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Why Suffolk’s yacht owners are foregoing the modern fibreglass boats for the old classics

PUBLISHED: 09:40 04 December 2018 | UPDATED: 09:40 04 December 2018

Jonathan Dyke, Managing Director of Suffolk Yacht Harbour, has worked in different roles at the organisation since 1982.  Picture: Neil Didsbury

Jonathan Dyke, Managing Director of Suffolk Yacht Harbour, has worked in different roles at the organisation since 1982. Picture: Neil Didsbury

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Like the craze for restoring VW campervans on land, so too in the water, the restoration of old classics has become a booming market in recent years.

“The classic boats have become more popular, and make up a larger part of our business now – about 50% of the boats we repair in our workshops,” explained Jonathan Dyke, the managing director of Suffolk Yacht Marina. The 550-berth marina in Levington that Mr Dyke oversees boasts two full repair workshops, one for modern boats and one for the classics like Cereste.

“Boat restoration skills have become harder to source, and fortunately, we’ve managed to maintain those skills,” he said.

Why the surge in popularity in classic boats? Mr Dyke claims that customers get more of a buy-in involvement in the classics than they do in modern fibreglass vessels. “The whole process is hands-on and we build a while relationship with the boat owners over time, which makes it a more complete experience,” he explained.

Not many people can say they work in an office that overlooks their yacht on the waters below. From the first floor window of his office, Mr Dyke can look down on his 80 year-old pride and joy, Cereste, a 10 tonne classic yacht designed by Robert Clarke, which took him three years to lovingly restore.

Suffolk Yacht Harbour restores many wooden vessels. Picture: Neil DidsburySuffolk Yacht Harbour restores many wooden vessels. Picture: Neil Didsbury

My Dyke has been working for the harbour for 35 years, and in that time, he says the biggest change he’s seen is in the demographic of ownership. “It’s less families now, and we as an industry need to be thinking of new ways to encourage more families to take up sailing. That’s why we have sailing schools that bring youngsters in, and built facilities to complement that.”

From Woodbridge to Ipswich, Suffolk has a proud and rich sailing history, and most of those with boats at the marina learnt the ropes from their seafaring parents. “But we’re also seeing people coming into the water for the first time with larger boats, having had less sailing practise, which is a challenging situation,” he added.

Mr Dyke believes that some of the new breed of boat owners are motivated more by pride of ownership than a love of sailing, and warns that owning a boat is about more than just the time spent on the water. “It’s about preparing the boat to go on the water and off the water, and sourcing the particular parts you need to keep it in good condition,” he explained.

The boats at the marina are an extension of people’s homes, and in that respect are hubs for entertaining friends and family as well as for sailing. “In the last few years we’ve invested more in facilities – shower for example - because peoples expectation levels have risen from just wanting a sports hall facility to wanting boutique hotel standards, and we’ve moved with that.”

Suffolk Yacht Harbour has developed greatly over the past fifty years and can now berth over five hundred and fifty boats. Picture: Neil DidsburySuffolk Yacht Harbour has developed greatly over the past fifty years and can now berth over five hundred and fifty boats. Picture: Neil Didsbury

The history

Rumour has it that the original walls at Suffolk Yacht Harbour were built by Napoleonic prisoners of war. These walls were breached in both the 1947 and 1953 floods.

At high water, when then the tide covered the flooded marshes, it gave the appearance of a harbour, says Mr Dyke, and in 1967, a small west harbour was officially opened. “There was a lot of digging to get down to the right level and gradually more mud was taken out to extend it.

There has been an increasing demand for motor boat building at Suffolk yacht Harbour in recent years.  
Picture: Neil DidsburyThere has been an increasing demand for motor boat building at Suffolk yacht Harbour in recent years. Picture: Neil Didsbury

“Even today we are still restructuring, not the water-base now but the land-based buildings with improvement of facilities and services. This sort of business constantly needs tweaking and maintaining.”

Sundown at Suffolk Yacht Harbour. Picture: Neil DidsburySundown at Suffolk Yacht Harbour. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Suffolk Yacht Harbour Marina. Picture: Patrick SquireSuffolk Yacht Harbour Marina. Picture: Patrick Squire

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