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I was a production engineer in the fashion business before I entered the marine industry. I didn’t like working with people in that trade because of the sleaze that was going on at the time – as we’ve seen in recent times those chickens are coming home to roost now. All I knew was making clothing and what I enjoyed doing was sailing and skiing. It led to us launching Splashdown. We bumped into Peter de Savary and got chosen to make the clothing for the Victory America’s Cup Challenge in 1983. We launched that year and when METSTRADE started in 1987 we thought it was a natural to come here because we would have to export – the marine sector is so small, it’s export or die.
We sold Splashdown in 1995 to Chemring and I left the year after. Since then I ran the UK arm of Compass24.com, before conducting a management buyout of Flag Paints. We got that company into shape just months before the big crash in September 2008 and it enjoyed good growth in the years that followed because it was already tidy and profitable. In those days, I was a visitor at METSTRADE, but then I got involved with Naviline boat interiors and said we should exhibit here – we’ve been doing that ever since. We started in the British Pavilion and then moved into the Composites Pavilion. That’s been the best decision we made and 2017 has probably been the best METSTRADE we’ve ever done.
There has been a load of corresponding activity that has fed into it this success. All these little silos of opportunity have been sitting neatly within themselves and suddenly the water level of demand has come up and flooded over the top! The boatbuilding industry has suddenly come back, it’s unbelievable what is happening. That’s great, but at home, apart from the golden horseshoe around the Solent, I don’t get a good feeling about how it’s panning out around the rest of Britain, with Brexit posing such uncertainty.
I expect we’ll see more pay and play, with more people doing that and less ownership. Certainly, we used to talk about people that went underground aged 23-24 and coming back up after they turned 50. They may not disappear, they may pop up to rent, say a boat in Croatia for a couple of weeks with the family. So, it could be healthier for the industry rather than waiting for people to come back later into their middle age.
Naviline is now part of Malvaux Group, which includes STBois, Barbeau and a few others. I have got to the ripe old age where I don’t need to do anything if I don’t want to, but working as its UK agent has been so much fun – I’m back in! Fun is important. You hope to make a lot of money, but let’s be straight, an awful lot of us don’t make a lot of money in boating related businesses. It’s a small industry in real terms, but you do it for the lifestyle and the lovely people you meet. You need to enjoy it because if you don’t, you’d be much better off going into the real world and doing something else, like selling toilet rolls. Enjoyment is where the energy comes from.
David Lewin is a former president of British Marine and Vice Chairman of ICOMIA. He is currently UK agent for Naviline and lifejacket manufacturer Secumar. David is a keen sailor, based on the UK East Coast, with many countries in his log book. When not participating in midweek evening races or cruising with friends at the weekend you might well find him in his Marlin kit car, a cabrio powered by a 2.5-litre BMW engine.