It was love at first sight for teenager Andrew Wright when he came across a rescue cat on the Swan River. 16 years later, Andrew is a dedicated sea rescue and boat building specialist. Although he now focuses on custom building vessels, he still manages to devote 40 hours a month to Cockburn Volunteer Sea Rescue.
With over 15 years’ experience in the marine industry, and a fast growing business, Andrew says he will always find time for Volunteer Sea Rescue (VSR). “It’s what I most enjoy. It’s in my nature to help. Raising awareness of water safety is so important, and the rewards? I just love seeing people smile when we’ve helped them get safely back on the water.”
Andrew remembers the man who introduced him to the concept and craft of VSR – Hugh Finn. “The boats looked so cool! So, when Mr Finn told me to get in touch, I pestered him until I could join Fremantle Sea Rescue as soon as I turned 18.”
Starting out at Fremantle VSR, where he later progressed to Operations Officer, Andrew was spending more time volunteering than on his university studies. There was an expectation at school for him to follow the university path, however it soon became apparent it was not his preferred route. Within six months, he dropped out, tried a few other design professions, then took on an apprenticeship in Marine Electronics, followed by another in Mechanics. At the same time, on top of a 60-hour-a-week work schedule, Andrew was also devoting around 20 hours per week to Fremantle VSR.
With a passion for volunteer rescue, and anything to do with machinery and engines, not surprisingly Andrew Wright started fixing boats. He helped Cockburn VSR out with some repair issues in 2007 and as demand grew for his services, he set up Stem2Stern in 2008. At the time, he assumed he would have a small business, working 9-5 in the 60 sqm backyard workshop he had built, with weekends off. As demand quickly grew he realised that wouldn’t be the case. In 2012 he took on his first employee and repeatedly outgrew workshop after workshop. In 2018 you can now find him with a team of 11, in an 850 sqm workshop, office and design facility in a light industrial area in Bibra Lake.
With thousands of hours spent on various models of cats, Andrew has developed an intensive, first-hand experience handling boats in all manner of conditions. He says, “I’ve had some pretty hairy experiences out on the water and it’s taught me a lot – what I am capable of and what the boats are capable of too. I really enjoy thinking on my feet, solving problems, working to fix a situation and also what we learn during our debriefs.” He recalls New Year’s Eve in 2014, when they responded to numerous calls including a fire, a grounding and a medivac. They covered over 200 nautical miles during that shift.
In 2015 Andrew’s proposal to build a new cat for Cockburn VSR was accepted. He set to and custom built the impressive Volunteer Marine Rescue ‘Assure’ in five months. And so, Andrew’s Shockwave Powercat business began.
His hands-on experience on the water informs the details in everything Andrew does. He’s a stickler for quality and smart design – not only the practicalities but all the creature comforts too – so the boat is super functional, its operation is intuitive and the crew are happy. The ‘Reliance’ series covers all patrol vessels in two hull sizes (8-9m and 10-12m). He’s made five boats in four variations, which have, so far, covered over 170,000 nautical miles – that’s almost eight circumnavigations of the world!
The great team culture, fostered at both the Cockburn and Fremantle VSRs, is a huge part of Andrew’s life and ideally complements his professional life in both the Stem2Stern and Shockwave businesses where he greatly values collaboration in his team.
A passionate advocate of buying, installing and recruiting the best, Andrew says, “Quality doesn’t cost, it pays. I’ve seen the repercussions when people cut corners such as buying cheap fuel or batteries. We have to tow them in. I don’t want my clients to experience those failures. We install the best tech, mechanical and electrical systems. That goes for our Shockwave team too – I only employ people with top skills and experience. Australian-made tech is first-rate and I take pride in supporting other local Australian businesses and our economy.”
In the last couple of years, Andrew still found time to build his own boat and loves to go on fishing trips and exploring the WA coast with family, friends and red heeler Ruby. (Ruby is a veteran sea dog and also a media star – often featuring on the TV news after a significant rescue!)
As a natural consequence, Andrew has started to also build custom-made recreational vessels – the ‘Breaksea Series’. With deep experience making patrol boats that are resilient, comfortable and sound, Andrew is motivated ‘to build the safest cats in Australia’ for both rescue and leisure.
Each craft is fabricated from vacuum-resin-infused GRP, which makes the hull three times stronger and two times lighter than a conventionally laid-up fibreglass hull. The savings in weight have a direct impact on reduced fuel consumption, higher cruising and maximum speeds, as well as improved handling and performance.
All the Shockwave vessels are custom made to a client’s specific requirements, whether for rescue, commercial, fishing or recreational use. Andrew invites his clients to ‘take part in the journey’; in the progress of their boat being handmade at their Perth facility.
Andrew’s life is all about boats and engines. Indeed, it is hard for any of his friends and family to imagine him doing anything else. He says that if he hadn’t grown up on the coast, he would probably be on a farm, fixing machinery, and exploring the bush. In his rare down time Andrew loves to go camping in his 4WD up to Shark Bay and Tamala Station with Ruby. A bit of a gastronome too, he loves good food and wine. “There’s always a supply of fresh fish at home and I love to cook.”
A self-confessed workaholic, Andrew also devotes his weekends to Cockburn Volunteer Sea Rescue. He is also available for mid-week and after hours call-outs; he’s a Skipper and delivers monthly crew training.
Originally published in the Australian Volunteer Coastguard magazine, October 2018