An idyllic base in between the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney, Brisbane’s advanced shipyard infrastructure has made the city a leading superyacht hub for refit, maintenance and regional exploration. Growing up in Brisbane in the 80s, Travis Heyen was a familiar sight on and around the River, in his tinnie, paddling or fishing.
“We lived at Pinkenba, opposite Hemmant, and my dad ran a fishing store with some dry storage for the local boaties,” said Captain Travis, now at the helm of 70-metre (226ft) Feadship, MY SAMAYA.
“That got my interest going.”
After High School, Travis travelled south to Tasmania to take up a Scholarship in Marine Science, which he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree.
“Then I drove my van back to Queensland, to Yeppoon and worked on the Great Keppel Island ferry service for a while, which was a great lifestyle in my 20s.”
A job in Marine Science lured him back to Brisbane and he took up a role with the EPA carrying out water sampling in the rivers and waterways from Tweed Heads to Rockhampton.
A chance encounter with the 48-metre (158ft) Feadship, NOA VII inspired Travis to make the leap into the superyacht industry. “I got in touch with the Captain and was hired. I had to head to St Martin, in the Caribbean, which was my first time travelling overseas. It was pretty major.”
Over his career, Travis has crewed aboard the iconic 60-metre (199ft) Feadship, MEDUSE, which was owned by Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, and the sister ship of OCTOPUS and TATOOSH.
After several years in the role of Chief Officer, Travis decided to relocate to Florida where he captained a private 100ft yacht along the coast of Florida and the Bahamas. In 2013, Travis and his American wife Emily decided to relocate to Australia.
While they settled in, Travis found work at a marine supplies company and Emily pursued her career in Law. Then, Travis spotted GOLDEN SHADOW, the 67-metre (220ft) research vessel used by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation for deep sea exploration and scientific research missions. It was conducting its second ‘Global Reef Expedition’ – a five-year circumnavigation – a Travis was hired as Chief Officer.
During that time, GOLDEN SHADOW berthed at Rivergate Marina & Shipyard for repairs and maintenance and Travis was able to remain in Brisbane and fly-in-fly-out for his role on this impressive research vessel.
“It was an exciting time working for the Saudi Royal Family,” he recounted. “We had a team of scientists onboard undertaking Science Without Borders, exploring and researching the world’s coral reefs. There were about 50 people onboard, including crew, and we assisted with diving and taking samples in the Great Barrier Reef, Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz Islands, Palau and Singapore.
“Chagos was the most remote place, in the middle of Indian Ocean. Cruising Chagos and Lofoten Islands [near Norway] were both amazing experiences. We were operating in an environment where we wouldn’t see anybody else for weeks. It was a huge challenge, multitasking and managing an international crew. They were very well-trained and experienced.”
The global expeditions continued and kept Travis occupied for several years until 2017, when he was selected to Captain what he describes as his “first big boat”, privately-owned MY SAMAYA.
“After 15 years, I still love my job,” said Travis, admitting he is “still a deckie at heart”.
“I may have additional training and qualifications, but the job is the same; you do what is in front of you, take care of the priorities.
“I am grateful to be among a subset of yachties who work in remote parts of the World, not the ‘Milk Run’. That keeps it interesting. And to be able to return to my home and family in Brisbane is everything. SAMAYA is not ‘based’ anywhere. After her launch in the Netherlands in 2017, she headed to Gibraltar and Barcelona, and has been travelling westwards ever since.”
SAMAYA’S owner is an avid traveller and diver. Travis has cruised the oceans and islands of the world, including the Caribbean, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Bahamas.
Back in Brisbane for a break, Travis is adamant he wouldn’t change a thing about his career or his choice to live here.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” he explained. “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing. The job has its ups and downs – some days are tedious, and there are challenges, but I would never pack it up to choose something else.
“Being away from my family is hard, but I have to take a step back and remind myself of the wonderful experiences. The islands, reefs, dolphins, marine life. I can’t normalise it; it is very special.”
During the past year of travel restrictions, Travis and his family have spent a lot of time exploring Brisbane and its surrounds. He’s found the town has evolved a lot since he was knocking around the riverbank; changes that have made it a sophisticated, though still laid-back city with plenty of appeal for visiting superyacht owners and crew.
“I’d says Expo 88 was the catalyst,” he said. “I noticed it mid-2000s. I’m a real estate watcher, which can be a good indicator, and Brisbane has just flourished in terms of the arts, culture, restaurants.
“Rivergate is a perfectly located facility for vessels stopping in for refits and service before heading to the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef. Every year we have to refit, anti-foul, service the various systems – that’s the nature of boats. Rivergate offers access to all the south-east Queensland marine trades, with the convenience of a capital city on the doorstep.”
Rivergate is also an easy cruise from the amazing boating paradise of Moreton Bay, an idyllic cruising ground with scenic, sheltered anchorages and compelling activities onshore.
For spending some time seeing the sights, Moreton Bay is ideal for small to mid-size boats; Tangalooma, with its wild dolphins, and Moreton Island and the array of activities such as diving off Flinders Reef, ATV adventures, hiking, sand dunes and historic sites.
From there, vessels can head along the Australian east coast, south to Sydney and Melbourne or north to Far North Queensland, the Reef and Whitsundays, or the South Pacific.
“Tonga, New Caledonia, Tahiti, the Solomon Islands are just a few days away, for ultra-remote, fascinating cultural experiences.”