Breaking boundaries, making history.

Breaking boundaries, making history.

Captain Gavin Bladen on how red tape, chance, green turtles and plenty of good will intertwined to make the 44.2m sailing catamaran HEMISPHERE the first foreign flagged yacht to charter in Australia

Living by her motto 'sometimes you have to step off the beaten path for the bigger rewards in life’, HEMISPHERE is no stranger to remote and infrequently visited cruising grounds. She is currently on her second circumnavigation and in no rush to complete it. She has cruised through 60 countries and thrives on giving her owner and charter guests amazing and unique experiences.

During our first visit to Australia back in 2015, we tried to set up HEMISPHERE to charter legally with the support of AIMEX (Australian International Marine Export Group), Superyacht Australia and tax accountants who were having in-depth discussions with Infrastructure and Customs on how to utilise the new Temporary Coastal Trading Licence. HEMISPHERE established an ABN (Australian Business Number) from the Australian Tax Office and obtained permits from the National Parks and GBRMPA (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority). In the end we abandoned the process as red tape suffocated the opportunity, so we continued our circumnavigation.

In November 2019, HEMISPHERE started to entertain an enquiry to support a film shoot in Vanuatu. During this time the yacht was nearby undertaking a 25-day cruise with her owner from Honiara, Solomon Islands to Kavieng in Papua New Guinea. The enquiry went quiet for a few weeks and when it resurfaced it was now Australian waters and the broker was struggling finding a suitable yacht.

I reached out to David Good, CEO of Superyacht Australia on the off chance that things had changed. To my complete surprise David reported that Australia was on the cusp of passing the Special Recreational Vessel Bill via the Senate within days, which would finally allow foreign flagged vessels the opportunity to charter in Australia. Maybe we could help the broker?

On 3 December HEMISPHERE’s international crew applied for their Australian Superyacht Visas online. The following day, after dropping her owner, provisioning and refuelling HEMISPHERE cleared out of PNG and set sail for Cairns.  

The Bill was indeed passed by the Senate on 5 December and only required the Governor General to sign the royal assent in the coming days. The final crew visa was issued on 6 December, HEMISPHERE arrived in Cairns on 9 December and on the same day the MYBA contract was signed with Nutopia Productions, the company commissioned by National Geographic to produce the TV documentary One Strange Rock.

On the back of a hugely successful first series, the One Strange Rock team travelled far and wide in 2019 to shoot awe-inspiring footage telling nature's most remarkable stories.

The expedition would take six vessels and crew; a team of 66 people consisting of scientists, advisors from GBRMPA, film, light and sound crews, supporting personnel, the director, producer and the show’s host to the remote far north of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest
Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest

Despite the unstinting support of David Good, Superyacht Australia and AIMEX and Carrie Carter from Carter Marine agency, HEMISPHERE’s voyage through red tape in Australia wasn’t over. The trip was scheduled to start on 13 December from Cairns. However the Temporary Coastal Trading Licence requires a 48-hour grace period for receiving appeals, and that would not be reached until 16.00 on Monday 16 December and HEMISPHERE needed to deliver her guests 360nm to the north by the afternoon on 17 December to start the three-day documentary shoot.

We needed to find a way to start moving, which was impossible with guests onboard. The guests agreed to be flown north to Lizard Island on Sunday morning where they would stay until Monday afternoon. Under the watchful eye of Customs, HEMISPHERE departed Cairns guest-free and made best speed towards Lizard Island where she anchored at 01.30. Greg Magi and the Delaware North team who operate Lizard Island bent over backwards to assist and did a fantastic job looking after the guests.

Lizard Island seen from Cook's Lookout
Lizard Island seen from Cook's Lookout

On Monday 16 December at 16.30 an email arrived from Carter Marine advising that TCTL #0129TL890 had been granted! The guests, who were returning from a dive trip at Cod Hole, cheered upon hearing the news, and by 17.30 HEMISPHERE welcomed her guests on board again. With 200nm to go, a light following wind and a star-studded sky, HEMISPHERE raced through the night towards Raine Island.

Raine is protected under the GBRMPA ‘scientist purpose’ rating, which means no public access, so to be there with HEMISPHERE was a privilege. The One Strange Rock team had come to tell the story of the green turtles and tiger sharks that descend on this tiny island between November and March each year. Raine is the world's largest green turtle nesting ground and in the 2019-20 season the island was hosting an estimated 64,000 breeding turtles. Ninety percent of all Australia’s green turtles started life here as an egg buried in the sand for 60 days, before crawling out of their nests. Some turtles from as far away as eastern Indonesia, PNG, Vanuatu and New Caledonia were born here and return to Raine to continue the circle of life.

The first few weeks of life are the hardest for the hatchlings due to predation from birds and sea life, and the odds are stacked against them with only 1 in 1,000 turtles reaching maturity. After successfully leaving the nest and making it into the Coral Sea the baby turtles will spend years in open ocean, before returning to the coastal shallows. Mature turtles will breed and nest every three to seven years and the females climb back up the beach in the late afternoon and evening to dig their nests and lay a first clutch of approximately 100 eggs. During the season the females will climb out five more times to lay eggs and at the height of the season over 10,000 nesting turtles will make their way up beach each night. With such a plentiful food source gathering in such a small area the turtles are not the only ones making large migrations, tiger sharks also descend on the island to pick off the weak or dying turtles.

With state of the art equipment, a highly qualified and experienced film crew, the backing and flare of National Geographic, Academy Award nominated filmmaker and a world famous celebrity host, the Nutopia team went about capturing this truly magical natural wonder. In 2022 the second season of One Strange Rock will broadcast to millions of people across the world, and in doing so showcase the uniqueness of our planet and in particular how special Australia’s Great Barrier Reef truly is.

The long journey home begins

With the filming over we enjoyed our last evening at Detached Reef before passaging back to the mainland for the guests' departure on 20 December. Operating in Queensland’s far north creates its own unique challenges - lack of infrastructure and services, large tidal ranges and not very friendly reptiles close to shore - but with the support of Cathy Wharton of NW Outback Safaris we were able to disembark the guests at Portland Roads. Pick-ups and SUVs made the 45-minute drive down dirt roads to arrive at Lockhart River. Today it's an aboriginal community but the village originated from the building of a long runway during WWII to support bomber aircraft. On 20 December a shiny new Gulf Stream 650 was sat on the tarmac ready to take HEMISPHERE’s guests to Sydney for lunch, before their international flights home.

And so ended HEMISPHERE’s charter - and Australia's first ever foreign flagged superyacht charter.

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