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2021 May June Marina World

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The magazine for the marina industry

TALKING SHOP John

TALKING SHOP John Spragg: building Bellingham beyond the Americas From general manager Australia with a staff of one, to a regional president of six divisions throughout Australasia, Southeast Asia, China and beyond, Bellingham Marine’s John Spragg has learnt a lot in his many years in the marina industry. Just a couple of months ahead of his retirement, Marina World invites him to think back, look forward, and talk shop No stranger to international business, Spragg left Australia as a young man to work for five years in the Middle East, South Africa, the UK and the Solomon Islands before returning to join one of Australia’s largest construction companies as a site manager. He soon found himself managing a fledgling marina division as a Bellingham licensee and, shortly after, working to help launch Bellingham Marine Australia. “I’ve always strongly believed that unless you continually grow a company it will wither on the vine,” he says, and the momentum began. “We opened offices in Sydney and had our casting facility and head office in Brisbane Above: Race Track Marina Yas Island in Abu Dhabi was built by Bellingham to a tight and immovable completion date. The marina system was installed in a dry basin, which was then flooded. and our Melbourne office at a marina we built. We took the licence for New Zealand back and started Bellingham New Zealand after having a presence there via our licensee for around ten to 15 years. Next we opened Bellingham Singapore and Bellingham SE Asia – in Malaysia, where we have a casting facility.” Responding to the Korean Government’s published plan to open 46 marinas (still ongoing), Spragg helped to establish Bellingham Marine Korea and subsequently found a licensee that had built most of the existing major marinas in the country. The next stop was the Middle East. “We heard all the hype about 20,000 marina berths to be built in Dubai,” he recalls. “We were doing a few projects up there from Australia and looked at options. We went with a licensee owned by two Australians in Dubai and they have been very John Spragg successful and built a number of iconic projects.” In more recent years, as president Australasia and Middle East, Spragg was able to proudly welcome his son, Tom, to the then 40-strong regional taskforce. “Tom was based in China and was instrumental in starting Bellingham Zhuhai China and managing projects there. He was also involved in our latest expansion – establishing a joint venture in Cyprus – and successfully managed our first project.” As well as overseeing a large team and keeping a close eye on multiple market areas, Spragg has been invested in the industry in many ways; always keen to support, promote and encourage. He was a founding director and is currently vice chairman of the Marina Industries Association of Australia, director of the Global Marina Institute and a member of the Marina Committee for the Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron. And his commitment to and confidence in the market has been backed by his undying belief in the marina systems he has been promoting. “We have always been innovators and not imitators at Bellingham Marine and this has been the highlight 28 www.marinaworld.com – May/June 2021

TALKING SHOP Trinity Point on Lake Macquarie, NSW, Australia is strikingly attractive with its cleverly curved attenuator. of my career,” he explains. “Step by step, we’ve removed all ferrous reinforcing material from our pontoons, replaced timber walers with a nontimber product, and are now using non-ferrous materials for our knee or corner brackets. This gives our systems enormous lifespan and gives us the ability to cast and install proper curved installations.” He also says that Bellingham’s ability to manufacture almost any length, width and height of pontoon makes all elements “truck transportable” for full assembly on site and sets the company apart from its competitors. “The Unifloat system that was devised 60 years ago is by far the best system around,” he asserts. “There’s no doubt about it as far as strength, longevity and the ability for it to do what we say it can. The whole Bellingham system is a good system.” Different markets Unifloat has helped to shape an impressive list of landmark installations in Australia including St George Motor Boat Club in Sydney, with its two curved attenuators, and the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, which has a long curved attenuator and hidden telescopic piles. Other notable projects include the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania and Derwent Sailing Squadron in Sandy Bay in Tasmania, Royal Brighton Yacht Club and Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron in Melbourne, two stages at Blairgowrie Marina, CYC Rushcutters Bay and a number of stages at Hamilton Island, all the way up to the latest greenfield project, the recently-opened marina at Trinity Point on Lake Macquarie in New South Wales. “Each and every client is important and we don’t have space for a comprehensive list,” Spragg smiles. The client base is mixed – local government, state government, developers, clubs and port authorities – and the market is relatively steady. “It’s a very mature market and continues to grow at a fairly even rate,” he confirms. “It does get impacted by external monetary pressures but not to the same extent as general business. The permitting process in Australia is slow, and this means owners may wait through upturns and downturns in the economy, but by the time they get their permits they go ahead no matter what the economic climate of the day.” Other markets are rather different. “The 20,000 marina berths didn’t happen in the Middle East but the number of projects and berths has grown nicely. The market there has its ups and downs and challenges. The market will keep growing as boats are sold but at times the marina is the icing on the cake for a residential project and has little relationship to pressure for berths. This is a very similar scenario to China, where a marina attached to a residential project increases the price of apartments.” Today and tomorrow Spragg’s final – and twenty-fifth – year at Bellingham Marine has been a unique year of COVID challenge and perhaps, ironically, a herald for new industry prosperity. “Boats seem to be selling like crazy after the easing of the COVID pandemic in areas that allow people to move about,” he notes. “This has increased the pressure on berth numbers and we are seeing marinas wanting to extend or even be replaced on a global level. A few greenfield sites are also emerging. This is good news in the tough world of marina construction.” But berth availability is not the be-all and end-all of the situation. “Marina management will need to change. Those who haven’t tried to read the future will fall by the wayside. Marina clients in the future will be cash rich but time poor. They’ll want experiences and be willing to pay but boating needs to be easy. Sales of yachts that almost sail themselves will prosper but vessels that need sailing experience will struggle. Power boats will increase in popularity as they are similar to driving a car.” “Marinas can no longer be just boat Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron has a curved attenuator on telescopic piles and an iconic backdrop. www.marinaworld.com – May/June 2021 29

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