Windcraft celebrates 10 years with Hanse Yachts

Peter Hrones, founder and managing director of Windcraft Australia, has a big smile on his face. He is now celebrating a decision made 10 years ago in the small but historically significant boat building town of Greifswald, on Germany's Baltic Coast. Hrones' return to Australia in late 1999 saw the birth of Windcraft, his yacht-importing company based on Sydney's Pittwater.

In Windcraft's 10th year of importing Hanse Yachts a turnover of $20m was achieved, firmly placing the company as a leading importer of yachts to Australia and New Zealand. This success was recognised by Hanse Yachts with Hrones (for the second time) being awarded the Hanse Dealer of the Year Award. This suggests that it is not only Hrones who is smiling – Hanse Yachts must also be pleased that the young Australian found his way to the Greifswald yard 10 years ago.

Peter Hrones has spent most of his life working and playing on the water. Racing, cruising, working, as a youngster (he is still not 40!) his passion soon took him to Europe. It was while racing German and Danish yachts in Switzerland that Hrones began to recognise that there was an untapped market for such well engineered craft in Australia. The search for the ideal brand of yacht to import to Australia had begun.

This search was to take the next four years and inspections of 22 boat manufacturers' yards across Europe, the USA, South Africa and Scandinavia. Hrones refused to compromise on his criteria. The list evolved into 10 priority questions that Hrones had to ask of the brand to ensure that it would suit the Australian and New Zealand market. The 10 points covered everything from the manufacturer's vision for the future, a well built boat suitable for the Australian conditions and of course a boat that was easy to sail, but sailed fast.

It was October 1999 when Hrones arrived at the then small Hanse yard in Greifswald. Here, he was to meet a man equally determined to realise his own particular vision. This was the charismatic Michael Schmidt, already well known in German racing circles for his success as an Admirals Cup skipper. Schmidt is founder and managing director of Hanse Yachts, now one of the fastest-growing boatyards in Europe with a turnover that has increased by more than 40 percent each year for the last 10 years. The company has recently acquired the Fjord and Moody range, both produced at the rapidly expanding Hanse yard.

Hrones met Schmidt on the eve of the Hamburg boat show at his factory, which had until then, been producing Hanse yachts by revamping moulds bought by Schmidt from insolvent Scandinavian yards. Schmidt's long-time sailing friend Rolf Vrolijk had helped him redesign the boats into the first Hanse models such as the 291, 301 and 331.

However, what Hrones was witnessing that night was the “birth” of Schmidt's first “pure Hanse” – the result of the evolution of these early models and of drawings and designs first penned on a schoolroom desk by a young Schmidt already obsessed by the beautiful lines of sailing vessels. Vrolijk had by this time along with Freidrich Judel set up the Judel/Vrolijk and Co design and engineering team. This now world-renowned team had been showing the world how to build classic yachts and fast racing boats. With many winning boats already to their name they would soon go on to design Alinghi, the America's cup winner.

The boat being frantically finished in the factory that night was what Judel/Vrolijk had designed for their friend Schmidt and what would the next day at Hamburg Boat Show, become the prototype of a world success story, the Hanse 371.

It was the beginning of the unique Hanse language of fast yachts for safe sailing trips and races. Hrones remembers vividly watching the events at the Hanse yard on the eve of the Hamburg Boat Show.

“As the time approached midnight Michael Schmidt was shouting, crying and then smiling as we and the production manager watched the dining table go in and out of the boat four times while 20 workers finished off the boat. The boat transport truck waited patiently outside to deliver the finished boat to the Hamburg show starting the very next morning. I don't think Schmidt even got to bed that night as the boat arrived so late at the show, special cranes and arrangements had to be made to position the yacht it in its place in the Hanse line-up,” Hrones said.

At the end of the first day of the show Hrones found Schmidt to ask him how his day had gone and how the new Hanse 371 had been received. Hrones recalls “Schmidt just shook his head in disbelief and grinned from ear to ear at me and said, we have just taken 25 orders today for this one model.”

Hrones replied: “That's fantastic but where does that leave me, when can l get one?”

Schmidt grinned again and said: “You can have Hanse 371 hull number 26 in one year”.

Sure enough, Windcraft presented the Hanse brand to the Australian market with hull number 26 at Sydney Boat Show in August 2000. The rest, as they say, is history.

Windcraft displayed a total of 12 boats at the 2008 Sydney Boat Show – testimony indeed that Peter Hrones made the right choice that night in the Hanse yard. With his ideas for further expansion in the next twelve months Peter's smile is going to get even bigger.

For further information about the Hanse range please contact Mary Bickley on ph (02) 9979 2027 or email mary@windcraft.com.au

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