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Burke Marine

Burke Marine

Martin Burke started making sails in 1971, when he was just 22.  These days Burke Marine is one of the most successful sailing brands in the world.

It’s a story about as unpredictable as a Sydney to Hobart race.  Burke Marine has not only survived recessions, factory collapses and immigration raids, but it’s also gone on to develop some of the most technical marine gear on the market.

In his first year of business, sails from Martin’s Lane Cove loft won three national championships and seven state championships. In the second year, that number doubled and a world championship was added.  Crows Nest Ship Chandlers became Burke Marine’s first ever retailer, and others soon followed suit.

As the business grew, so too did Martin’s appetite to develop other marine products. In fact, Martin pioneered many of the advances in marine equipment and technology that we now take for granted as standard.  Before Burke Marine, wet weather was made from stiff, very heavy fluoro PVC – usually orange. And it wasn’t even waterproof.

“It was the early '80's and a bunch of us were on a yacht in the middle of Bass Strait competing in the Sydney to Hobart,” Martin has said. “Think torrential rain, huge waves and a whole bunch of miserable, wet sailors and you've only got half the picture. That's when we decided to take a new tack and begin designing and manufacturing a premium range of wet-weather gear - the kind of clothing that can take the sort of beating Bass Strait throws at you.”

Martin saw the opportunity: create coloured, 100% waterproof wet weather gear with a fabric exterior and taped seams.  But executing the vision was another thing altogether. 

He started by making the products in their own factories in Sydney. “Importing and sourcing the specialist machinery, improving on existing designs and sourcing fabrics was a major challenge,” says Martin.

Soon anchors, gear bags, harnesses, boots and canvas sneakers were a part of the mix.  And when a national marine marketing company started to represent his company, everything changed for the better. But there were turbulent times along the way: the four day working week that all employees voted for in order to survive the recession, and the ‘immigration raid’ triggered by an administrative error resulting in 10 employees being taken away at once, to name a few. Despite the setbacks, eventually the Burke Marine business grew to eclipse the sail-making business, and sail manufacturing was eventually phased out.

Countless sailors swear by Burke Marine.  University research crews, professional jet boat operators and even the crew of the Tall Ship James Craig on Sydney Harbour won’t go without it.

All of them love Burke for one reason alone: quality. The introduction of a new Burke Marine product can take two years from concept to store shelf.  “When we come up with the idea for a new product we road test it with as many friends, family and sailing colleagues as possible,” says Burke Marine’s Ryan O’Donnell.  “We make sure we get things 100% correct and without compromise.”

These days Burke Marine is stocked in over 500 stores globally – but the introduction of Burke Marine’s famous sea boot and yachtsman’s bag at Sorry Thanks I Love You marks the company’s first foray into a non-marine setting.  Our thinking is that it’s not right that craftsmanship of this calibre to be reserved for tech savvy yachtsmen alone.

Because they’ve been designed specifically for ocean crews, Burke Marine’s sea boots are lightweight, lined with snuggly velour and have a calf-height draw cord to protect against waves splashing over deck.  Happily, these very same features make them the perfect gumboot for the rest of us, as well.  The boot was designed 30 years ago and several versions were tested over two sailing seasons. “The big challenge was creating a rubber sole with a razor cut non-slip sole that still allowed a yachtsman to maintain a feel for the boat,” says Martin.  Their soft, flexible dacron upper cuff makes them light enough for the commute to work, and schmick enough to wear in the office door. Their draw cord can be used for temperature control, and non-marking soles don’t collect mud. 

Burke Marine’s iconic Yachtsman’s Bag is made from tough tarpaulin and tape welded with specially designed storm flaps to make it 100% waterproof.  But because it’s also lightweight, tough and very sensibly sized, it also begs to moonlight as a duffle, gym bag or weekender. 

After more than forty years, Martin left the business in 2014, and these days the Burke Marine team consists of four full time staff and a handful of expert design and manufacturing contractors. Naturally, the HQ is on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. “This makes it easy for us to pack up and go sailing when the weather’s right,” says Ryan.

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Burke Marine’s yachtsman’s bag and sea boots are available now.