Planning to cruise Australia’s east coast, Bill and Rae Hirn were determined to build “the perfect boat”, which like the perfect man or woman is an improbable brief to fulfil.
“We’d had an Alaska 45 Flybridge for nine years and we knew the only people who could build our next boat for us, were the Leigh-Smiths.”
Dean and Ryan Leigh-Smith, third generation of a venerable Gold Coast boating family, head up Alaska Motor Yachts AUS/NZ. Their vision is to design and build classic trawler-style boats, unrivalled for their seaworthiness and fuel-efficiency with luxuriously contemporary interiors. The Alaska 43 (13-metres) is the newest model in the series that includes the 47 Sedan, 47 Flybridge, 49 Yacht Fisher, 55ft Sedan, 55ft Flybridge and 60 Sedan series.
Bill and Rae were specific: “A smaller, sedan-style, compact, fuss-free, practical, quiet, comfortable, spacious boat with plenty of storage, easy access and no external timber for minimal maintenance”.
“At our stage of life, we want all the comforts of home, without being slaves to our boat. This was our opportunity to design our dream boat, from scratch,” says Bill, a plumber by trade who has owned and operated a stainless steel business, Hirco, since 1973, and ran a successful charter operation.
“I’ve owned boats most of my life and was a professional skipper for 15 years. I’m fairly handy and added a lot of extras, such as stainless rod holders, water filter and desalinator, and we carry most of the boat’s spare parts onboard.”
He approached the Leigh-Smiths and gave them the list of what was and wasn’t required.
“I told them we didn’t want a party boat – this was to be a serious cruising boat. We didn’t want air-conditioning – it requires the generator running and we decided that would be too noisy and although most people like Air-con we chose to do without it. We designed the boat so that with windows, doors and hatches with flyscreens, the breeze simply flows through.”
Also on the list, a reduced swim platform to accommodate a custom-made hydraulic davit for the tinny – no fancy RIB here, as Bill is experienced in navigating the atolls and beaches of The Whitsundays and knows the fearless tinny will handle the most jagged shorelines, where an inflatable could be torn.
The enclosed cockpit features custom-made flyscreens for keeping the bugs out and allowing the view and the seabreeze in. Two cockpit side doors were installed at the factory, more practical for ease of access at the Hirn’s waterfront pontoon at their home near Redcliff, Brisbane.
There’s no bench seating or fixed furniture, but Bill and Rae like it that way. “We bring out the teak table and chairs when we need them, and we often use an electric barbeque out the back instead of the flush mounted stove top. We enjoy a bit of fishing so we keep it uncluttered and clean out here.” The standard layout sees a moulded bench seat with table option.
The cockpit boasts an additional isotherm freezer, extra power points, Bill’s rod holders and towel racks, and access to the impeccably laid out engine room, still pristine just one week since handover.
“They’ve done a great job with the engineering,” says a proud Bill, surveying the symmetrical, well-labelled machinery, then pointing out his modifications in the water filter and desal system. “All the boat’s water goes through the filter. The reason for this,” he explains, warming to his subject, “is that you tend to get waterstains in the loo and like most boats if water sits for a while a tank-taste from the drinking water tanks.”
Perhaps the most ingenious customisation added to “Bilandra” – the boat’s name derived from the blend of Bill and Rae – is the discrete, neat solar panels on the aft roof. The flush mounted panels tastefully curve to the roof profile & measure on a few mm thick meaning they almost disappear.
“In our previous boat (christened “Kasala” – a variation on Alaska), we had to run the generator before we could cook. The solar panels and four extra batteries mean we can run almost all our systems off solar power. We have an onan 4Kw generator with sound shield & gas/water separator, the rest is solar powered.”
Not content to take a back seat, Rae was proactive from the outset. “Rae used to complain about how hard it was to make the bed when the master suite was forward. Now the master suite is amidships, with an island Queen-sized walkaround bed that’s easy to make, windows for cross ventilation and lots of head room, plus ensuite with full height shower. I wanted her input because if she likes it, she’ll be keen to use it.”
Forward, two generously-sized single beds trimmed in custom Sheridan linens comprise the guest cabin and as Bill points out, there’s plenty of room if families wished to install a third bunk bed, or opt instead for a Queen-sized bed.
In the saloon too, Rae’s touch is evident. The meals area is a neat galley kitchen with table and banquette seating, large fridge and freezer, stovetop, bar and storage, storage and more storage. Throughout, Mid-tone African cherry timber veneer in high gloss endows interiors with a traditional aesthetic and warmth along with premium carpets & ultra-leather trim to the seating.
“There’s no sunroof – we’re content to escape the sun,” but Dean & Ryan located a strategically placed Manship SS deck hatch overhead the helm position with an Oceanair sunblock / flyscreen system ensuring ventilation or full block out is available on demand.. Bill, whose expertise came to the fore in devising and installing a nifty swivel bracket for the TV. “We don’t use the stove very often, so I made this cover for more bench space,” he says referring to yet another piece of his handiwork.
At the helm, Bill opted for Raymarine navigation equipment, a Fusion sound system and an ICOM VHF radio. “I added an extra echo sounder at the keel, calibrated to feet for accuracy,” says the tech-whizz.
Features recognised as hallmarks of the Alaska brand that are retained in this model include the two large doors port and starboard and stainless steel flip up aft bulkhead windows which open to the cockpit, enhancing the sense of space and airflow.
High gunwales with stainless oval profile safety rails and wide walkways lead to the bow, where sunbathers or stargazers could stake their positions on this additional functional leisure area.
The team at Alaska relished the challenge of building Bill and Rae’s ultimate boat.
“Bill and Rae have owned an Alaska before which meant they knew exactly what they wanted,” says Dean Leigh-Smith. “The new build, the first of our 43-foot sedan models, allowed Bill the scope to make numerous changes that he & Rae wanted. As a previous owner he was very in tune with the vessels dimensions and how to get the best out of them.
“We designed the boat for Bill and Rae with AUTO-CAD drawings and fine-tuned all his custom requests, working with them over several drafts before we got it to his exact design.”
On this occasion, Bill didn’t visit the Alaska factory in Shanghai, which he did during the build process for their previous boat. “A commitment prevented me from going this time, but it’s amazing what you can achieve with email, and Ryan and Dean were heavily involved during construction.”
Forged from the same hull mould as the 47 Sedan, the 43 is positioned as the “compact version” Alaska without compromise and built to the highest of standards for the most discerning owners.
Clever design elements ensure the 43 series incorporates all the feel, practicality and comforts of the larger models in the Alaska stable.
“With so many of our clients often restricted in berthage size either at their residence or at their marina, there has been a strong demand for the renowned Alaska finishes, aesthetics and amidships master layout on the 43-foot hull, and we have finally delivered this.”
Class-leading differences include the 4.2-metre beam and efficient variable deadrise hull design, measures which ensure comfortable cruising at 9 to 10 knots or a sprint at 22 knots, and at anchor, excellent stability, unlike many round bilge designs. “At 16+ tonnes she’s one of the heavier built Motor Yachts in the 43ft class and this displacement weight equals a softer ride & more stability to owners looking to go further for longer,” says Dean Leigh-Smith.
Economical to own in all aspects, the twin 6.7 Litre Cummins 380hp engines deliver reliable, quiet and efficient cruising at 17 knots through conventional shaft drives.
Although Bill & Rae’s boat has a smaller 4kw & solar, the standard vessel has full LED lighting and a 6.5Kva Onan and 3KW inverter offering excellent on board power generation on their next 43 arriving shortly.
The 43 model carries 2,000L of fuel and 800L of water, which Bill plans to boost with the installation of his desalination machine.
The aft galley to port which opens through a stainless and glass aft bulkhead to the cockpit is designed for seamless flow and socialising onboard no matter the weather.
Catering to Bill’s credo of “minimal maintenance”, clients can choose non-skid composite decking which are durable and UV-resistant, requiring just a quick hose down, rather than traditional teak decks, still available for the purists.
Standard are the opening polished stainless steel ManShip Portlights with flyscreens to let the fresh air in, reverse cycle Marine Air Conditioning making for a comfortable environment from Cooktown to Hobart and the Side Power thrusters for ease of manoeuvring.
Owner’s options see the tender typically located on Snap davits or even a hydraulic Freedom Lift can be fitted, as with electronics and a full customised Sheridan interior linen package, they even pre-plumb & leave a circuit for underwater lights & a desalination unit is the new owners so desire.
“Alaska Motor Yachts offer an appealing blend of tradition and technology,” states Leigh-Smith. “Enduring style combined with state-of-the-art materials and accessories produce a truly remarkable vessel that retains an unprecedented resale value, which is important for owners looking for value for money and all the trimmings.”
Sitting regally on her custom-made, 15-metre Seapen enclosure, dry and protected from marine growth, Bilandra has been Bill’s “man cave” as he tinkers about in preparation for their maiden voyage. The Seapen itself is a miracle of engineering and much more than a raised berth. “I just text ‘down’ to the digital receiver and it lowers into the water,” says Bill. “Then I text ‘up’ and it raises the boat and the water drains out. It is a marvel.”
As the two of us crane our necks to look at the weed growing on the pontoon and bottom of the Seapen, rather than Bilandra’s hull, the Seapen’s pump activates to wash out the excess water.
“It was a major investment, but it means a hell of a lot less maintenance,” observes Bill.
Asked if they achieved their “perfect boat” in Bilandra, Bill doesn’t hesitate.
“It’s a smaller boat, but it’s much better designed, with a better use of space. I still have to make some adjustments before we start cruising, locally for the first six months or so, then up to Fraser Island, Lady Musgrave and eventually, The Whitsundays.
“But yes, I think it’s perfect, perfect for us.”
Leigh-Smith Yachts are located at the heart of Sanctuary Cove, if you’d like to visit them & perhaps meet for a one-on-one consultation in their state-of-the-art design showroom with Dean & or Ryan please contact them any time.