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It's a pleasure

Like many Gisborne people Craig Franks took off on his “OE” 30 years ago, but a meeting with a Canadian billionaire meant he never came back. Gisborne Herald reporter Debbie Gregory finds that, apart from annual visits home to catch up with family, Craig’s life has been all about superyachts and pleasure boats.

From a sailing background that started with P class yachts as a six-year-old, Craig Franks is now in charge of the build of a 107 metre — that’s a little longer than a rugby field — deep-ocean luxury superyacht.

He works for John Carter Risley, 71, a Canadian billionaire businessman with interests in fisheries, food supplements and communications.

In a story in the SuperYacht Times, fisherman and owner John Risley says life has never not involved the ocean in one way or another.

From growing up as a young boy on the misty shores of Nova Scotia, Canada to steering a global empire today that manages the abundant valuable resources that our oceans have to offer, Risley is as much an adventurer in the business world as he is out at sea.

Few owners know as much about the last frontier that is our ocean as much as Risley and being reliant on its hidden treasures to make a living, few are as passionate about the well-being and sustainability of its inhabitants.

His latest deep-ocean luxury superyacht will carry on the Northern Star name, like the vessels he has previously owned.

Mr Franks also loves sailing and boating.

This is the sixth boat build he has supervised for Mr Risley and he has been the captain of his pleasure boats since he was in his early 20s.

You could say he landed on his feet.

Growing up on his parents’ farm at Ngatapa, Craig got into sailing aged about 6. Both his family and their neighbours the Caves were keen sailors so it was a natural progression for him.

Craig attended Ngatapa Primary School then Lytton High School.

He wanted a trade behind him, and he decided to train at the then Gisborne Polytechnic as an automotive engineer after he finished high school. Then he set off overseas with friend and neighbour Hamish Cave.

“I never came back . . . I ended up in the British Virgin Islands where I took on a 12-month contract as an engineer out on Cooper Island. I started in November and by May I had met Mr Risley who had just taken delivery of his brand new Baltic 64-foot sailboat called Sarah Kate. I was offered a position on the crew and I jumped at the opportunity.

“The boat was being delivered to Staniel Cay in the Exumas in the Bahamas, one of my top cruising grounds in the world. I was offered a full-time position on this trip which I put down to my engineering background. I think it really helped me in securing the position.”

Three years later — by now he was in his early 20s — the captain of the boat resigned and Craig was asked to be his replacement.

“The owner was at home at Novia Scotia, Canada and he offered me the position. I said no — I was thinking I was too young to be in charge of this 64 foot sailboat, but he gave me the confidence I could do it.”

Almost all the world seen by seaThe vessel travelled the Caribbean and the north-east coast of America and after a couple of years, the owner decided to sell it.

In the meantime, Mr Franks was part of a 42-foot yacht build which competed on the IMS circuit for two years with much success.

The International Measurement System (IMS) is a system of handicapping sailboats for the purpose of racing that replaced the earlier International Offshore Rule (IOR) system in the early 1990s. It is managed by the Offshore Racing Congress (ORC).

“The aim was to design a deck layout that worked well and made the boat competitive,” Craig said.

“With the IMS raceboat circuit being so competitive we ended up building two more race boats in the next five years and when the second one was being built, Mr Risley met Team New Zealand yachtsman Russell Coutts.

“We then sailed with him winning —and losing — many regattas around the world.”

By this time, Mr Franks was captain of Mr Risley’s new 123-foot Sparkman and Stephens-designed Palmer Johnston cruising ketch, which he named Northern Star. In the late 1990s he sold that.

With another vessel in the design and build process, Mr Franks had a year in New Zealand, and spent time with Team New Zealand multi-tasking, working in the shore team in the night and on the water every day supporting the sailboats with the TNZ large rigid inflatable boat (rib).

“Some days I would be sailing so it was a lot of fun during the year-long period with TNZ in Auckland.”

After the America’s Cup, the owner returned to the Canada to figure out what was next.

What was next was a trip to New York to meet the Sparkman and Stephens’ design team, where Mr Franks spent 12 months working on a 50m ketch design.

When the specification bid package was ready, they took it to shipbuilders in Europe and New Zealand and nearly signed a contract with a German business. “Then I got a call from the owner to meet him at his home in Nova Scotia where it was decided the project was too expensive and it was time to change tack.”

Instead of a sailboat, they looked into an explorer type yacht and once they had a design went to shipbuilders in Europe and New Zealand again.

The German motor yacht builder Luerssen delivered the new 63m vessel which was named Northern Star at the end of 2004.

The next Mediterranean charter season the vessel was “very successful”.

At the end of the season the vessel was delivered back to Luerssen in Germany for some warranty works where a potential new owner was shown the vessel and subsequently purchased it a month later.

“This then meant we were on to our next project — a Luerssen 75-metre — the new Northern Star, complete with on-board helicopter pad. It was delivered at the end of 2009.”

On this vessel, Mr Franks has captained the boat all around the Mediterranean and as far east as Istanbul, the Bermudas, Galapagos, Greenland and the Canadian Arctic.

“We travelled more than 150,000 nautical miles.”

Highlights of his time at sea include travelling through the wilderness of the Arctic and Greenland, where he says the scenery is spectacular.

“We were alone and going to remote parts of the world where no one else had been.

“Diving in the Galapagos Islands was another highlight — the sealife was fantastic.”

Sailing is still Craig’s passion but an increasing number of new regulations, combined with trying to meet tight schedules is taking its toll. While budgets are always hard, this is becoming a challenging task on a daily basis.

He will always love the sea and sailing, but he is keen to concentrate more on the design side of shipbuilding.

He is based in Hamburg, Germany with his partner Marla and young children Sam, 5, and one-year-old Kate. His older children Hannah, 11 and Thomas, 13, live in the United Kingdom. His eldest child John is in the United States, in Portsmouth New Hampshire and is training to be a helicopter pilot.


The Northern Star. Pictures supplied
FAR AND WIDE: The 75-metre Northern Star has been captained by former Gisborne man Craig Franks since it was delivered in 2009. He has sailed the vessel around the world, although not to New Zealand, which is on the owner’s itinerary once he takes delivery of his new vessel in May 2022. With this boat Mr Franks has sailed the entire Mediterranean as far east as Istanbul. He has crossed the Atlantic to the east coast of North America and up to Nova Scotia, Labrador, the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, before making his way to Iceland, across to Norway and on to the United Kingdom. Then they headed for the warmer waters of the Canary Islands, and Central America. The Northern Star made it to the Sand Blast Islands in the Pacific and out to the Galapagos where Mr Franks said the diving was out of this world. After this trip the Northern Star and crew sailed on into the Caribbean where Mr Franks has spent many northern hemisphere winters.
UNITED NATIONS: The Northern Star crew is predominantly New Zealanders with a mix of crew from Australia, Italy, Germany, Britian, Canada and South Africa. Mr Franks is centre front.