It was during the first botched launch nine years ago, when the mighty Seafaris failed to even get wet, that Jeff McCloy’s wife Tracey attempted to console him with the now famous line: ‘‘It’s only a boat, Jeff. It’s only a boat.’’
Thing was, the 41-metre floating palace was much more to the Newcastle lord mayor than just a double-hulled aluminium catamaran with added extras – heaps of added extras.
It was his pride and joy; a boat-building feat that showed the world that Newcastle could do anything, thanks to the genius at the Forgacs Shipyard at Tomago and with Cr McCloy supervising as project manager.
The property developer would later travel to Venice to collect the prestigious prize of the 2007 World Superyacht of the Year for superyachts spanning more than 40 metres.
But yesterday, Cr McCloy woke to the worst news – Seafaris had caught alight and had sunk in the same pristine waters off the Daintree region of far north Queensland where it had hosted some of the world’s richest and biggest personalities. All for a pretty penny, of course.
A devastated Cr McCloy rushed to Cairns thankful that the eight passengers and eight crew on board were safe.
He told the Newcastle Herald they were still ‘‘a bit scattered’’.
‘‘You get these things in life,’’ Cr McCloy said. ‘‘As my wife said, it was only a boat.’’
But it was more than, wasn’t it?
‘‘Yep, it sure was,’’ he replied.
The crew had been forced to abandon ship as the flames took hold, issuing a mayday call at 5.55am before jumping into life rafts.
A passing container ship picked them up about 7.30am before taking them to Cairns, where they were held in hospital for observation, although no serious injuries were reported.
Cr McCloy said the country should be proud of Seafaris, a completely Australian-made vessel he believed would remain the template for so many other superyachts across the world.
‘‘It was an amazing thing for Australia, I think a real blueprint for things to come,’’ he said.
‘‘It is just so incredibly unfortunate it has had such a short life.’’
Cr McCloy said it was too early to speculate on whether the Seafaris could be floated or become a blueprint for a possible Seafaris II.
‘‘Time will tell. I am in my mid-60s now and with replacement costs and everything – I just don’t know.’’
Seafaris was estimated to be worth about $16 million when it was launched in 2004. Experts say you could at least double that price now.
It was simply a magnificent vessel which could carry 10 guests and 10 crew.
Features included a gym, guest library, cinema, helipad, hydrotherapy spa, professional diving and fishing facilities, water toys, sun lounges, outdoor teppanyaki bar, formal dining area, casual barbecue area, scenic cocktail bar and a 10-metre diesel jet boat for ‘‘aquatic outings’’.
It had hosted some of the rich and famous, including in 2006 when Crown Prince Frederik and his Australian wife Princess Mary of Denmark were guests for a private cruise in Sydney.
It had also hosted Giorgio Armani and Shiekh Mohammed bin Rashed at Maktoum of Dubai.
In another link to the Hunter, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency towing vessel, the Pacific Responder, was on Thursday heading to Cow Bay to work with Maritime Safety Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Agency to assess the accident scene and respond to any marine pollution issues.
The Pacific Responder was the super-tug which helped pull the Pasha Bulker off Nobbys beach in 2007.
Guests woken by yells of ‘fire’
THE guests holidaying on board the luxury superyacht Seafaris were jolted awake on the final day of their cruise by crew yelling ‘‘fire, fire, fire’’.
Eight passengers and eight crew were on board when the boat caught fire and exploded before sinking off Cape Tribulation, north of Cairns.
An older passenger said the guests were asleep when the alarm was raised.
‘‘One of the crew knocked on the door and said ‘fire, fire, fire’,’’ the man told reporters in Cairns.
‘‘We just got organised and got in the raft in the water.’’
The group boarded liferafts and were rescued by a passing container ship that was responding to a distress call.
They were then transferred to two smaller boats before being taken to the Cairns marina about noon.
The captain of the container ship said he heard at least two explosions on the yacht, which burnt for about two hours before sinking.
A Cairns coastguard radio operator said everything happened so fast that lifeguards weren’t able to reach the Seafaris.
‘‘It all happened that bloody quick,’’ he said.
‘‘We heard about it on the wireless and about 30 seconds later, it had sunk.’’
No one on board was seriously hurt, although two passengers were checked by paramedics.
Harbour pilot Glen Alitt, who brought the survivors into Cairns, said none of the survivors were very talkative.
‘‘I think they’re all in a bit of shock,’’ he said.
‘‘They’re really lucky the weather conditions are really good.’’
It is believed the fire started in the yacht’s engine room.