Norfolk’s proud boat-building tradition is being given an international showcase at the Tullett Prebon London Boat Show, which opened on Saturday.

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Vessels from the region on display at the event at ExCel London range from humble folding boats to luxury motor cruisers and a £2m yacht.

And amid the first-day razzmatazz of the Royal Marines Band and celebrity appearances from the likes of TV and radio presenter Chris Evans and British tenor Alfie Boe, one local firm enjoyed an instant sales success.

Thorpe St Andrew-based Sheerline has gone to the show with its latest motor cruiser, the £175,000 four-berth 955 with luxury walnut interior, and one visitor was so impressed he made an instant purchase.

Gary Applegate, who runs the firm with his father and brother, said: “It was someone from the River Thames area who said it was exactly what he wanted. It is absolutely brilliant to sell a boat on the first day.

“On top of that we had some good inquiries to follow up as well.”

He said despite the economic climate, their firm, which employs about 15 people, was still encouraged by levels of business and currently had four ordered boats going through the workshop.

Staff manning the stand for Brundall-based Broom Boats were heartened by early show interest in the entry-level Broom 30 and Broom 35 models, starting at under £130,000.

Marketing manager Louise Busby said: “There has been a steady stream of people coming through, some coming back several times. It is nice to see there are some serious buyers at the show.”

She said there had also been a high level of interest in their return to the Broads hire market at Easter –“offering people the experience of Broom boating without the commitment of owning a boat”.

Haines Marine, based in Catfield, near Great Yarmouth, is giving a major show debut to its 32 Sedan motor cruiser, which has proved a huge success since its launch at Lowestoft in September.

Managing director Justin Haines said: “We have already had an encouraging number of visitors on the boat and been given some decent leads to follow up. At around £140,000, this is the starter boat in our range and that is where the market is at the moment. It appeals to young families and couples who might be new to boating. There is a big audience.”

Chris Jeckells, the boss of sailmakers Jeckells of Wroxham, is a self-confessed veteran of the show having only missed a handful of days in the past 40 years.

He said: “We used to see the show as setting us up for the year, getting a good order book in hand. The internet has changed all that but it is still very important for meeting people and getting orders and good inquiries.”

He said the firm had been fearing a quiet time during the winter but had instead been boosted by strong orders for new sails as well as repairs.

The enduring importance of Norfolk in the marine market is highlighted by the fact that show exhibitor Norfolk Yacht Agency, based in Brundall and Horning, has just clinched a deal to sell market-leading Sealine cruisers in the county for the first time.

The firm is an existing agent for Haines and managing-director James Fraser was encouraged by interest in the 32 Sedan.

He said: “We have done very well with it, already selling number six since the launch, and a lot of people at the show have been seeing it for the first time.”

Husband-and-wife team Roger and Jean Jackson, of IntraMore, in Lowestoft, have been intriguing show visitors with the folding boats –Portabote – which they import from the US and a new collapsible rigid inflatable boat (CRIB) which has just arrived in the country.

Mr Jackson, a semi-retired engineer, explained that the CRIB was so much lighter and more portable than a conventional RIB and had all kinds of potential applications, including use in rescues.

The top end of the market is represented at the show by Oyster Marine which builds luxury yachts – the 625 on display selling for £2m – at its production bases in Hoveton and on the south coast.

Chief executive David Tydeman said: “People buy the boats for an ocean-going adventure. They are very rarely people who want to keep it in a marina for weekend sailing.” He said their customers tended to be “financially well managed and very comfortably off”, so the business was buffered from the recession to some degree.

“We have closed the year with our highest order book ever with orders well into 2014,” he added.

For the best in boating news, buy Anglia Afloat, published six times a year by EDP publishers Archant, and visit www.angliafloat.co.uk

COMMENT – Page 24

stephen.pullinger@archant.co.uk

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