Kitcher weighs anchor on Boat Torque journey

THE Kitcher family’s half-century association with Rottnest Island’s transport links is set to end, with the split up of the massive tourism business that includes the WA icon ferry operation, Boat Torque Cruises.

Trevor Kitcher, whose father, Allan, started ferrying passengers to Rottnest in 1956, has put assets worth about $20 million on the market.

The colourful family operation has not only been synonymous with Rottnest. The island-linked tourism business also lay behind the origins of one of WA’s rare manufacturing success stories – the vast fast-ferry operations now based at Henderson.

Mr Kitcher told WA Business News the redevelopment of Barrack Square during the past two years had significantly hurt his business and left him over-capitalised.

However, he said the sale of the Rottnest ferry operations would clear his debts to the bank and leave him with considerable assets.

“If the two major sales in place go ahead that will pay out the banks completely,” Mr Kitcher said.

“The rest is for me.

“I am determined to get out.”

The Rottnest operations using the Boat Torque name could be worth an estimated $7 million.

The operators of the Hillarys-based ferry service, Russell Wilson and Amanda Abbott, are close to finalising a deal to buy the business, including the Sea Flyte, which plies that route, taking an estimated 50,000-60,000 passengers a year.

Neither party wanted to discuss the price.

Mr Kitcher said he had also received several expressions of interest for the Rottnest Shuttle business, where the Star Flyte runs out of a 20,000sq m facility at Rous Head, and was in serious negotiations with at least one party.

It was likely the Rottnest trade from Barrack Square would form part of the Rottnest Shuttle deal, with Mr Kitcher suggesting the Super Flyte ferry was to continue taking passengers down the Swan River to Rottnest.

Instead, he was planning to sell the boat on the international market for between $4 million and $5 million.

Also on the market are the river cruise business to the wine district, with two relatively new boats worth about $1.3 million each and the Barrack Square restaurant/café; the former Mulberry Farm in the Swan Valley, which now trades as Bells Estate and is worth around $3 million; and Mr Kitcher’s half share in Pemberton winemaker Gloucester Ridge, which he valued at $1.5 million.

Mr Kitcher said he had been working in the ferry business since he was 15 and was ready to quit after 40 years.

He said his children had their own careers.

“Maybe I didn’t like to lock my kids into the business. I was locked in,” Mr Kitcher said.

Allan Kitcher was an Albany-based electrician who also operated a small ferry in the South West port.

In 1956, he brought his boat up to Perth and started a ferry service to Rottnest Island.

The service grew to carry 282,000 passengers at its peak (last year was 260,000) and at one stage held a monopoly on the Rottnest route for 12 years.

Trevor Kitcher took over the business in his early 20s.

During the past 40 years, the company has built many of its own boats, growing a splinter operation called Wavemaster, which was later sold and still operates.

During the recent summer peak tourism period, Mr Kitcher’s operations employed 209 people.

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