Meet Greg Kowalski – the designer behind the Shockwave Marine powercats.
With over 20 years’ experience designing boats, Greg has been on the design teams for vessels from 4 metres to 40 metres ranging from small dinghies to high speed attack craft and multi-million-dollar yachts.
We sat down with Greg to chat about his career and to take us through the process of designing the boat of your dreams with Shockwave Marine.
Greg began his career studying Industrial Design. Some mates in the marine industry, recognising Greg’s talent at only 19, introduced him to Mark Ellis, one of the leading marine designers in WA and probably Australia at that time. Mark hired Greg on the spot as a junior draftee in his studio in Fremantle, where he spent the next 18 years, working with Mark until he passed away in 2015.
Essentially, I started at the bottom – being a general dogsbody – printing plans, making copies, cleaning drafting pens, making teas etc. Back then it was before CAD became predominant, so I was soon sitting at a drafting table with a scalpel in hand, scratching lines off drawings and modifying the plans as needs dictated.
What’s the process of commissioning a boat design?
We want to learn as much as possible about what you want the boat to do for you. What your priorities are, your likes and dislikes, and importantly, what you’re planning on using the boat for.
At Shockwave Marine we offer a part modular, part custom design. That means we have a range of base designs, that we build up from to tailor specifically to you. We do this because many of our customers have similar tastes and requirements. It also makes the price point more appealing, we can turn around the build faster, and we still have scope to fine tune features to your individual priorities.
Generally, we turn out two hull sizes: a 10m and a 14m.
Having said that, if you really want something very specific, from hull to fit out, we can certainly do that too. It will just take longer, as there will be a number of extra steps determining and costing these specifics once the order has been placed for the base boat.
Of course, we are catamaran specialists, so if you come into our powercat workshop asking for a mono hull, you’re probably in the wrong spot.
What can I custom order in my boat design?
Our conversations will mostly focus on what your plans are for the boat. We’ll custom design the layout and range capabilities depending on what activities you want to enjoy and how far you want to go, e.g. long-range fishing trip or a Sunday session off Rottnest or anything in between.
The sports fishing powercats tend not to have too many luxuries, and we set up the platform for fishing, rather than enjoying a glass of chardonnay. Conversely, if you want to use your boat for overnight trips there’d be more focus on providing decent seating, comfortable beds, a handy kitchenette and of course comfortable deck space to enjoy sundowners.
We also calculate how much fuel you can effectively and efficiently carry, to determine your range and fuel tank requirements – as servos are not abundant when you are out at sea.
The same applies to Shockwave’s commercial boats, made primarily for sea rescue which are designed to meet the rigorous requirements of search and rescue crews operating in arduous conditions.
How does the vessel design process usually begin?
Most people that come to Shockwave are chasing a boat they’ve seen; ‘I like what you’re doing. Can you do something like that for me?’
Folks usually have a fairly well-formed idea in their mind of what they want the boat to do. So, we invite you to the workshop for a ‘scoping’ chat – to gain insight into your ideas.
Going ahead after that initial chat, we create a preliminary preview of the boat plan profile, with a number of deck views. We call it a ‘general arrangement’, a bit like a plan for your house, with floorplan, side profile, layout, but with more emphasis on the external styling. Once we’ve got to this point, we also know exactly what you are chasing in terms of speed and horsepower range, so we then look at your wish list of extra accoutrements and creature comforts.
Now we have a fairly good idea on how much it’s going to weigh, and how big it needs to be, so we fine tune the distribution of load across the hull to suit. (Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away and increase your expectations of what a vessel can contain. If these are not in line with the chosen hull size we discuss what’s practical and can easily reach a good conclusion.)
The next step is to create structures, to hold everything. Fine tuning aspects later will include cabin fit out, reel outlets, cable and piping runs etc.
I’m less involved in the final fit-out, such as upholstery etc, but I want to make sure the boat is functional, looks appealing, rides nicely and most importantly stays afloat.
What are the strict parameters you have to consider when designing and building a boat?
Whenever you’re building a boat, there’s always a trade-off between performance and weight. From a structural point of view, less weight gives you more performance but you don’t want to be too light and risk structural failures. At the other end of the spectrum, installing solid gold taps and marble bench tops will definitely impinge on your boat’s performance.
It’s a fine balance. Think of a boat as a reverse bathtub, there’s only so much water it can displace before it goes down.
Catamarans are the best for stability and efficiency, mono hulls just don’t match them; they’re chalk and cheese.
A great bonus is the amount of deck space, which offers great versatility and plenty of on deck storage. If you’re looking to have a heavily loaded vessel, then monohulls have the displacement to carry that load, but if speed and stability are paramount, then it’s hard to compete with a catamaran.
What role does technology play in designing a boat?
We literally design down to the millimetre, using 2D and 3D CAD software.
The 2D drawings define the layout to inform the craftsmen on the workshop floor. We do a lot in 3D to visualise the build of the boat in modular fashion, making sure everything fits together perfectly.
We then use computer-controlled CNC routing to create the moulds for the modules which ensures ‘to-the-millimetre’ accuracy. CAD is a game-changer in this work.
What materials and classifications are Shockwave Marine boats?
As far as materials go, vinyl infused fiberglass is perfectly suited to the marine environment.
When you build composite hulls, as we do at Shockwave, there’s a big impetus to get it right from the get go, so all the hydrodynamics for seakeeping have already been carefully calculated and built into the design.
For the commercial market (predominantly Sea Rescue vessels); Shockwave powercats are built to meet or exceed the survey class which is applicable for the vessel. For our rescue vessels this is the classification 2C and covers requirements such as level flotation, fuel tank capacities and material, and various other systems required to put the vessel into survey.
What do you most enjoy about boat design?
The ‘coolness’ part!
I get a kick out of creating a boat that is not only appealing to the customer, but is practical – able to do what it needs to do in the environment it needs to work in and also looks great doing it.
Shockwave Marine has a sweet spot with its power cats – we deliver a practical boat, that looks stylish – and, as Mark Ellis would say, ‘doesn’t look like a block of flats’.
The most fun projects are often the most nerve wracking and stressful, mainly because they are the big budget ones.
Tell us about the recent custom built 14m powercat.
We recently delivered a completely custom-designed and built 14m powercat for a client who already had one of our larger Breaksea vessels. The previous cat had some pretty fancy styling and was great for a weekend away, but the client wanted more usable space to enjoy longer holiday trips with his teenage kids.
Everything was remodelled from the deck house to the roof to the forward raked windscreens, and we accommodated some novel design features: an extended roof and edging so the deck stays dry, even when it rains; and the ability to load extra gear onto the roof – i.e. jet skis and a tender – with a one tonne swinging crane.
Whilst this sounds quite extreme, the client had enough experience to know how far he could push the ‘extras’, without compromising the vessel’s safety and although we probably wouldn’t do exactly this again, it’s an example of how, as long as the important engineering aspects are adhered to, there’s a huge amount of choice with the design and final fit out.
Have you ever had to design anything particularly unusual for a boat?
Err, yes, at the super yacht level, much of which I’m not really at liberty to share.
However, we’ve designed some interesting components like a fully electric transom door that automatically drops down at the stern so you can dangle your feet in the water and swim straight from the boat. Electric windows – that was a fun one.
In the boating world, once you are at the level of having a craft that has everything, you need to have a trick on yours that nobody else has.
What’s the best part of your job as a marine designer? What floats your boat?
Seeing the boat on the water, operating and being enjoyed.
What do you love to do in your spare time?
I actually love designing more stuff. I’m always designing something for someone, somewhere. Design is a fluid process. I’ve always got new ideas floating around in my head, and I keep tabs on what’s new. I will probably die at the drafting table! Apart from boats, I love designing die-cast model cars.
I don’t have a boat of my own, but I do enjoy going out on my friends’.
At Shockwave, we’ll design a package that suits your requirements for fishing to sea rescue to purely pleasure boats, and kind of everything in between.