At first glance, Asher Telford’s entry into the Whitsundays tourism industry fits your typical sea change story.
After visiting the Whitsundays more than 20 years ago, Asher couldn’t quell his love for sailing, so he and his wife, Julie Telford left their office jobs in Adelaide, bought their first sailing boat and started working at Tongarra Sailing Adventures.
But that’s where the sea change story ends. After several years running sailing tours across the Whitsunday islands, Asher noticed that sailing wasn’t accessible to everyone.
“The best way to explore the Whitsundays is by boat, but a lot of vessels aren’t suitable for everyone at all times of the year,” Mr Telford said.
“A lot of the boats out here aren’t built to withstand the tropical waters, so skippers are more exposed to the low season and can’t satisfy everyone’s expectations during the high season.”
Asher noticed most adventure companies were using single-hull inflatable vessels for day trips because they were easier to use for beach landings.
The choice meant skippers needed to choose their passengers based on speed or comfort, limiting their ability to accommodate all passengers throughout the year.
“I reached out to an Australian designer in Denmark who introduced me to speed boats used for filming. For camera crews, stability is everything.
“We took the design and began tweaking it to reduce bumps and increase stability by making a compromise on speed,” Mr Telford said.
The Whitsundays are regarded internationally as one of Australia’s most spectacular sailing destinations, but the tropical climate means the high swells and strong currents during the wet season makes sailing uncomfortable or even off limits to some passengers.
Asher recruited a researcher from Brisbane to model the boat’s hydrodynamics using computer-aided design software. The technology meant Asher’s team could predict performance in all conditions and finetune the design before construction,
“Each prototype cost around 18 thousand dollars, but the technology allowed us to test the boat before it hits the water.
“We didn’t get it right every time. We thought underwater foils would work, but in reality they just slowed the boat,” Mr Telford said.
“The important lesson was that we had to approach the design iteratively. We had to keep testing and keep improving until we found the perfect shape.”
While the design team focused on what’s happening below the water, Asher focused on the deck.
The seated row design used by other boat operators meant passengers had to be seated together. By pushing seats to the edges, Asher knew he could distribute weight evenly across the boat and give passengers some added privacy on those longer day trips.
“Couples can sit comfortably on the edge while having the space to move around the boat using the central aisle.”
“It also means passengers are now 1.5 meters a part which turned out to be a great asset for the pandemic,” Mr Telford said.
The end result was one of the fastest catamarans in the Whitsundays -- the Thunder Cat. The boat services thrill seekers and families throughout the year, regulates the company’s cash flow and gives passengers prone to seasickness the confidence to sail.
Asher took what he learnt from the Thunder Cat to build two more boats in Brisbane to meet the demand for comfortable boat adventures, which importantly now meet social distancing requirements.
His company offers short resort tours, day trips and two-night adventures catering to all travellers.