Jarkan Yachtbuilders have long been established as one of Australia ‘s leading fibreglass boat builders.
The company was founded by Managing Director Kanga Birtles and his wife Beth in 1976.
Jarkan have enjoyed a successful history building many and varied designs from 18 foot traditional motor launches to 18 meter Open Class around the world racing yachts, and a 25 meter tourist catamaran.
Kanga Birtles is a name synonymous with Australian yachting – personally sailing in every major east coast regatta including 16 Sydney Hobart races. He has won Trans Tasman double handed events, and placed second in the 1988 round Australia race. In 1991 he became the fastest Australian to circumnavigate the world, placing fifth in the BOC Challenge single-handed yacht race, and in 1998 set the record for fastest non-stop circumnavigation of Australia.
One of Jarkan’s philosophies is to test what we make, and what better way to test equipment and structures used in our cruising and racing yachts than under the pressure of competitive racing.
Initial company success was derived with the introduction of the ever-popular Jarkan 10.5 meter centre cockpit cruising sloop. Designed for cruising anywhere by a couple or family, these boats impressed observers when the first one launched went on to win the Sydney – Suva Fiji race. Over fifty of these yachts were built between 1976 and the late eighties. Jarkan are proud to be able to say that almost all of their 10.5′s have been cruised and raced safely by owners, completing many ocean crossings and at least two circumnavigations. Even today around thirty years on, they hold a high resale value and enjoy the praise of their owners.
Jarkan custom yachts have circled the globe, and competed with distinction in Australian and international regattas. The key focus of Jarkan has been and remains the manufacture of seaworthy true ocean going yachts regardless of size. Our experience and commitment to development drives our diversifying into the growing market of multi purpose powerboats designed for dive, charter, or long range economical power cruising.
Beth and I cruised for more than two years from England through the French canals, to over 100 ports in the Mediterranean, and then across the Atlantic and up and down the Caribbean.
After our time cruising I built a Sparkman and Stevens half tonner, hiring the moulds from Sydney company Aquacraft.
Building that boat on my own gave me an insight into all of the processes and problems that go into building a fiberglass yacht.
During that build I became friends with young naval architect Allen Blackburne who was working with Aquacraft at the time, building Ragamuffin to a Miller design and designing and building what was to become James Hardy’s “Nyamba”. Both boats made the Admiral’s Cup team.
The design of the Jarkan 10.5 was the development of my ideas about the layout of our ideal cruising boat, fitted within a modern (for the times) three quarter tonner hull, and Allen’s talents at designing that hull and deck.
I founded Jarkan with my wife Beth in 1976 and we built the plug, moulds and the first hull at a factory in Brookvale before de-centralizing to Nowra.
We started producing Jarkan 10.5 yachts and were soon building 4 a year, and over the next decade we eventually made almost 50 of these great boats.
After several years I designed the aft cockpit version – we built that deck mould and four of that version.
I was intrigued by the J24 class boats in 1981 and with Rob Mundle I went to Newport Rhode Island, sailed on one, and obtained the rights to build them in Australia.
While there we saw the production line where they were making one a day – they had produced 7 a day at maximum production.
We built the first 126 J24’s in Australia – Jarkan had the building rights and Rob did the marketing for us.
After a period when Bashford Boats built them with the late Ian Bashford as the driving force, we built them again from boat 196 or so, exporting 6 to China until the moulds were destroyed in the Xmas bushfires in 2001
We were approached in 1981 to build Holland 44 to a very high specification from a mould. We built “Aetos” from this mould, and then I built “Sangaree” and another hull and deck for a customer before selling the mould. We had a great year with “Sangaree” doing the Sydney to Noumea race, Noumea to Cairns race, Sydney – Hobart, Sydney – Mooloolabah, and lots of other races and delivery cruises.
1982 was our most productive year with 56 J24s, 5 Jarkan 10.5s and a Holland 44 built.
The Jarkan 925 was introduced as a smaller conventional yacht to augment the 10.5. They were designed by John King, who had been working with Ben Lexen on the Australia II America’s Cup campaign with the winged keel.
We raced the first of the 925s to Hobart – I still think that it was the most enjoyable Hobart of the 17 that I have done.
When the first of the French invasion arrived with the quarter berth turned into a small cabin, I knew we had to modify the 925 to incorporate that interior design. We increased the freeboard and raked out the stern of the 925, I designed the new deck and the Jarkan Europa 10 arrived.
The Europa 10 (or just the Jarkan 10) was liked by many and we started building a run of them.
I built a one off yacht for myself to compete in the Melbourne Osaka race to a John King design –“Toccata”– she is still a great boat and was well ahead of her time in 1987.
We missed out on the Osaka race as she was not finished in time to complete the qualifying sail on time, but we went on to do pretty well in the two handed trans-Tasman race – complete with cyclone Bola into which we bashed around the top of the North island of NZ.
Interest in this boat lead to the design of the Jarkan 12.5 – a similar water plane but with the displacement increased to allow for the creature comforts wanted by the first two customers.
While we were building the plug and mould I suggested to the first of the owners that we should build a one off deck for the first hull and do the 1988 Bicentennial Around Australia race.
He mulled that over and then announced that he would agree to the first hull doing the race, organized for the boat to become “Apple Endeavour”, sponsored by Apple computers, and we competed in the fully crewed division.
After this race I was approached by Alby Bergin – who had commissioned the third Jarkan 10.5 built – to build him a yacht for the BOC solo around the world race.
This lead to a preliminary design study for an Open 60 single hander by John King. Alby pulled out because of medical reasons leaving me with the design study.
After building 12 Jarkan 10s quite quickly, the recession happened. At the Sydney Boat show in 1988 I realized that we were not going to build many boats in the near future.
I went for a sail on John Biddlecombe’s open 60 on Sydney Harbour and I was hooked.
We were able to build the John king Open 60 and I embarked on the sail of my life. I finished 5th in the 1990-91 race, with virtually no damage to the boat – a blown out spinnaker and a couple of bent stanchions.
Back to reality and we started yacht building again – two key staff had held the fort in my absence building a 12.5 and two 10.5s.
We built the Lyons designed Jarkan 38 mould in a small shed on the waterfront where we also did a major refit of a fishing boat; turning her into a successful long range motor cruiser.
To build the first of the Lyons 38s we moved to out current location in Woollamia on Jervis Bay.
At this time we built a Crowther designed dive cat for Jervis Bay, and another for Port Stephens, starting our involvement with power catamarans.
While building the series of Lyons 38 boats we were approached by Alan Nebauer to build an Open 50 for the 1994-95 BOC. This Lyons designed yacht became “Newcastle Australia” and Al completed his solo race in her. (His book of the race is “Against all Odds”.) She later became “Balance Bar” and completed the 1998-99 BOC with Brad Van Liew.
We built the Jarkan 46 as a cruising boat based very loosely on the Open 60 – similar displacement but with a big nod to trawler type motor yachts and modern racing yachts at the same time – another John King design.
I dreamed of doing another around the world race and approached Andy Dovell (at the time Murray Burns Dovell) to design a new open 60. The boat was eventually completed without any sponsorship and with Unai Basurko I won the Trans-Tasman double handed race in 1996.
We set a record nonstop around Australia record in her and then set the Sydney Hobart record for a yacht under 60 ft. She had quite a career under Sean Langman’s ownership and various names “Xena” “AAPT” “Grundig”.
A previous 10.5 owner was the catalyst for the Jarkan Aurora 39. This was an update of the 10.5 – 30 years on. Andy Dovell was the designer again and this is a great center cockpit design.
We became involved with the Solar Sailor project and built that boat on a very tight budget.
That lead to us building “Passions of Paradise” the 100 passenger sailing catamaran that cruises to the reef out of Cairns, the largest boat we have built.
Just after starting Aurora no. 3 and Passions, and with the fifth 46 hull in the mould the Xmas bushfires burnt our factory out; destroying the moulds for the 10, the deck mould for the 46, the J24 moulds that we had started to build again and all the 12.5 moulds. A 38 was in the yard and also ruined.
The Aurora 39 mould and the hull of the 46 survived the fire. The next two years were spent in completing the boats that had been under construction and then modifying the 46 hull to become the Jarkan 48 with a completely new deck-saloon arrangement.
We built another open 60 with a canting keel for Unai Basurko based on the previous Dovell design, and he completed the Around Alone race too.
Another approach for a one off build seemed to fit the thoughts I had for a smaller deck saloon purely cruising yacht.
With Andy Dovell again we developed the Jarkan 36 Deck Saloon. We have built four of these and they are a wonderful cruising yacht.
Finally we were building a 45 ft catamaran houseboat to be powered by electric motors with solar panels for charging.
Kanga Birtles, May 2014.