You originally studied engineering at university – how did you end up with a career in such a niche sector as boatbuilding?
I’ve been a sailing fanatic for more than 35 years. After finishing at university, I spent time working in IT and management consultancy, but I knew I needed to do something different – and decided I had to work with boats. I got a job working for Tony Castro Yacht Design, one of Britain’s most innovative naval architects, for a year. I took over my father’s business, which was then called Swallow Boats, in 2004 when he decided to retire.
What changes have you made to the company since taking the helm?
My father’s business was kit boats – essentially, flat-pack craft that people would buy and put together themselves. Although the margins were great, the market was small. I was always interested in growing the business, so we decided to focus on building completed craft. Swallow Yachts began building dayboats and small yachts, and eventually stopped selling kit boats entirely in 2008. That was the same year we moved into new premises, as we needed more space and a workshop. We expanded again in 2014, when we got an injection of cash from the Welsh Government’s Economic Growth Fund. That gave us a great opportunity to grow our workforce and create jobs in Wales.
You’re a proudly Welsh firm – could you imagine doing what you do anywhere else?
Not really. We have a long-standing family connections to Wales, and that’s the main reason we love being here. But it’s also a great place to be a boatbuilder. We need to have a lot of space and be near water, and the prices for land in West Wales are much more reasonable than in the traditional sailing destinations on the south coast of England, where many marine companies are based. There are lots of skilled people and businesses that we work with locally. And customers love coming for a test sail on the Teifi Estuary and out to Cardigan Bay. Having such stunning scenery helps show off our boats in the very best light!
The Swallow Coast 250 was nominated for a European Yacht of the Year award. What’s so special about this model?
We were delighted that the Coast 250 earned a nomination in the family cruiser category. We were up against big European boatbuilders such as Dufour and Hallberg-Rassy. It’s a totally new design that we worked on for two years, using a lot of know-how taken from the motorboat world. The Coast 250 is almost 26ft and sleeps five people. It combines a great little sailing boat with a big engine, which is a surprisingly hard thing to achieve. Owners not only get the benefits of sailing in a modern performance yacht, but also the flexibility of a craft that can motor quickly when there’s no wind. And it’s trailerable – you can put it on a trailer, tow it to the coast, and you’re away.
What does it mean to be a small family company in a luxury sector that’s dominated by big players?
Unlike some of the larger boatbuilders, we can create a yacht to suit our customers’ individual needs. If they are very tall, for example, they may need a bigger bed. However much fun you’ve had sailing the boat, it’s not going to round the day off too well if your feet are dangling off the end. This made-to-measure service is something that sets us apart.
Swallow owners have a reputation for being fiercely loyal to the brand. What do they like most about your yachts?
That’s true – I don’t think we have competitors in the traditional sense. If people like what our boats do, they want a Swallow boat and nothing else will do. We have a very devoted following both in the UK and overseas, and there’s a popular Swallow Owners’ Association. Our main competition is actually with ourselves – the second-hand market for Swallow yachts – which is why we invest so much in research and development. We’re always looking at how we can innovate when designing our boats. In the Coast 250, I think it shows!