With the first Australian owned Aquila 44 power cat ready to ship to Fremantle and a third just ordered, Multihull Central’s Brent Vaughan takes a timely visit to the Sino Eagle production facility in China and witnesses first hand their big plans for the future.
As my last trip abroad for the year, I was looking forward to seeing our first Aquila before it ships and we hand it over in early 2016. I was accompanied by another customer and his family who have ordered the third Aquila 44 destined for Australia in mid 2016 which will be the first Aquila charter boat in Australia, operating between the Whitsundays and Sydney harbour. I was also keen to inspect our second boat that is currently midway through construction and due to arrive for debut at the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show in May 2016.
My customers were eager to see the production facility and test the newest Aquila 44 on the water, which was good timing as the boat was being tested prior to its shipment. With the factory located on the shores of a river flowing through Hangzhou (to the south east of Shanghai), each Aquila is thoroughly tested on the water prior to shipment, with a detailed quality control process being checked off, followed by testing by Volvo mechanics and an independent surveyor.
But before we get to sea trial the boat, a factory tour is organised where we get to see the quality control checking process again, which is closely monitored through the various production milestones. Anyone who visits the Sino Eagle Factory are always pleasantly surprised by the incredibly professional approach this facility and its operators take, and quality control is at the heart of this.
Sino Eagle’s Executive Director, Frank Xiong explains the approach, “From day one of building the Aquila’s, we wanted to set ourselves apart by having the highest quality control possible,” Frank explains, “and this started with the production facility and fiberglassing techniques using resin infusion in humidity and temperature controlled lamination bays”.
Resin infusion not only provides additional strength through a precise mix of resin to fibreglass and reduces weight by extracting excess resin, but it also keeps fumes and chemicals in the air to a minimum. Now the smog in China is pretty thick at the best of times, but this attitude reflects a big change in China’s approach to manufacturing as the surging middle class burst through the old 3rd world era of yesterday and into a leading developing nation. Evidence of this is everywhere with the staff all dressed in full protective wear, extraction fans fitted where they should be, and a factory floor that you could eat off. It is also evident as you walk the streets of Hangzhou, filled with modern luxury cars, on new roads and freeways and lined with luxury brand stores. It’s clear to see the future, that China is becoming a high tech manufacturing hub, rather than a cheap labor hub, and is starting to assemble the technology and resources to rival Europe’s manufacturing plants.
Frank concludes, “With Aquila, we have a vision to be the world’s number one power cat manufacturer, and this will only come through very high quality for a global market, innovative design and facilities to scale up”.
It’s clear that this vision as Sino Eagle have invested millions setting up an enormous 110,000 square meter state of the art production facility, with full length gantry cranes, stores warehouse, dedicated development factory, drafting studio and a small marina currently being built while we were there. Only a small portion of this facility is currently utilised by the existing Aquila production line which in 2015 built 23 power catamaran, however this number will almost double in 2016 with 44 planned for construction and mostly already sold, with staff increasing from a comprehensive 120 to over 200 and new models already planned and currently in development and testing including the new Aquila 36 high speed power cat due for launch next year.
Previously Sino Eagle were the OEM production facility for Leopard Catamarans, but decided to go out on their own with the Aquila power catamaran brand and the guidance of Lex Raas, ex CEO of Moorings / Sunsail who now heads up Marine Max Vacations based in Florida USA with bases in the Brittish Virgin Islands, and is the driving force behind the Aquila strategic direction and design, using J & J Design as the naval architects, who have a plethora of production brand designs in their CV including Azimut, Bavaria, Beneteau, Dufour, Jeanneau, Monte Carlo and Greenline.
The Aquila is different from most production power catamarans available on the market, as they have been built and designed from the keel up as a power boat, rather than approaching the design from a sailing catamaran perspective, which often means reusing existing sailing catamaran moulds (or thinking) to develop a power cat from to save development costs. The end result of course is of noticeable contrast, with greater volume, greater load carrying capacity, better ergonomics and overall better sea going characteristics on the Aquila.
“Following our experience joint venture experience building sailing catamarans, we decided that we didn’t want to compromise, and so introduced the technology that we use in other areas of the Sino Eagle Group”, Frank says.
The Sino Eagle Group also build thousands of kayaks and Olympic class rowing boats each year. They have become the preferred Olympic class supplier by building a 17ft rowing boat that weighs only 14kgs, and has a variance from one row boat to the next of just 50 grams. This precision is thanks to technique called pre-preg carbon infusion, baked using an autoclave oven to provide super light weight craft. Frank tells me they have six ovens in operation for the rowing boats.
We move from the factory to the water and a new Aquila 44 and 48 are tied up side by side on the river’s edge ready for our sea trial. The twin 300hp Volvo D4 motors start up and we pull out into the river. They are connected to a V-drive gear box that takes the shaft out under the motor to keep the engine room compact and under the cockpit. The engine rooms are neat, spacious and well sound proofed.
As the skipper hits the throttles, we top out at about 21 knots on 3,600 revs. When in cruise mode at 7.5 knots, the Aquila 44 will get almost a 1,000 nautical mile range consuming just 10.5 L/hour for both motors. Even at a 12 knots, the boat consumes only 60 L/hour. There are more effeicient power catamarans on the market, however they won’t have the volume or accommodation that the Aquila enjoys. That’s because they are using a semi-displacement hull that cuts through the water rather than rides over it, which becomes a problem when you cut into oncoming seas that then pops the bows up out of the waves causing an aggressive hobby horse action. The Aquila hulls are considered super-displacement, but with a v-shape and large boulbous bows, hard chines and a centre wave breaker, that allows the boat to ride up over the sea.
It was an impressive ride and we were glad to see some new additions for our Aussie customers, including a built-in esky under the cockpit seat, a SS BBQ plate on the stern, and the starboard bathroom / head for the guest cabin converted into a utility room include a full height fridge, washing machine and additional storage, perfect for the liveaboard cruiser.
Multihull Central and Sino Eagle have also worked closely to ensure that the boats coming to Australia are fully Australian certified before they arrive, including full AC electrical certification and if needed, full construction to Australian commercial survey standards. This is very unusual for production boat builders who often rely on importers to try and retrofit systems and equipment to meet standards, or worse, don’t even bother leaving the owner to deal with meeting Australian standards when problems occur later. This has required Australian surveyors and marine electricians being flown to the factory to inspect the installation and equipment, plus supplying some Australian parts to be installed.
With three boats enroute to Australia in 2016 that will be on display at boat shows on the Gold Coast, Sydney and Perth, I feel this extra effort will not go unnoticed as Australians get to see a new generation of production power catamaran that opens up the world of cruising to non-sailors, in a package that emulates a modern luxury apartment on the water but with the freedom to explore.