BL16 - Page 47

Simon de Burton tracks down the finest exponents of the
great British art of boat building, from dinghies to superyachts
t only takes the first few chapters
of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men
in a Boat to bring out unfathomable
nautical desires in even the most
level-headed of Brits.
We dream of hazy days drifting along
the Thames, the Avon or the Cam in
a perfectly maintained craft as the less
fortunate watch enviously from the
river bank; we imagine ourselves
traversing the country via a complex
network of little-known waterways;
we picture long winter evenings spent
in boathouses, lovingly applying
varnish and burnishing brass fittings
in preparation for the forthcoming
season. In our minds, indecipherable
charts, rotting timbers, problematic
bilge pumps and rain-lashed afternoons
simply do not exist. And, as a result,
some of us buy boats.
Some of us even buy entire
shipyards, as in the case of gaming
software tycoon Richard Hadida, who
saved 46-year-old Oyster Yachts from
‘going under’ when he acquired it last
year from the administrators. The
turnaround has been so successful that
the Southampton firm recently
celebrated its first year of recovery by
sailing its new 565 model beneath
London’s Tower Bridge.
Indeed, following a period in the
doldrums brought on by the financial
crash of 2008, Britain’s boat building
industry now appears to be riding the
crest of a wave.
For example, I was recently aboard
the thrilling, 60-knot Hawk 38, the
latest creation from Sunseeker
(£535,000 plus VAT to you, sir) that
harks back to the type of craft originally
built by the firm when it was founded
as Poole Powerboats in 1969 by Robert
Braithwaite – who, to the boating
world’s sorrow, died in March aged 76.
Nowadays, of course, Sunseeker is
best known for the type of large, white,
ocean-going cruisers that are often
referred to as ‘gin palaces’ by those who
don’t approve – but moneyed buyers
who care little about such disdain are
once again filling the firm’s order books,
as well as those of other British builders
such as Princess Yachts of Plymouth,
whose range-topping, 40 metre M-Class
superyacht could be in your berth for
as little as £15 million. Its smaller boats
are just as exciting. Indeed, readers may
well have spotted Princess’s latest
magnificently sleek launch, the R35, on
show in Cabot Square, outside Boisdale
of Canary Wharf, in June. Designed in
collaboration with Ben Ainslie Racing
Technologies and the legendary Italian
car designer Pininfarina, the R35 (from
£500,000) is more or less the supercar
of private speedboats, with a special
hydrodynamic foil system designed to

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