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JOHN BRAITHWAITE - SUNSEEKER

2024-01-29 12:27

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People,

JOHN BRAITHWAITE - SUNSEEKER

INTERVIEW John Braithwaite by Francesca Albini

by Francesca Albini

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He announced his retirement from the world boating stage on his 70th birthday, as befits great international stars. John Braithwaite was one of the great innovators of boating and, with his brother Robert who passed away in 2019, formed an unbreakable pair for more than half a century. Superhawk, Predator, Manhattan are the names of the boats designed at the British shipyards in Poole. Known and appreciated all over the world because they are the result of great research work, Sunseekers have never conceded anything to quality, comfort and speed. «Robert and I have tried to offer our customers innovative and exciting products. This philosophy, along with a strong and iconic design, has been critical to our success». These are the Sunseeker brother’s words.

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WHAT IS SUNSEEKER TO YOU? 

We started as a family boat business in the early 60s, we were selling wooden boats. I joined the business as an apprentice. My father was a traditional boat builder, he was doing everything that involved building boats, so my whole childhood was about learning a passion about boats. I started at 15 and I have always had a passion for design. The first model we built was a 20-footer, I made the plywood myself and I also fitted it. And that model is still working properly. 

We were obsessed with Riva, because it was the biggest and only brand that people knew and their boats were special. Robert and I always wanted to be the British Riva, we wanted to build different boats and create a very recognized brand name.

 

WHEN DID THE COMPANY START TO BE CALLED SUNSEEKER?

We wanted something different, a product unlike any other. One of the top designers in those days was Don Shead known for building race boats. We approached him and told him that we needed him for something special. He liked our vision and so we started thinking about brand names and we came up with Sunseeker in the early 70s.

We worked together with Don Shead’s team. Actually, I never liked that he designed boats made out of aluminum. Everything was flat and that really annoyed me, with fiberglass you could really create any shape. 

I think one of our biggest breakthroughs was when we brought out the Hawk range. That is when Sunseeker really changed. We first designed the Tomahawk; I took over styling. Don was doing the hulls; I was on the majority of the decks: the image of the company began to change, we made one or two models. 

But the real breakthrough was the Superhawk, which was based on Don Shead's World Championship boat, the Apache.

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YOU MENTIONED RIVA, IT IS SOMETHING THAT ALL PEOPLE KNOW VERY WELL. WHAT DID YOU APPRECIATE OF RIVA?

In the late 60s and 70s, it was the only brand and every boat you saw was a Riva: any powerboat you talked about was a Riva. In a film festival people always got out of a Riva, nothing else. The boats were unique, they were boats of their own, Riva created their own product. That is what we searched for. It probably took 15 years to find our own product. The defining moment was the creation of the Superhawk. We have achieved our goal.

 

THE FAST CRUISING BOAT IS THE OTHER THEME WE CAN EXPLORE A LITTLE BIT BECAUSE OTHER BRANDS ARE TRYING TO GO FAST BUT THE INDUSTRY IS MOVING TO SLOW MOTION AND SLOW SAILING BECAUSE OF FUEL CONSUMPTION. JOHN, WHAT IS YOUR OPINION? 

I think in the late 90s speed was everything. Every boat needed to reach 50 knots, so whether she was a Superhawk 50 or not, we had standard boat that would cruise 50 knots. Then it was the same with the Predator 108 which would reach 50 knots. It was a matter of quality, speed and a hull that was capable of doing that. I think the world is a different place now. Nowadays, speed is not the number one thing on people’s wish list, they don’t want to go that fast. 

This is what we do as a business, we follow the market. We built bigger and fastest boats because the market wanted them, the last thing you would do is building something which the market doesn’t want. 

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BOATS ARE BECOMING BIGGER AND BIGGER, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS RACE TO BE THE LARGEST? 

This is something I disagreed with my brother, I think that once you enter the bigger boats segment it’s ship building and it’s a different industry with different clients. Today we are not thinking about building boats over 43 meters. We were in partnership with Peter Lürssen for a period, they could see that there was a business for them in selling and having Sunseeker for their clients and vice versa. But in those couple of years we worked with them we realized that Lürssen had very different customer from us. Anyway they still buy Sunseeker. Roman Abramovich still has a Sunseeker on the Le Grand Blue, which I think he gave to his wife. 

 

DO YOU THINK THAT BEING A FAMILY BUSINESS IS POSITIVE IN THE SHIP BUILDING? 

I think it was in our days, I don’t know if today still is: everything is different now. We started when boating was at its infancy. Literally, the first boat coming in the UK were from the USA, it was after WW2 and I think that being a family business worked out well. But, again, it depends on the personality and the business. These days you need a lot of money, because it’s an industry. As Andrea (Frabetti, ed.) often says: «The chemistry between John and Robert is very similar to that between Norberto and Alessandro Ferretti».
 

LET’S GO BACK WHEN YOU STARTED. DID YOU EXPECT SUNSEEKER TO BECOME SO BIG?
No, I think it was a dream. If my brother was alive now, he would say yes, but he would be lying. It is a dream that has come true

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YACHTING IS MOVING WITH A STRONG RELATION WITH DESIGNERS, NOT ONLY YACHT DESIGNER BUT ALSO IN TERMS OF INTERIORS AND FURNITURE DESIGN. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT THAT?

Well, I think that is a major part of the product now. The world has changed and the owners are more decerning in their homes, I think it is inevitable and it is going that way. 

 

COMFORT, SPEED, AESTHETIC: WHAT COMES FIRST? 

Basically, it is speed and comfort. The two go along with each other because there is no point in building a boat which will do 30 knots, but it is not comfortable. One thing about the Sunseeker hulls is that you can take them in every condition, wherever condition and speed. So, that is very important, even on new hulls.

 

IS THERE ROOM FOR NEW HULLS AND NEW DESIGN ON POWERBOATS? MAYBE FOILING? 

Sure, 100 percent. I think foiling is going to be a game changer in all boats. I think this is going to be a great innovation.

 

JOHN, TALKING ABOUT INNOVATION, IS THERE A BOAT THAT YOU DID NOT DEVELOP AND THAT YOU WISH YOU HAD PRODUCED?

No, I think we did so many boats that we almost did everything we wanted to. I think there are probably some boats that we shouldn’t have done. Some years ago, we developed five new models. We were very good at producing new models and we could do it very quickly. We were bringing out new boats every about three years and we weren’t getting benefits from the previous ones