Orwell Rotary club visits luxury boatbuilder Spirit Yachts
There have been boats built in Ipswich for many hundreds of years - sailboats and working boats and barges, and all many of maritime craft.
But, the luxury yachts being hand made by Spirit Yachts - on the Waterfront island site at Haven Marina - are among the most impressive.
I was prepared to be impressed when I went along with members and guests of the Rotary Club of Ipswich Orwell, for a guided tour by company founder Sean McMillan.
This unique business has grown over the past decade in particular, and Spirit yachts have been exported to customers around the world.
Every one is hand-crafted and bespoke designed for the individual clients,
It is traditional craft work completed to exacting contemporary standards.
“We are Ipswich’s best kept secret,” he said, “though boats have been built in Ipswich for thousands of years.
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“We sell all around the world - and we are doing our bit for the balance of payments.”
The James Bond film Casino Royale in 2006 was fantastic exposure for the boatbuilders - as Bond (Daniel Craig) and (Vesper) Eva Green sailed into Venice on a Spirit yacht. It was a stunning image.
Now there are Spirit Yachts, from Ipswich, sailing all around the world.
These are serious craft, individually designed and built, with prices from £500,000 and £750,000 and upwards to millions of pounds.
Sean said: “We build individual sailing boats, from wood, and a few power boats.
“I sit down with a blank piece of paper and work out, with the owner, what they actually want.
“From my drawings these designed are transfered onto computer paper.”
Those plans are incredibl detailled.
“Every single boat is customised for the client and we encourage them to come along as often as possible, to have their input. That isn’t always easy if they are abroad.”
Just before Christmas Ipswich MP Ben Gummer officially opened a second, larger building for the boatbuilders to help them meet the growing demand.
Sead added:“The Brexit vote has been good for us. The lower exchange rate for the pound has made our boats cheaper for overseas buyers,” he said.
The boatbuilder has full order books for the next couple of years and both of the giant sheds are filled with projects in various stages of construction; giants hulls in skeleton form with ring frames all hand-crafted and finished, Other boats are `turned over’ and at later stages of construction.
Everywhere there is the smell of fresh timber; and even though it was the end of the afternoon, there were still workers busy on the various projects at different stages.
There are new builds, and a couple of 46 footers in for major overhauls after being heavily used over the past 13 or 14 years since they were first built.
Sean added: “Though I don’t work on the shop floor myself now, I spend about a couple of hours a day on the floor checking on the tiniest details.
“This is a special business and we are all extremely proud of what we do.”
The team of around 40 includes local people who have joined virtually from school, and been trained, and others from around the world who have found their way here.
“It is like a United Nations here some days,” he said, “with so many different languages.
“We are always looking out for people to join us. Generally they find us. They have to think the way we do.
“I probably get two or three CVs every week, from around the world.”
Two of the major projects under construction are a 70ft sailing yacht, which is destined for a customer in the USA and a 70ft motor yacht, the largest that Spirit has made.
Further ahead there are plans to build an ocean going racing yacht of 110ft.
It will be the largest made by Sprit.