The Story Of Sunseeker
From modest beginnings in a shed, a showroom and a slipway to a work force of 2,500 modern shipyards and a world beating technology centre.
Originally importers and distributors of boats from Scandinavia and the USA, Poole Power Boats (as Sunseeker was then known) started moulding and fitting out their own boats in the early 1970s. One day, when exhibiting their first 17 and 23 footers at a Boat Show, a man who was a boat dealer in the south of France commented, “if you can make them all in white, and put a full width sunbed across the stern, I’ll buy them”. The fact that they did so, and that the boats sold well exemplified a set of attitudes that has characterised Sunseeker to this day: listen to what customers want and give it to them; don’t be afraid to try something totally new; always explore new markets.
This dictum lead to some notable events and milestones, not only for the company but also for the boat building industry as a whole. Firstly, the collaboration with Don Shead to develop the race-derived deep-V hulls that have become a Sunseeker trademark, allowing owners to enjoy sporting performance as well as comfort and freedom.
Bold and luxurious interior designs set Sunseeker apart as style innovators, assisted by the appointment of naval architect and stylist Ken Freivokh, renowned for his imaginative use of space on megayachts. The modern curvaceous styling since emulated by so many other yacht builders was first developed by Sunseeker in the nineteen eighties, in parallel with styling changes in the motor industry.
Few manufacturers have pioneered as many drive and propulsion systems in leisure craft. The early Offshore 28 It was a revolutionary craft, the ﬁrst in Europe with a lightweight hull speciﬁcally designed to carry stern-drive diesel engines powering twin outdrives.
Duoprops, where two propellers rotate in opposing directions for improved efficiency, were first seen on the subsequent Offshore 31.
A few years later the Superhawk 50 became the first production boat to have stern-driven race-bred Arneson surface drives, with five-bladed surface-piercing propellers carried on extended shafts. Twin 680hp V8 MAN units, half the weight of the conventional equivalents, gave speeds of up to 50 knots with surprising acceleration for a craft of 14 tons, with noise levels kept low by venting the engine exhaust behind the propeller, which also created slip - so usefully reducing drag.
Two years later, the Comanche 40 was the first family-size cruiser to offer an integral garage for the tenders and toys that are today expected as standard in the modern motoryacht.
In the early nineties Renegade 60 pushed new frontiers; it was the first production boat to be powered by water jets - expelling 32,000 gallons every minute at full throttle.
But above all, over the years the Sunseeker range has epitomised the ability to surprise the public and boat owners, and perhaps demoralise the competition. Just when you might have thought that no Sunseeker could ever match or exceed the latest model for speed, grace, style, space, flexibility or luxury - the next one did! That “wow!” factor, and the magician-like ability to provoke it, matched with a reputation for build quality is what has turned the brand into the icon it is today.
Nowhere has this been evidenced more strongly than in boat size. To evolve from the first 17 foot dayboat to the imminent 46 Metre Yacht (a near 10-fold increase in length, but over 300 times greater in displacement) in only 4 decades just could not have happened without constant change, evolution and up-scaling in every single part of the organisation, from technology to shipyards, from delivery vehicles to a world-wide network of distributors – many in countries that had far from “emerged” as markets 40 years ago.
The challenges and milestones of scale have been at times momentous. We have talked of evolution and change over time, but some of the developments have been giant leaps. In the late nineties the show-stopping jaw-dropper came in the form of the Predator 80 whose previous largest predecessor was the Predator 63. To break the 80 foot barrier was a bold move indeed, and no small challenge.
In the mid-nineties the perception of large boats was generally one of reduced performance, offering vast accommodation, but requiring a permanent crew. Sunseeker set out to change that attitude with the design of the Predator 80 - an open-deck performance motoryacht that was also available as a hard-top option. She benefited from a full programme of stress analysis, resulting in a soft-riding hull that was a fine example of modern materials technology, with super-efficient hydrodynamics allowing her 50 tons to reach speeds in excess of 46 knots. The Predator 80 set a new benchmark for luxury boating, with a perfect combination of accommodation, performance, range and handling.
Not only could the Predator 80 be effectively handled by two people, she was also an extremely comfortable boat, with an ingenious and flexible standard interior layout. Particular attention was paid to suppressing noise and vibration, with the whole interior located on resilient mounts. And she featured the most sumptuous interior design yet seen on a Sunseeker, creating a feeling of opulence that once again set new standards in production boats. As a semi-custom yacht, customers were also encouraged to choose from numerous different layout options to design an interior that suited their needs and tastes.
Sunseeker’s decision in 2001 to centralise its technical operations under one roof represented a major investment for the company – and one made at a very uncertain time in terms of global events.
The opening of the Technology Centre provided a co-ordinated platform for new investment, as well as developing world-beating design and production processes. It meant a new approach to design co-ordination, as with the dedicated interior design department. More than ever before, interior designers now work alongside sales, engineering design, yacht styling and production teams to plan and shape interiors on a computer screen, and later mocked up in full scale on the new hull jigs. New design systems like Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) provide software that helps the naval architect confirm and predict how different hull shapes and configurations will behave in specific sea conditions.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the new Technology Centre has paved the way for new manufacturing capabilities, thereby increasing the build quality of Sunseekers yet further and simultaneously reducing waste and unit costs. These include systems like the new lacquering facility, which uses state-of-the-art equipment to achieve truly wonderful quality on interior woodwork. Furthermore, the new 3-axis CNC machinery provides the ability to shape and cut the components needed to fit out a particular interior plan at extremely high speed, whilst minimising waste and improving the quality of the fitting.
Computer Aided Design working in tandem with Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) produces exact correlation at every stage, from what the designer shapes on his screen, to what the machine cuts on the table; from what the fitter has in his hands, to what the customer appreciates in the finished yacht.
The technology afforded by the new centre has vaulted Sunseeker to the rare position of JIT (Just in Time) manufacturing, in which components are made at the precise time they’re needed for build, thereby minimising storage, spoilage and excess stock. The way in which these components are supplied to the production line is also radically different from boat building of the past. Complete helm control consoles can be assembled and tested at the Technology Centre, as can wiring looms and ship monitoring systems. The interior furniture and furnishings can be machined, upholstered, assembled, checked and dismantled for despatch to the boatyard, each element bearing the unique reference number of the hull to which it is to be fitted.
The next challenge in the progress of Sunseeker in terms of boat size was its greatest to date in terms of manufacturing – the 100 foot mark. Now Sunseeker was to become a shipbuilder as well as a boat builder.
The Year 2001 saw the launch of the 105 Yacht, a 105 foot (32m) motor yacht, with a predicted top speed of 32 knots. Her outstanding capabilities were in large part due to the extensive support systems she carried - and the reliability that is assured by using proven technology in a production yacht. These systems include the advanced use of hydraulics, stabilisers computer-controlled generators and electrical systems, innovations that meant the 105 Yacht was safe and reliable. The 105 Yacht also became the first British-built production boat to win two of the world’s most prestigious International Superyacht Design awards.
The years since the introduction of the 105 Yacht have seen Sunseeker develop into an accepted world-class luxury yacht builder. To succeed in doing so has required more than just an up-scaling of previous boat building skills and procedures. The new craft are classed as commercial vessels, and subject to strict regulations as to passenger and crew safety and well-being, ocean-going equipment specifications, including the qualifications of those in charge of their operation.
The way in which they are used is also different from that of smaller craft, which might spend extended periods of time in a marina between excursions. It is quite feasible that, between maintenance and any refit lay-ups, the new yachts will be in constant operation at some level 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even without owners and guests on board, the resident crew need power to conduct the extensive monitoring and maintenance that a ship’s system requires, as well as for their personal needs.
The demands made by such usage on engines, generators, pumps, electrical circuits and fluid systems, and the need for failsafe back-up at all times, particularly in open sea conditions, means that every single component (and the 37M Yacht has 108,000 of them) must be of the highest possible standard. Many of these standards are prescribed by the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency, whose assessors inspect every stage of a ship’s construction, from initial hull to final hand-over of the vessel to a suitably qualified Master.
To embrace and comply with the requirements of modern shipbuilding Sunseeker have designed and created new shipyards, where even the movement of the huge hulls from shed to shed and shed to hard standing to slipway need to be computer controlled. A completely new approach to production line infrastructure was also needed, in almost every department. New materials handling equipment and procedures are an obvious essential where the maximum permitted safe weight to be lifted manually is 25kg and the end product weighs nearly 200 tonnes. Waste must be kept to a minimum, aided by on-site recycling facilities.
Innovations on the personnel side have needed to be made as well. Senior shipyard staff are now drawn from ship operation as well as traditional boat construction. Experienced mariners and engineers from the merchant marine, the Royal Navy and the private yacht community now form part of the complement, among them the very few individuals actually qualified and authorised to be in charge of a commercial vessel on the water. A new on-site Compliance Department has been created to ensure that certification standards are fully met.
The current top range Sunseeker Yachts can be built to full MCA and RINA specification, positioning Sunseeker fairly and squarely in the superyacht world.
Throughout the story of Sunseeker there runs one dominant thread: constant innovation, be it in design, performance, technology or luxury. And the pursuit of excellence, which is the stuff of iconic status, exemplified by the fact that Sunseeker craft have featured in the last four James Bond films.
As the company looks to the future – and to producing larger yachts that boast ever greater luxury and performance, it can safely claim a title many of its competitors cannot – truly global. Sunseeker exports its stunning craft across the world. In fact 98% of the vessels manufactured in its Poole and Portland factories end up abroad, with dealerships spread wide, from Helsinki to Hong Kong, San Diego to Sydney. Sunseeker yachts are sold in 61 countries and 5 continents and you are now as likely to see the boats' graceful lines in the Mediterranean, as you are in the Indian or Pacific Oceans.
It’s a phenomenon we believe will sustain our exceptional success – for years to come.