail catamaran, for the couple’s solicitor.
“He rang me one day and said he’d read my business card properly and that he’d been dreaming about Katatriana for the last ten years and maybe I could build if for him,” says Aaron.
Today, Lifestyle Yachts Ltd has a low labour rate, no landlord breathing down its neck, and with the cheaper cost of living on offer in Pipiroa, is able to pass its savings on to its clients. The company also uses local businesses and contractors as much as possible and has had no trouble sourcing its local employees.
“If you have a good team of guys and a good work atmosphere it makes life a hell of a lot easier,” says Aaron. “I’ve got the best team I’ve ever had and I found it in Ngatea.” says Aaron.
If there is a disadvantage to being away from Auckland; it’s the logistics of getting materials to his yard.
“It takes a day or two for materials to turn up, but it’s not a major, I just have to be organised. The cost is also slightly higher, but not in the great scheme of things when you weigh everything else up.”
In terms of design Lifestyle Yachts Ltd works closely with renowned New Zealand catamaran designer, Ron Given. Aaron says Given, who has been designing, building and sailing catamarans since 1961, is one of the most passionate men he knows about his craft. Aaron is similarly enthusiastic about the big cats. More stable than their mono-hulled counterparts, they are also much more economical - sliding over the top of the ocean instead of punching through it.
“There are more cats being built these days than mono hulls. I don’t have to say much to sell them; they sell themselves.”
In the same way, owners seem to find Aaron rather than the other way around. Unlike mass produced boats, Lifestyle Yachts are custom designed to suit their owner’s aspirations on the water. Often owners come in and work on the boat themselves; one even travelled to China with Aaron to scout out materials.
“All the owners we’ve had have ended up being our friends by the end of the job, it usually takes a year so we get to know them really well,” says Aaron, “Our boats have heart and a personal touch. Compare them to boats around the world and they’re right up there with anyone else.”
So why choose Pipiroa of all places in the world to build them?
As the company name suggests, it’s as much about the lifestyle as it is about anything else. Instead of spending hours sitting in Auckland traffic every morning, Aaron simply strolls out the back door to work. In contrast to the Auckland neighbours they barely knew, the Beatties were friends with everyone in their Pipiroa Street before they’d even moved into their new home.
“It’s a much nicer atmosphere here,” says Aaron, “People have the time to talk. In Auckland everyone is in a mad rush.”
Actually, it’s not surprising at all that he has chosen to manufacture world class luxury yachts in the tiny rural settlement of Pipiroa – it’s simply good business sense.
View their website Lifestyle Yachts Limited
Photographs supplied by Lorraine Beattie
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