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Aquila’s Lex Raas: Driving the Cat Pack (Part 2)

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Part two of Yacht Style’s interview with Lex Raas of MarineMax, who has spent the past decade driving the global popularity of powercats with Aquila. It’s the South African’s latest industry-shaking move, having helped create Leopard Catamarans and led the rapid growth of charter multihulls with The Moorings.

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Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The MooringsLex Raas, President of Aquila, at his home in Hawaii

 

What has been the feedback to the underwater Hydro Glide Foil System developed by Morrelli & Melvin, first made available on the Aquila 36 Sport?

It’s amazing how much take-up we’ve had. It has been chosen on about a third of the orders since it has been available. It works amazingly well and improves efficiency and ride. It’s more foil assist than really foiling. To get the same speed as twin 300hp engines and the foil, you’d put on twin 400hps and no foil.

 

Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The Moorings

 

 

Both would reach the upper 40s in mph, but the 300s offer better economy because most of the time people are running the boats at 35-37mph (30-32 knots). With the foil, you’ve got 35 per cent more range or efficiency at those speeds. That’s massive. The foil has less depth than the props so you can beach the boat – they’re strong. We’re putting them on the 44, where the efficiency or range improves by about 18 per cent and the ride is notably better because the foil lifts the boat so there’s more tunnel clearance.

Aquila’s Lex Raas: Driving the Cat Pack (Part 1)

Lex Raas of US-based MarineMax has spent the past decade driving the global popularity of powercats with Aquila. It’s the South African’s latest industry-shaking move, having also helped create Leopard Catamarans and led the rapid growth of charter multihulls with The Moorings during a 50-year career in building boats.

The challenge is that the 32 may often have the same engines as the 36 and many people simply choose to pay the extra money to get an extra cabin, extra toilet, more space. Most times we lose a 32 sale to a 36, not to another brand, which is fine for us. Sales are not as strong as the 36, but I’m confident the 32 will do well as there’s now more separation on price – we needed to keep the price ‘lanes’ further apart.

 

Moving to the other end of your range, why did you launch the first units of the 54 Yacht and the new flagship 70 Luxury at the same time?

By accident! The 70 was designed and developed a long time before the 54. We did a lot of surveys because we had to see how to differentiate the 70 from the competitors out there. A lot of motor yacht owners and buyers were interested in large powercats but didn’t like the ‘squared-off’ look and wanted something sleeker and sexier.

 

Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The Moorings

The Aquila 54 features a cockpit bar connected to the open aft galley

 

They also wanted speed more like a monohull motor yacht of that size, so the 70 is a relatively narrow powercat. It was also intended to be semi-production, maybe a couple of units a year, with a flexible interior, high-end furniture and equipment, carbon-fibre bulkheads and so on.

 

Our 48 had not been as successful in the private market as the 44, so we had a big gap between the 44 and 70, and the 54 fits right in. The 54 is a production boat and the beam-to length ratio is more like the 44 and cats by other traditional catamaran builders.

 

Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The Moorings

The Aquila 54’s optional full-beam master suite is forward of the saloon

 

We started developing the 54 much later than the 70 but we got so interested in the 54 that we fast-tracked its development. The 70’s launch was slowed down because of this and it just so happened the first units came out at the same time.

 

Have you been surprised by sales of the 54? They’re astonishing for a big new boat. It’s crazy. I’ve never known a boat sell so well even before it has been shown. The 54 follows the looks of the 70 even though it’s almost as wide (it has a 25ft 2in beam compared to 26ft 11in on the 70). It’s a very high-volume boat with the option of three, four or five cabins, so there’s flexibility in the design. The forward full-beam master suite is a massive thing. J&J did a magnificent job.

 

Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The Moorings

The Aquila 54 features an innovative crane concealed in the flybridge overhang

 

It also has a cool crane system that I designed with J&J and uses Harken sailboat equipment. The crane slides aft out of the flybridge to attach to the dinghy, extends to put the dinghy in the water, then retracts. It keeps the boat looking clean. The 70 has a central platform that tilts like a slipway, which is quicker but uses up length, which we can afford on the 70 but not the 54.

 

How has Aquila grown since 2017 from being a US-centric brand to becoming genuinely global including growing sales in Asia, where Simpson Marine is among dealers?

Yvan Eymieu has done a really good job since becoming International Sales and Distribution Manager in 2017. Business is about people. I knew Yvan from The Moorings, managed to convince him to join us and he’s been stellar. I’ve been asking him what he’s eating because we need to share it!

 

Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The Moorings

Aquila’s new flagship 70 Luxury

 

He has pushed us hard in certain areas to consider his markets. On the 54, we have a full Asian layout, on the 70 we have a full Asian layout which is also somewhat European with the galley below, so there’s a much more open saloon. There are now a range of layouts ready to go.

 

Interestingly, when he was first setting up the international network, he was looking at catamaran dealers, then we all realised we should be working with motor yacht dealers and positioning ourselves differently. Look at MarineMax itself, for starters, which is selling Azimut, Galeon and Aquila. As well as catamaran lovers, we’re also appealing to monohull motor yacht owners.

 

Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The Moorings

The Aquila 70 has a purpose-built 14ft tender stored in the central platform

Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The Moorings

 

Some people were worried about a new catamaran brand, but if I hear of someone else building catamarans, I’m like, ‘bring it on’, because I believe there’s room for all of us. Catamarans are just starting. The more people marketing catamarans, the better for all of us and it’ll drive all of us to keep building better boats.

 

Your son Jean is CEO of Sino Eagle’s US office, while Alain was appointed Aquila’s Brand Manager last year. How is it working with your sons – and do you have any other family working with you?

Ha ha – we have another son, David, and a daughter who’s a doctor. Jean and David used to work at The Moorings with me, then David moved into marketing and has his own company. Last year, we were looking for a Brand Manager and Alain said he was interested, so I suggested he speak to Dave Bigge, our VP of International Sales. He said, wow, he’ll be perfect. I didn’t hire Alain, but I’m proud he’s onboard. Working with family can be a double-edged sword, but people know I’m tougher on family than others.

 

Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The Moorings

The platform and aft steps on the Aquila 70 create ‘stadium seating’

 

Alain reports to Dave Bigge, while Jean is part of Sino Eagle, so he reports to Frank Xiong. It’s cool to be able to work with two of my sons. I don’t know how many more years I’ll keep doing this, so hopefully they can take over some of my work!

 

How do you feel looking back at what you’ve achieved, particularly in the catamaran sector?

The true success of Leopard and now Aquila have been due to the management executives at the various times to support my vision, even though it seemed ‘right field’ to most industry folk at those times. Right from racing rowing boats at school, racing sailboats later and the 50 years I’ve spent developing boats and in executive positions at marine companies, I’ve recognised you need the right people around you to get to the top.

 

Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The Moorings

The roomy aft cockpit on the Aquila 70 Luxury

Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The Moorings

 

While my vision may seem related to the product, that’s only a third of what I focus on with a new brand. As mentioned, the other two are distribution and manufacturing, and they’re more difficult to establish. You need all three to succeed.

 

For Aquila, we now have one of the best boat factories in the world with the Xiong family, MarineMax as distributors in the US led by Brett McGill, and the amazing work that Yvan [Eymieu] has done in setting up an international dealer network that represents the best in their markets. It has been truly a remarkable result in the few years that Aquila has existed.

 

Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The Moorings

The Aquila 70 interior features Natuzzi furniture from Italy

 

It has taken a village of amazing folk to get to where we are today, building 14ft to 70ft pure power catamarans. And the cool thing is, we’re only getting started.

http://www.aquilaboats.com

http://www.simpsonmarine.com

LEX RAAS, PRESIDENT, AQUILA

Lex Raas, MarineMax, Aquila, Power, Catamarans, Powercats, 54, 50, Hydroglide Foil, Leopard, The Moorings

 

Raas is co-founder and President of Aquila Power Catamarans, a collaboration between MarineMax and Sino Eagle (Aquila is Latin for eagle). Born in South Africa, he owned a sailboat manufacturing facility before becoming a local dealer for Beneteau. From 1986-1994, Raas worked for Beneteau, firstly as Technical Commercial Manager in France, then in the US heading Customer Service and Engineering before becoming CEO of Beneteau USA, and again in France as Director of Design. In 1994, Raas began 16 years with The Moorings charter company in the US, instigating the production of Leopard catamarans at Robertson & Caine in South Africa. Initially Director of Logistics, he was promoted to VP of Operations in 1997 and CEO in 2001 and oversaw the company’s merger with Sunsail. In January 2012, Raas joined MarineMax as President of Charter and Special Initiatives. 

 

Aquila’s Lex Raas: Driving the Cat Pack (Part 1)

Lex Raas of US-based MarineMax has spent the past decade driving the global popularity of powercats with Aquila. It’s the South African’s latest industry-shaking move, having also helped create Leopard Catamarans and led the rapid growth of charter multihulls with The Moorings during a 50-year career in building boats.

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