by Graham Lloyd

You can’t beat real world experience especially when it comes to creating something that is new and unique, yet that must have strong market appeal. So a partnership that combines six decades in the Australian boating industry building and selling top-end luxury cruisers is a major factor in why this first vessel emblazoned with the Belize logo is quite outstanding.

Anyone who has been involved with Aussie cruisers would have known, or at least heard of, Wes Moxey and Lee Dillon, and particularly of their major roles in the development and success of the now iconic luxury cruiser brand Riviera.

Belize 52 Hardtop running

Wes started in the boating world as a teenager during the 1970s with the Carrington Slipway in Newcastle, whilst Lee got an even earlier start by working for Newport Boat Sales on Sydney’s scenic Pittwater when just 12. Wes went on to set up his own business on the Gold Coast and then joined Riviera building the famed Grand Banks trawler-cruisers under licence from American Marine before moving into Riviera management in 1987. He went on to become GM and CEO until August 2008 when he resigned from the Board.

Lee joined the well-known Mike Gaffikin brokerage straight from school in 1980, and that became the first dealership for Riviera when the latter launched its original 38 Flybridge Cruiser in 1981. Lee set up his own brokerage at the d’Albora Marina in Rushcutters Bay in 1990 and made it so successful that Riviera bought it in 2003. Lee also started the Mariner dealership Seven Seas and operated Riviera Port Stephens and Mariner Southside in Sydney’s southern suburb of Caringbah before he joined Riviera in management as the Retail Director. He later joined the Group Board where he worked even more closely with Wes until Lee also resigned in July 2008.

Belize 52 Hardtop steering console

Just after the May 2009 Sanctuary Cove Boat Show, Wes and Lee were chatting about how they might get back into the boating industry when Wes’ wife Helen said: “Why don’t the two of you get together and create something new of your own, instead of for someone else?”

That seemed like a great idea so Lee and Wes sketched out the sort of boat they’d both like. They didn’t want to compete with Riviera, and the direction they took was to create a vessel that people who had owned a few production boats might like to consider as being a little bit different, and not built in high numbers so that when they pulled into a bay there weren’t six or seven other boats that looked the same.

Belize 52 Hardtop_0726

Wes and Lee wrote out their “must have” features and “must not have” aspects before engaging designer Anthony Starr who had spent years working under the highly respected boat builder David Warren. Anthony produced the first concept drawings for the new boat while Lee and Wes set up the new companies Luxury Design Motoryachts and Belize Motoryachts with offices in the d’Albora Marina at The Spit on Sydney’s picturesque Middle Harbour.

Another very experienced designer was brought onboard as the concept phase progressed. Stephen Ford had spent a decade with the internationally-renowned British luxury boat builder Sunseeker before working for several years with Riviera. His expertise with Sunseeker’s “way out there” styling and his artistic flair enabled Wes and Lee to blend into their creation a number of aspects from the motor industry that they had in mind.

For example, a slight curving hipline in the aft topsides of the Belize has been formed that was motivated by the current Bentley Continental, and the stainless flutes across the transom were inspired by the Audi R8. The helm station also has automotive aspects. Other design criteria (compared with similar vessels) sought by Wes and Lee were a finer entry for the forward hull sections and a moderate vee aft to give a softer ride through rough seas. Strong turned-down chines running through to aft were specified to deflect waters down and away to keep the boat drier than others of its type. A fine, straight stem and a “moderately substantial” keel were incorporated to cut down on slip and drift when berthing in strong winds and for better tracking in following seas.

The overall effect Lee and Wes were striving for was to develop a vessel that was traditional in many ways, such as having seriously strong construction with timeless lines, but that was also very contemporary in style. Practical, day-to-day-use, considerations were foremost too including ensuring there was a “home” for everything onboard to be securely stowed. So, for example, all the standard Villeroy and Boch crockery and cutlery, along with galley appliances such as the kettle, toaster, blender and sandwich maker, are all housed securely.

Belize 52 Hardtop steering gallery

By early 2010, the design had progressed quickly and the search began for a company with the necessary experience to build the boat. At the same time, the Gold Coast naval architect firm Oceanic Yacht Design began to work on the detailed design of the hull and to develop with Stephen Ford a model for tank testing. That took place at the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania during March 2010. Lee was present on the first day of testing: “There were certain aspects of the ride of the hull I wasn’t absolutely happy with – just gut feel, not academic knowledge. Wes did make some small changes, and subsequent experience during our delivery voyage through very variable weather proved those changes to be well worthwhile.”

A month later, after a wide search through Malaysia, the Philippines, China and Taiwan, Lee and Wes travelled to Kaohsiung, which has been the centre of boatbuilding in Taiwan for many years, and met with Kha Shing Enterprises. During a 35 year track record of boat building under the one family ownership, Kha Shing has crafted vessels with a number of famous names in the luxury cruiser and super yacht arenas emerging from their shipyards. These include Hargrave, Monte Fino and Trader Yachts. When Lee and Wes visited, the company’s vast expertise was evidenced by six 100+ foot super yachts under construction, in the pond and in their yard – all under cover! Further proof of Kha Shing’s versatility and wide capabilities in all of fibreglass, engineering and electronics came from seeing a high performance electric-powered version of the famous 1960’s Carroll Shelby Cobra sports car.

The decades of experience in Lee and Wes were influential in choosing twin Cummins QSC 600 8.2 litre straight-6 turbo-charged diesels for power, and again for the way they were installed into the Belize. Wes and Stephen Ford designed a simple rail mounting system. The engines are first mounted on cradles that are bolted to dual cross-rails in the engine room. In any rare case of engine failure, the entire engine and cradle can be easily unbolted and jacked up slightly to sit on provided dolly wheels. These then roll inboard for easy engine removal without any need to affect the boat’s structure.

The Cummins diesels are positioned under the front of the cockpit sole for optimum hull balance, and are connected to aft-mounted Zeus drive pods with 1.92 metre carbon-fibre jackshafts. The Zeus pods have integral, programmable trim tabs and run M8 aft-facing counter-rotating props.

These power plants and pods can be used only after Cummins approve the hull design. The pods are designed to operate vertically down from the surface of the water and are mounted in tunnels or pockets moulded into the hull. Cummins’ US-based in-house naval architect Scott Wildermuth worked closely with Wes, Stephen Ford and Chris Hutchings from Oceanic Yacht Design to obtain the optimum hull shape.

Belize 52 Hardtop Lee Dillon

With the design finalised, Kha Shing Enterprises constructed a plug to make the hull mould – after which the plug was destroyed so that the design can never be duplicated. With the mould carefully finished, the hull was laid-up with solid resin-infused fibreglass below the waterline and with vacuum-cored panels for the topsides and decks. The entire forward floor is a one-piece vacuum-bagged moulding for ultimate strength. Underneath that are foam-filled areas, plus there are water-tight bulkheads and compartments forward and around the engine room. A double vinylester outer skin carries a white isophthalic gelcoat, although the hulls can be painted to owner requirements, as was the case with this first Belize. Construction is to CE standards especially as future boats will be shipped to the US and European markets – dealers from both areas having already expressed interest.

This first Belize was shipped to Brisbane in late September 2011 after approval by Cummins engineers of the diesel and pod installations, and following successful sea-trials in Taiwan. The boat was run under its own power down to the Belize facility on the Gold Coast where the hull was painted by Steve Wicks from Superyacht Solutions, and the electronics installed by Errol Cain from Australian Marine Wholesale. Whilst all the wiring was done at the factory, the electronics are installed locally for more effective after-sales service and to more quickly respond to any warranty matters that might arise.

Belize 52 Hardtop Bedroom

With everything double-checked, the Belize was cruised down the coast to Sydney. Departing the Gold Coast seaway at 5:00 am local time, Lee and the crew had three hours running into a “very sharp, short, sloppy, south-easterly 1.5 metre base swell” that kept speed down to 11 knots. Conditions improved south of Cape Byron for an easier run to Coffs Harbour arriving at 2:00 pm (NSW daylight saving time). After topping up the 2,400 litre fuel tanks, Lee headed out at 2:30 and set the throttles for a fast cruise at 23 to 26 knots with a fair nor-easter from astern. The crew berthed in Port Stephens at 9:30 pm and set off again the next morning for a comfortable 6:00 to 9:30 am last leg down to Pittwater.

Lee was ecstatic with the performance of the boat on its delivery voyage. “Under the circumstances of the trip down it was evident that we absolutely got the design just right; everything we aimed for we believe we have achieved.”

There will be a flybridge version of the Belize, which Wes and Lee prefer to call a “Day Bridge”, but this hardtop model is extremely social-friendly with a large aft cockpit that blends with a larger saloon through a clever glass bulkhead framed in mirror-polished stainless steel that uniquely curves vertically. In the forward port quarter of the cockpit is an angled bar which forms an extension of the galley. The latter was styled by Italian designer Giorgia Drudi who has Ferretti Yachts interiors to her credit. A large port-side section of the aft bulkhead lifts up so that the cockpit bar and the galley, which runs down the port side of the saloon, conjoin to make it easy to serve refreshments out into the cockpit. The layout also enables the “chef” to be part of the conversational group aft. At the back of the cockpit is a lounge with a table on a clever hydraulic lift that moves the table away from the lounge as it lowers – so it’s a coffee table, or brings it closer as it rises – to be a dining table.

A boarding platform runs the full beam of the transom behind a trunk enclosure that looks seamless until the top is raised to reveal a barbecue and wet bar, while the lower section also lifts on powered rams for access to the garage in which resides a (standard) 3.1 meter inflatable dinghy complete with (optional) 20 hp outboard. The centre section of the boarding platform can be lowered for the dinghy to be launched, or to be retrieved on its electric retrieval system. But the really clever thing is that all this has been designed so that the barbecue and other social activities can continue even whilst the garage and dinghy are being used. On other boats, raising the garage door means just about everything else at the back of the boat has to stop.

Belize 52 Hardtop engine bay

Three hatches in the cockpit sole give access to the engine room. Two smaller aft hatches reveal the tops of the pod drives and the protective casings over the carbon fibre jack shafts. The larger hatch has a ladder down into the immaculate engine bay which has been laid out for superb access. The attention to detail is phenomenal with even the sight gauges on the fuel tanks being masterfully engineered. Another small detail that captures the care of the engineering installation is that the dual stainless clamps on hoses have their ends sealed in heat-shrink tubing so that there are no sharp ends that might catch on clothing – or flesh! A full engineering diagnostic panel is provided for the Cummins diesels so maintenance engineers can more easily, and more efficiently, carry out their work.

Back in the saloon, an L-shaped lounge is to starboard outside a beautifully crafted timber table with fold-over ends so it can be sized to suit the occasion. The dining table conveniently houses all the crockery and cutlery neatly stowed in its own fitted drawers. At the aft end of the lounge is a cabinet from which emerges on remote-demand a 40 inch Samsung TV screen. Large windows with optional electric remote blinds and overhead skylights (with sliding blinds) let in plenty of light and provide outstanding visibility, while the front half of the saloon overhead is a sun-roof that slides aft for enjoying afloat the skies on balmy days, or the glories of southern constellations at night.

A curving staircase at the port front of the saloon leads down to the overnighting accommodations. A bathroom is to port with a double VIP stateroom forward and another double cabin (under-and-over bunks) to starboard. The latter can optionally be an office or study, or left open so that the area at the foot of the staircase becomes perhaps a large TV den. Just aft of this is the full beam owner’s stateroom amidships with an ensuite to starboard and a relaxing lounge to port. The superb standards of the accommodations are exemplary.

Another “tour de force” of the Belize is the helm station that dominates the forward area of the saloon. The custom designed-and-built Walnut-rimmed, stainless-spoked wheel is centrally located in front of a truly superb Italian Treben leather helm seat with fore-aft electric travel and a hinge-up bolster. A lounge runs out to the starboard side with a matching aft-facing lounge combining to present versatile, commodious and comfortable seating for crew or guests to both watch all the action and to keep the skipper company.

Belize 52 Hardtop tender garage

Visibility for the helmsman in all directions is excellent, as is the view of all the information available in gauges and on twin displays. Straight ahead of the wheel are two Smartcraft digital tachos plus a traditional Ritchie compass whilst two conventional throttle/shift levers with fly-by-wire connectivity are close-by to the right. Then on either side under elegantly styled cowls with carbon-fibre-look panels and leather trimmed surrounds are large Raymarine 15 inch glass display screens. The starboard screen hosts a colour GPS plotter, and to port is a multi-function display of engine readouts plus two video feeds for the three onboard cameras. One video feed is fixed (in this case showing the cockpit) and the other feed cycles through the three cameras that are mounted in the engine room, the cockpit, and in the stainless steel stemhead looking down at the water immediately ahead – which is very convenient to monitor anchoring activity.

On the far left end of the dash console is the joystick control for the engines and pods. The skipper can stand there with sightlines in all directions and have finger-tip control of boat rotation and movement. No bow thruster is needed as the computerised joystick control enables millimetre-precise positioning of the Belize, which Lee nonchalantly displayed as he took the boat out of a very tight berth with perfect control.

Time constraints held us to just a short cruise but even during that it was clear the Bentley Continental had more influence than simply that topsides hipline styling. The same quiet, smooth progression for which Bentley is famous was evident as we loped along. With 1,350 litres in the fuel tanks, the Cummins diesels were very relaxed at 1,380 rpm for 9.5 knots at 88 litres an hour. Accelerating away, we found a good cruise at 2,710 rpm and 24.4 knots for 184 litres an hour, and went on to 3,030 rpm, 29.3 knots and 247 litres an hour. 30 knots is available, although speed was not a high priority in the overall design concept. At 22 knots, the Belize has a range of approximately 400 nautical miles with a 10% reserve.

Belize 52 Hardtop hydraulics

There is so much more to the Belize that can be told – the use of extra-strong but friendly-feeling 60 by 40 mm elliptical stainless for guardrails; the custom-designed electro-polished cleats and fairleads; the clever storage for fenders and lines; the Glendenning electrical retrieval unit for the shore power lead (which was optionally fitted to the test boat); the wide side decks with substantial bulwarks rather than diminutive toe-rails; double layers of acoustic and thermal lagging in the engine room; the remote controls for varying onboard electrical circuit applications (at the dock, cruising, servicing, etc); and even the custom designed/built boathook and flag pole!

This 52 Hardtop was optioned up to $1.47m, with standard pricing ex the Gold Coast from $1.395m. And, where did the name come from – well, Belize is an island in the Caribbean, and Lee and Wes reckon the Caribbean lifestyle is just what this Belize luxury cruiser is all about! This first example of the marque they have created is an inspiration to what can be achieved – with lots of real world experience – and with more models to follow!

Overall Length: 16.10m
Beam: 5.03m
Draft: 1.07m
Weight (dry): 21,000kg
Sleeping Capacity: 3 cabins, 6 persons
Fuel capacity: 2,400l
Water capacity: 700l
Power: Twin Cummins QSC 600 (442kw, 600hp each)
Transmission: Twin Zeus Pod Drives
Props: Zeus M8 counter-rotating pair per drive
Generator: Onan EQD 17.5kw
Price from: $1.395m ex Coomera, Qld
1,380 9.5
2,710 24.4
3,030 29.3