Broads boat firm set for a fine summer season

Broads boating and holiday firm Barnes Brinkcraft is looking forward to a strong year after a period of growth and investment.

The broads hire fleet and holiday home company, based in Wroxham, has, in the past three years, bought another site, launched fully into its own brokerage business, started selling new boats and bought a fleet of 30 boats from France.

The business, founded and owned by the Thwaites family, says it saw turnover grow 45pc last year to �3.5m running its 85 holiday hire boats, 30 day boats and 12 holiday cottages.

And bookings are already up this year, said Sam Lowe, yard manager.

He said increasing website traffic and bookings and making sure the fleet was used to its optimum, offering days to suit holiday-makers who may not wish to take standard seven day breaks, had helped the growth.

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But the good weather through spring had also helped.

Matthew Stone, who runs the firm's brokerage arm, said: 'The Euro has helped us greatly. It is a big thing because it has meant people are holidaying in England more. The Icelandic air ash last year also helped.

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'There is also a lot more money that has come to Norfolk, with investment in places like Bewilderwood and it's become key as bigger holiday area.'

The firm's growth spurt began three years ago when it launched Norfolk Boat Sales, a brokerage arm of the Barnes Brinkcraft business, founded out of a partnership the company had had with Walton Marine.

Since launching Norfolk Boat Sales, annual sales have risen from about 70 in the partnership to 120 to 130 now, with the average cost of a boat at �37,000, said Mr Stone.

At about the same time as launching Norfolk Boat Sales, the firm bought Moore & Co Marina, also in Wroxham. This saw them create a new marina at the old Moore & Co site for private boats and move all yard activity to the Barnes Brinkcraft site.

Last year the firm picked up a collection of 30 boats from a French firm. Most of the boats were put into the hire fleet and some were sold.

The firm also started selling Westwood motor cruisers, made in Doncaster from molds made in Rackheath, through the boat sales business.

Westwood makes about 11-12 boats a year, many of which are taken by Norfolk Boat Sales, said Mr Stone, who now provides specifications for the boats. A new Westwood, a 345, is due to be launched which he also helped design.

More recently the firm has launched a live HD camera feed of the site for customers, which Mr Lowe thinks is a first.

Mr Lowe, who started working in boat yards aged 14, predicted a good year for the Broads.

'There isn't a cheap holiday going abroad any more,' he said. 'The day hire business has grown as well even though we increased prices 6-8pc. Bookings are up on the previous year. The Broads as a resort has had to raise its game. It's an expensive holiday and the infrastructure and quality has to be there.'

Barnes Brinkcraft employs between 40 and 100 people depending on the season.

It was born after the Thwaite family bought and lived on a Wherry on the Broads.

They launched their first hire boat in 1967/68 and gradually grew the fleet, said Mr Lowe.

Now, they build about three new boats a year on site with moulds from Brundall and supplement and upgrade the fleet through the brokerage business.

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