Boats were brilliant
My first impressions of Southampton 2019 were not good, writes Peter Poland. In order to plan my day, I need a show catalogue. But there wasn’t one. I was given a hard-to-read folding map and invited to download an app onto my phone and read that instead. Which I – and many others I talked to – thought were poor substitutes.
The first boat I saw, however, was brilliant. Steve Dean of RS Sailing said the British Keelboat League (established in 2016) selected the RS21 to encourage teams from sailing clubs to compete in several qualifiers leading up to an annual final. US, Scandinavian and Australian authorities also wanted a new racing keelboat so RS introduced this exciting yacht to attract newcomers to keelboat racing. The RS21 is fast, fun and one design. Six can be transported to events in a 40ft container thanks to its lifting keel. A clever new retractable electric outboard from Epropulsion powers the boat when sails are lowered.
RS dinghy sales - led by the Aero, Feva and Tera models – are booming. While new generation CNC-milled solid aluminium moulds introduced for the Quest dinghy produce an exceptional standard ofrotomoulded finish.
In the marina, UK builders Cornish Crabbers and Swallow Yachts were taking orders. Both yards produce yachts of character, thus wisely dodging the competition coming from mass-produced all-purpose imported boats. I was relieved to hear from Swallow’s Matt Newland that the company is recovering from a fire in its factory and that – when rebuilding is completed – production will be quicker and slicker. And – like Crabbers – he was finding that UK clients fed up with waiting for Brexit were placing orders.
The story at Rustler Yachts was similar. These handcrafted, elegant, Steve Jones-designed British yachts are bought by experienced sailors (including the Princess Royal). The 37 and 42 models are in demand and a new 57 is imminent.
The distributors of large imported brands were working hard to sign up clients. Richard Hewett of Clipper Marine exhibited five each of Bavaria’s yacht and motorboat ranges plus the new Greenline Neo. Orders were being placed and Hewett said that the flagship Bavaria 57 had sold well throughout the year to couples or families planning bluewater cruises, adding that the combination of self-tacking jib, electric winches and in-mast furling makes light work of handling a 57-footer.
Ashley Overton of Ancasta told me their sales of Beneteau yachts and motorboats and Jeanneau’s Prestige motorboats were up on the 2018 show. Meanwhile Lagoon catamarans continue to grow in both sales and size. He added that SGB’s competitive fixed rate 15-year finance deals were proving popular - even with buyers who came intending to pay cash.
Hanse and Moody dealer Inspiration Marine was also pleased with results. By Friday Peter Thomas said they had already taken six orders, including one for the range-topping Hanse 588. Thomas added that the Moody deck saloon cruisers were also much admired and hopes were high for more orders.
These distributors also run brokerage businesses and all commented on the shortage of good boats coming onto their books. Some owners are hanging on to what they have. Others sell to foreign buyers who are only too happy to cash in on the weak pound and bag a bargain. Worse still, these boats are then lost to the UK pool of used boats so future brokerage turnover reduces.
An ever-growing trend amongst motorboats is towards outboard power. The upper size limit for this move is now approaching 11m in Europe and – judging by some 40ft US-built powerboats that perch four outboards totalling 1200hp on their sterns - there is further to go. Boats on show such as the elegant Castro-designed Parker Monaco and Beneteau Antares and Jeanneau Merry Fisher models are following this trend.
Tony Lewis of Suzuki explained that developments like ‘fly by wire’ controls, ‘plug in and play’ installation, lean-burn economy and inexpensive servicing (compared to inboards) all help to swing the momentum towards outboards. Judging by the growing number of Suzuki-powered Beneteaus, he’s right.
Many of the main marine electronics companies had large stands. Most now manufacture their products overseas; so they face the problem of sterling devaluation when selling in the UK. Craig Davis of Navico said their manufacturing facility in Mexico is extremely efficient. What’s more Navico’s B&G arm is a top brand in the sailboat sector with different models tailored to coastal and bluewatercruising, racing, superyachts and high-end racing. In the last Vendée Globe race, the first three boats carried B&G gear. Anything that can steer an IMOCA 60 planing at 25 plus knots in Southern Ocean seas gets my vote.
Z Spars was also happy with business. Despite the paucity of UK builders buying masts as OE for new yachts, I was told that replacement and one-off business has increased turnover by 50% over the last four years.
Much the same applies to Beta Marine with many owners choosing Beta for their replacement engines. Everyone I know who has followed this route is delighted with the new engine and excellent service from the Beta team.
The large motoryacht is still the jewel in Britain’s marine industry crown. Princess and Sunseeker lead the way, followed by Fairline. Bill Barrow - international sales manager at Princess Yachts - told me that 2018 was the company’s best year ever. Export business through 45 worldwide distributors represented 95% of turnover and the order book is still healthy. Bill put much of this success down to the ‘DNA of a Princess motoryacht’. The Olesinski designs advance; yet there is a consistency to the style and hand-built quality of a Princess. The new X95 will retain this DNA while adding a whole new dimension to a Princess.
New additions to the show included marina berths for the Westerly, Nicholson, Hunter, Old Gaffer and Broom owners associations to display their wares and enlist new members. These boats and the new theatre - with its busy schedule of unpaid guest speakers – were great successes and ably organised by John Goode.
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