There was something appropriate about getting to the 2013 Scottish Boat Show at Inverkip literally on the back of the newest ferry in service on the Clyde, from an Argyll business.
Western Ferries’ Sound of Soay nosed into the linkspan at Hunter’s Quay for the 9am sailing yesterday morning [12th October] and sashayed her way across to McInroy’s Point, under 15 minutes away from the gigantic Kip Marina, host for the show.
At the entrance towered the Clyde Challenger, emblazoned [top] with a landmark to come in Argyll in 2014 – the 40th Scottish Series regatta – at Tarbert on Loch Fyne, officially launched later yesterday by Principle Race Officer. John Readman and the Clyde Challenger’s skipper, Glenn Porter.
That image nailed the event to Argyll and to our unrivalled sailing grounds.
Exploring the show, the presence of a sequence of Argyll businesses and of Argyll and the Isles Tourism showed both long standing and new profitable relationships between our marine leisure businesses and this annual carnival of life on the water.
It also showed our tourism cooperative’s awareness that the marine leisure sector is a natural – and necessary – area for Argyll to push the boat out to facilitate, welcome and develop.
Family and friends
Touring the exhibitors at the show was a map of the family of Argyll’s marine tourism sector and of its network of friends.
Just inside the entrance was Northern Ireland’s Redbay Boats from Cushendall, in its own well positioned small marquee, with staff [above] including its owner Tom McLaughlin [right] and his son Connor [centre]. Connor, a skilled boatman, has a few thousand personal sea miles on the clock this year alone and has recently become a member of the local RNLI lifeboat crew.
Redbay launched a new design, variable format, 16.5 metre in 2012 and now have Belfast Harbour Authority tendering for two of the Pilot boat version, with Bristol about to tender for another two. This year they launched their new 12 metre version of the now legendary Redbay Stormforce series – and have sold the first two to Argyll businesses.
The first – whose launch we covered – went to Oban’s Coastal Connections, run by Struan and Cameron Smith.
The second, due around the end of the year, is going to Mid Argyll’s Venture West, the wildlife and marine tour operator headquartered in Loch Sween and also running services out of the Crinan Canal basin.
The main exhibitors’ tent found Craobh Marina marketing jointly with Kip Marina and Fairlie Quay – which saw Mark below right] from Explorer Motor Yachts come up from Southampton to man their stand in support of Fairlie’s David Cook [below left]. Both Fairlie Quay and Explorer are first time exhibitors at Inverkip and their joint presence made its impact.
Fairlie, on the Ayrshire coast inside the Isles of Cumbrae, is famous for the classic Fife yachts whose regatta so spectacularly graced Bute and Cowal’s coastline and coastal ports this summer. Explorer reported the recession as impacting on sales of its smaller craft and, to some degree, its medium range – but not affecting its top end boats at all. Most of its sales have been of its show stopper 62′ Odyssey model.
According to Explorer, there is a steady market for UK-built, high quality, high end boats. They may not be kept here – many go down to the Med, with owners flying out to them – but our best yards are the first port of call for a substantial and valuable market sector.
This evidence supports our continuing conviction that the Clyde yards should develop a specific expertise in cold water superyachts for the competitive oligarchs.
We have the ship building expertise, the workforce and a brand to be reckoned with. To do this, we would need to upgrade to the highest level skills in joinery, design and interior fittings, These are all transferable skills and could lead to the development of a variety of highly specialised services to regenerate Clydeside.
We would also have to think ‘playful’ and even ‘decadent’ alongside our capacity to think ‘purposeful’ - but the guys with the megabucks could easily add a purpose-built cold water yacht to their luxury fleet and score points in their internal ‘size matters’ contest.
Service suppliers where it counts
Marine Blast and Owen Sails, both long time exhibitors at Inverkip, finding it a commercially worthwhile initiative, were alongside each other in the main tent, near Fairlie Quay and Explorer.
The former based in Dunoon and the latter in Benderloch, just north of Oban, each is a highly regarded specialist supplier of the most necessary services.
Marine Blast does what it says. It literally blasts off old anti-fouling, paint and rust from hulls and superstructures, under cover, dust free and applies epoxy coating – all in around half the time it normally takes. Three weeks out of service rather than six is a weighty commercial offer.
They also do a ‘keel only’ deal – and will do complete blast and repaint jobs on workboats. The company’s Ian Hurrell is in full sales flow on the right above.
Owen Sails is Scotland’s front rank sailmaker, its largest – and one of the UK’s leading suppliers in the sector. The company, which began in 1984, has a 7,800 sq ft sail loft built in 2003 where all of its products are now made; and which houses its architecture department. Partner, John Grant, is seen below, discussing requirements with potential clients.
Owen Sails offer a comprehensive rigging service – on site, with their team travelling the country. They have a bespoke upholstery service with a range running to leather work and including fixed-frame seating. They make boat, deck and sail covers – each one bespoke. They design and deliver tensile fabric roofs for the exterior of buildings – and have installations at London’s Greenwich Maritime Museum, at Braehead in Glasgow and the Ratho Adventure Centre in Ediinburgh.
Across the aisle from Marine Blast and Owen Sails was the Rosneath peninsula’s Silvers Marine – with its boatyard and commercial services wing, which has contracts, amongst others, with RLNI, the Ministry Of Defence, local government organisations and National Park Authorities.
Marine Blast Multimedia Apps and Scottish tourism
Marine Blast Multimedia has developed a series of Apps to support visitors to Scotland and has worked with Argyll and the Isles Tourism on this venture.
The Argyll and the Isles App – which had been two Apps – one for the north of the region and one for the south – is now a single App. The databases for these apps are growing exponentially and the information architecture allows immediate cross-referencing between list items and maps, The ‘Near Me’ facility on its touch-screen interface is inspired, obliterates local authority borders and puts the visitor with a need for local information literally at the centre of the architecture.
This is exiting stuff and, with Marine Blast’s ambition to cover the whole of Scotland, as it develops, this enterprise has the capacity to leave VisitScotland struggling to justify the expense of its existence.
Argyll and the Isles Tourism
Next time it might be worth revisiting the balance between the elite and the commercial. There is a gain in visible impact in being part of the general traffic of the boat show visitor footfall.
For this year, the partnership with ArtMap Argyll made sense of the presence in a separate marquee. The tables of materials and equipment, with their attendant professional artists ready to enchant, guide and focus participants of all ages in new and creative skills needs serious space. This was an immediate magnet yesterday. Artist Sian McQueen set out to tour the show to let people know what and where the Artmap Argyll workshop was – and found herself beaten back to the marquee by hordes of curious and interested families.
As with BOWfest at Inveraray Castle in September, the utter concentration of the youngsters – and their family elders – spoke volumes for the integrity and interest of what the group of artists had to offer. This was again an element of magic in the day out at the show.
Some of Argyll’s food producers, including Islay’s Laphroaig distillery and Tobermory Fish Company had, at the request of Mike Story, Argyll and the Isles Tourism’s CEO, supplied their products to enable Argyll and the Isles to cater memorably for the RYA’s Gold Star reception yesterday afternoon – a serious way of introducing more people to the quality and character of foods and drinks produced here.
Tobermory Harbour Association, now in its 30th anniversary year, was in the marquee. Its Business Administrator Mary MacGregor, in conversation above with Mike Story, CEO of Argyll and the Isles Tourism, was representing the Harbour Association’s hugely successful marina and its compelling lighthouse-like shore centre for visitors and local businesses, Taigh Solais. This is at the western end of Tobermory Bay with the marina pontoons giving direct access to its entrance.
Amongst the businesses who rent office space on the upper floor there is the Hebridean Sea School – a specialist motor cruising training centre with renowned tuition – and using the mouthwatering boardroom at Taigh Solais as its training room.
This is the circular, third story, glass fronted, panoramic, magic-box everybody who sees this awarded building wants to be in.
The centre offers showers, lavatories and a laundry with washing machines and driers for visiting yachts; and a compressor store for visiting sub aqua divers.
Opened not much over a year ago – in June 2012, the visitor centre element offers first class information displays for all generations, a live tank and a cinema room.
For the future
This year a first time exhibitor, Argyll and the Isles Tourism will now have a keen sense of how to target its sales pitches for next year.
There is a clear opportunity for the Argyll marinas to exhibit together; and for Argyll’s wildlife and marine wildlife tour operators to exhibit in a joint marketing exercise – if they can be persuaded to see the unarguable value of acting in unison.
In a metaphor they might understand, a single operator is like a single man overboard, adrift in the waves – all but invisible. Sea safety teaches capsized sailors to hang on to their upturned boat rather than strike out for shore – on the grounds of far greater visibility for rescuers.
Playing your business cards close to your chest is all very well if your ambition cannot stretch beyond life in a closet. Joint marketing and cross marketing gives the impact of critical mass no small individual business can hope to achieve alone.
But you can only take a horse to water.
This 2013 initiative by Argyll and the Isles Tourism has been a valuable one, establishing a presence, sussing out the nature of the event, opening up strategic opportunities.
The Boat Show is a fabulous day out for anyone and everyone – with great food available and all manner of attractions on display from clothing, to property development, to hot hubs, to boys toys at their most salivatory level [above - from Murray Motors], to entertainment for young people…
- and even to the inclusion of the element of air, with 6 minute helicopter tours.
It is a superbly organised show, with visitor car parking entry and exit not only kept separate from each other but from most of the walking route of drivers and passengers from their cars to the marina – passing the helipad as they go.
The critical point is that this snow attracts large audiences with general as well as specialist interests – with much to gain from an enhanced awareness of the delights awaiting them in Argyll – just across the water in Cowal and up the road only just north west of Glasgow.
Note 1: The most fascinating of all the exhibitors was BBC ALBA broadcaster, Niall Iain Macdonald, with Crazy Brave – an adventurer whose exploits we have covered before and whose upcoming epic will take your breath away. This will shortly be the subject of a separate article which we will also link to from here.
Note 2: We are publishing a separate article on the expert insights we harvested from Tobermory Harbour Association’s experience on running a marina, which we feel have much to offer to other marine leisure developments in Argyll. [This is now published and accessible here.]