Boat passion becomes a business dream

When Colin Buttifant started his boatbuilding business from the garage of his home 20 years ago, his only hope was to make ends meet. Today his passion for the Broads and its traditional wooden boats have seen his business grow beyond his wildest dreams.

When Colin Buttifant started his boatbuilding business from the garage of his home 20 years ago, his only hope was to make ends meet.

Today his passion for the Broads and the traditional wooden boats that characterised the golden age of Broads sailing has seen his business grow beyond his wildest dreams.

Despite being tucked in a corner of the Broads, his boatyard at Ludham, aptly named Swallowtail after the Swallowtail butterflies that flutter past, is so inundated with orders that he and his staff are booked up until 2010.

But still customers, willing to wait more than three years to have Mr Buttifant or his son Paul work on their traditional period sailing yachts, keep on coming.

"It's just incredible," says Mr Buttifant shaking his head. "We don't advertise, we don't go to boat shows, but still people just keep coming to us. We have got work now until 2010.

"When I first started the business in my garage, I'd worked for Brooms at Brundall for 19 years and starting up on my own seemed a nightmare. I can remember doing all sorts of bits and bobs of woodwork just to get by; I even made a bar in a customer's home.

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"I never thought it would be like this. Now it just drags me along, I keep waiting for a lull, but the orders keep coming."

As a young man, Mr Buttifant was captivated by the traditional sailing boats of the 1930s and the craftsmanship that went into making them.

So after leaving Brooms, alongside carrying out restoration work, he began designing his own boat, the 2/3 berth Bure Classic, based on a 1930s period broads yacht, but with a little added modern comfort.

It was a hit with the customers, and he later went on to design a larger version, the 4/5 berth Womack Classic.

Today his passion has created a cult following among his customers, who each year return to his boatyard for a Swallowtail regatta. "I'm not really sure why it is," said the 57-year-old, shaking his head. "People just like our boats. We have two Bure Classics and a Womack Classic that we hire out, and people just fall in love with them.

"They create a lot of interest; when people come back after a week's hire they tell us they get people asking to come onboard and have a look around and all sorts.

"I think it is just the style and the quality of the work that captures people's imaginations. And we can do whatever a customer wants, add things, take things out, every boat we sell is personalised."