East Anglia boat firms on show at flagship London event

Elaine MaslinDespite a frosty start to London's biggest boat show of the year yesterday, the bubbly was flowing and East Anglia's leisure boat industry was hopeful of sales to kick start 2010.Elaine Maslin

Despite a frosty start to London's biggest boat show of the year yesterday, the bubbly was flowing and East Anglia's leisure boat industry was hopeful of sales to kick start 2010.

While some visitors had been put off by the sub-zero temperatures and icy roads, those who were attending the London International Boat Show at the Excel Arena were more serious about their boats, according to exhibitors.

But, although it was too early to tell if there would be sales, confidence in the economy is still needed before people will start buying new boats, was the consensus among those at the show.

Exhibitor numbers had dropped, from 543 last year to 502 this year with a noticeable drop in boats moored outside Excel in Docklands.

However, a bit of the traditional boat show razzmatazz was provided by Ipswich-based Oyster Marine, which launched its latest model, the twin-wheeled Oyster 575, a 57ft luxury yacht.

The first two produced, including the model on show, have been made by Norfolk boat builder Landamore, based at Wroxham.

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Another Norfolk firm, Windboats, will produce the next two.

In another coup for Norfolk, Oyster's managing director David Tideman also revealed that production of its Oyster 54 was being relocated from New Zealand to Windboat's yard, also at Wroxham.

However, he said the leisure boat market was currently 'unpredictable'. 'The serious buyers are there, but they are being cautious,' he said. 'They don't know whether to spend now or in six months.

'People have still been buying Oysters and we had quite a good 2009 with 80pc export. The weakness of Sterling has helped us sell to Poland, Hungary, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Hong Kong.'

Like many other builders, Oyster has had a good year for refits as people who may have bought a new boat have their existing boat refurbished or ungraded instead.

This has benefitted the likes of Wroxham-based Jeckells The Sailmakers, who had seen many customers coming in for a new set of sails as a quick way of sprucing up their boats instead of buying a new boat, and upholsterers Jeckells and Son, for interior refits.

Norfolk boat builders Broom Boats and Wroxham Marine had seem similar trends, with Broom claiming a record year for its boat yard servicing.

Wroxham Marine is also developing key headings for moorings to expand its offering.

Both firms are hoping for sales at or through the show to boost slowing order books hit by the downturn.

Gary Applegate, of the family which runs Wroxham Marine, said his firm was looking at ways of expanding business to keep their staff employed, including developing one of its boats and building a 29ft sports cruiser for another firm.

It had on show its new Sheerline 1020 model, which boasts touch screen technology.

Broom had on show three motor cruisers, including displaying for the first time their 450MkII, the latest version of their 450 with frameless windows.

Chairman Martin Broom said: 'I do not think any boat builder has not been unaffected by the recession. It does appear that the bigger the boats the less the manufacturers are effected.

'I think this show is going to be very important. The Southampton show saw some improvement in the industry.'

Will the London Boat Show continue that trend?

Andrew Williams, managing director of National Boat Shows, which runs the show, was bullish about its success this year, but said it was too early to tell.

'We don't think we are the only industry experiencing a downturn,' he said. 'A drop of just five to six per cent in exhibitor numbers we are pleased with. The major brands are here as they were last year.'

This year's show saw the biggest boat ever exhibited indoors, a 108ft Sunseeker.

For more coverage see Wednesday's Business supplement in the EDP.

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