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The highs of a charter boat

The highs of a charter boat

by September 21, 2017

The boating life cannot be more glamorous than running a Sydney luxury charter boat business in the 70’s and the 80’s. Rony Kennedy shares what it was like back in the day hosting Hollywood stars, and how the current Gold Coast charter industry can benefit from a growing market.

Perched on the balcony of his Southport Central apartment, Rony Kennedy, the famous Sydney restaurant and nightclub entrepreneur of the 70’s and 80’s, has a bird’s eye view of the happenings on the Broadwater. “There is going to be a lot more high-end charter boat operators offering boat trips on the Broadwater. This area is too good to go unnoticed.” And Rony should know.

For 15 years, Rony steered the highly successful Riva Marine Charter boat company in Sydney Harbour. “We refurbished a beautiful 50ft Riva Super America, and pitched it as a luxury charter for people who only wanted the best.” Sounding like an awful cliché of the times, Rony points out, “Our clients mainly drank Moet Chandon and Grande Hermitage.”

Rony was raised by hardworking Hungarian migrant parents who established the iconic Glomesh brand in Australia. Fresh out of school, Rony enjoyed a wild and admirable social life as he established a string of trendy hangouts –restaurants, coffee shops, bars and nightclubs, such as Nox on Knox in Double Bay, Pips in Woolloomooloo and Studio 66 in Rose Bay. He was the life of the party, who would eventually live a thousand lives, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Rod Stewart and George Harrison. “I’ve done it all at a very young age. I’ve played backgammon with Omar Sharif and spent late nights with the beautiful Shirley Bassey. My life was a ‘who’s who’ of the Sydney social scene and visiting celebrities.”

And then Rony got into boating. “I needed a new challenge so I leased the Riva and did it up as an entertainer. With Sydney Harbour as the backdrop, it was easy to keep the clients enthralled. I kept the champagne flowing and the gourmet food aplenty. ‘Rony Riva on the Harbour’, they called me. My operation was well organised. The boat captain was an off-duty Water Police officer, so we offered a level of safety and security that was well known among businesses and famous people, who wanted to get out on the harbor without any hassles.”

Rony lived a very busy boating life, with the boat booked up to three times a day. “It wasn’t easy. We needed to keep the boat constantly maintained and the staff in-line. For me personally, there was always some anxiety, worrying about being on schedule and that everything was going to plan. But generally, it was a wonderful way to live life, among the clients who were always having a good time, happy and smiling.”

Pushed to reveal some Hollywood secrets and stories of wild sexy parties, Rony calmly responds, “What happens on the boat, stays on the boat. What I can say about all my famous clients is that they are very normal people, not very fussy at all. There were no rules on board. We gave them what they wanted. As a host, it’s important to gauge whether the clients want to talk or they want their privacy.”

A charter boat legend and the host with the most, Rony certainly knew how to attract prominent clientele. So his impressions of the local Gold Coast charter boat scene are very interesting. “I’ve been on a few charter boats on the Broadwater. A beautiful boat always helps to make the experience. These operators seem to be very good at boating, but I think there is room to improve with the level of hospitality. The catering can definitely develop.” He admits that times have changed but the principles of charter operating should be the same. “There are too many rules and regulations these days. You can’t treat the client like a child. The client should get whatever they want, within reason. The operators need to be reminded that the client is the star and the most important person on the boat. As an operator, you need to find out who is paying the bill and what the expectation is at the outset. If they have requested girls and champagne, so be it.”

Rony believes that the Gold Coast is growing as a boating destination and a city of boating events. “I’m very enthusiastic about Gold Coast boating. The Gold Coast is the new playground for Australia’s high society. It’s where the beautiful people come to let their hair down. The government should try leading with an advertising campaign where boating is the experience. For tourists, it’s very exciting seeing the prestige homes on the water and the endless white sandy beaches from the comfort of a stunning yacht of sheer opulence.”

Rony notes that this year’s Australia Day celebration fireworks display set the benchmark for a must attend on-water boating event in the city. He asks, “Where are all the waterfront bars and restaurants? If they aren’t allowed, let’s have a floating bar. There can be much more boating infrastructure added, like marina berths and swing moorings.” He also makes an interesting point about how the charter boat market has evolved. “Back in the day, chartering boats was only for rich people. These days, the rich want to be on 100ft superyachts! The good thing is that the smaller luxury charter boat is now accessible to more middle class people wanting to experience the high life.”

It is no surprise that Rony is supportive of some of the GCCC development ideas for the area as long as they are environmentally viable. “Cruise ships, superyachts, casinos and high-rollers directly benefit the upmarket charter boat operators. Bring it on, I say! It’s all do-able, as long as everyone respects the marine life and the impact on the environment. Look out there, that’s a lot of free space that can be sensibly developed into an environmentally sustainable tourism landmark!”

From someone who has lived the high and Hollywood life of charter boats in the 70’s and 80’s, this advice is what Rony’s experience tells him. “There is a great deal of boating history out there. People should be reminded that it is a port. That’s why it’s called Southport. The government needs to realise that this area and the surrounding waterways is a boating destination.”

By Andrew Kancachian



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