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Pearl of wisdom

Inspired by a blissful charter experience in the Whitsundays, Les and Karen Scanlon decided to broaden their boating horizons and leverage their investment, balancing the best of both boat worlds.

Written by Jeni Bone

23 May 2024


Lifelong boaties Les and Karen Scanlon were on the hunt for a compact cruiser, with the idea of bobbing about on Moreton Bay, just at their doorstep. But a dearth of small boats on the market, thanks to a pandemic-fuelled boating boom, prompted them to charter – an experience that motivated the couple to buy an Aquila 44 power catamaran they’ve called Pearl.

Based in Brisbane, they’re now counting the days until they drive north, first to Yeppoon to see their sons Mitchell and Christopher, then on to Airlie Beach to spend Christmas as a family aboard Pearl.

Self-described 10-pound Pom Les and his wife Karen have been married for over three decades. They bonded over boating and water-skiing on the Coomera River, though Les has been on boats since he was a teenager. In 1989, he designed and built a houseboat.

Karen recounts, “When the houseboat was finished, it was moored at Hope Island, and Les lived on it for a year before we were married. We’d go boating and spend time on South Stradbroke Island.”


In 2006 Les built his second boat, a 51-foot Homecruiser. “We’d pick the boys up from school on a Friday and take the boat out for the weekend,” remembers Karen.

“It was so relaxing to just drop anchor and know we had two or three nights on the water – we enjoyed swimming, and the boys loved going fishing and crabbing.”

As the boys grew up and their commitments with school, sport and friends became more engrossing, the Scanlons sold the Homecruiser and got on with running their businesses. A decade passed without owning a boat.

Today, Les says he is semi-retired – he still runs Flexipanel, which he established in 2009. It’s the only privately owned melamine board operation in Queensland, supplying the cabinet-making industry.

Once Mitchell and Christopher left the nest, Les and Karen felt it was time for a change of pace, and the boating lifestyle beckoned. “We started looking for a boat but couldn’t find what we wanted,” explains Karen.

“In 2021, we decided charter was the perfect way to get back into boating,” she says, and a week in the Whitsundays aboard an Aquila 44 ignited the vision of more ambitious adventures and the kind of craft that would allow them to explore the Whitsundays while still earning its keep.

“We had a fantastic time on charter, and loved everything about the Whitsundays and the boat, especially the excellent living spaces and the large master cabin,” says Les, noting they bought their Aquila 44 from the Whitehaven Group at Runaway Bay.

After a few modifications, Pearl was delivered in August. “Jake Wynne at Whitehaven worked with local trades to bring Pearl to 4D AMSA Survey compliance, which is a requirement for bareboat charter operations,” he explains. “Then Jake and coxswain Chris Henry and I departed on the four-day trip to Coral Sea Marina, which was a great way to complete the handover.”

Karen then joined Les for a 10-day sojourn at sea aboard their plush power cat. “It was just after Hamilton Island Race Week, so the wind was still around. We had terrific weather and were able to watch the whales on their annual migration,” says Les. “We enjoyed a different mooring each night, but our favourite was Whitehaven Beach.” “It’s very relaxing,” says Karen.

“When we find a nice bay, we go ashore and walk the trails until happy hour then throw some pasta on for dinner. Watching the sunset from the flybridge or aft deck soothes the soul.”

According to Les, the unique design attributes of the Aquila 44 were the major reasons for their choice. “We inspected various brands, and the Aquila was the only power cat with such a substantial master suite. The fuel economy was very good too,” he notes. “We were happy to cruise at 16.8 knots, with the fuel consumption at 68 litres per hour.”

Another unique feature, the Scanlons observe, is the deckhead height. “Our sons are 6 foot 4 and 6 foot 5,” says Karen. “They will have clear headroom, which is fantastic.”

Having a charter boat in the Whitsundays is an appealing business proposition. “Pearl is part of the Cumberland Charter Yacht bareboat fleet, and has bookings well into next year,” attests Les. “As part of the charter arrangement, we receive 28 days FBT-free to use the boat, and should we wish to use the boat at other times, we can arrange it.”

“Our ideal is to spend more time boating,” Karen says. “Like everyone during COVID, Les held meetings via Zoom, and he now has the flexibility to look after the business from the office or the boat. The plan is to invite our friends away. First up, though, we’re looking forward to spending time on Pearl over Christmas and New Year with our sons, showing them the islands in the Whitsundays. It’s the perfect home on water.”


Why did you call your Aquila 44 Pearl?

It’s a classic name that resonated with us – the jewel of the sea. It will last for years to come.


Favourite location to visit?

Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island off the coast of Queensland. Bucket-list destination? The Maldives (not on our boat). We also want to explore the hidden gems in the Whitsundays.


Any signature dishes or drinks you enjoy on board?

An easy pasta dish of linguine, olive oil, garlic and prawns, plus cold beer and prosecco.


Soundtrack to your cruising?

Any Australian mix.


Favourite pastime while on the water?

Watching the beautiful twilight colours and enjoying the sunset.


What is the one item you can’t live without on board?

A deck of cards in case of bad weather.


Best bit of tech on Pearl?

Listening to Spotify through the sound system.


Favourite spot on your boat?

Has to be on the front deck while enjoying the views.


What are you looking forward to most over summer?

Being able to spend Christmas on the boat with our sons.



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