In the last part of our 'Big Four' series, we trace the history of Sealine motorboats
Following the news yesterday that Sealine has been placed into administration, and the administrators are looking for buyers for the business as a whole or parts of it, we look back at the growth of the British boat builder whose future hangs in the balance.
The birth of a new British boat builder
Fibrasonic Marine Ltd, the parent of Sealine motorboats, was established in 1972 by aircraft engineer Tom Murrant mainly because he couldn’t find a small family cruiser he liked.
Using his experience as an engineer, he designed a boat himself, produced the moulds and then sought out a company called Midland Marine to actually create the GRP mouldings. It was meant to be a straight-up swap – he gets a set of mouldings and Midland gets a free boat design.
But it didn’t quite happen this way. Midland was a busy company at the time and Tom’s moulds started gathering dust. That was until a young worker at the company, Frank Fish, offered, with the help of two work mates, to complete the job in the Murrants’ garage.
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The resulting 23ft Continental cabin cruiser so impressed everyone involved that Tom borrowed £500 (£5000 today) against his life insurance, recruited his wife Jane as secretary and set up Fibrasonic in a rented building at Halfpenny Green airfield near Bobbington in Staffordshire.
Then disaster struck. In 1973 the world oil crisis doubled resin prices, a three-day week was introduced as well as 25% VAT. The young company survived by branching into industrial moulding, and produced items for British Rail, road signs and Toby Jugs.
For almost the rest of the decade, Fibrasonic operated as a sub-contractor for other boatbuilders, producing boats for companies like Sunliner Marine and Scorpio Power Boats.
In 1978, things began to change, and the company found itself in a strong enough position to refocus on boats of its own. In just six weeks, from drawing board to completion, Fibrasonic produced the 19ft Weekender, which was followed by the 22ft Sport and 22ft Cabin.
The boats were grouped under the new name C-Line, and were all displayed for the first time at the 1978 Southampton Boat Show. The same year, the company moved to bigger premises in Kidderminster, the site of the bankrupt boatbuilder Dawncraft.
The following year the C-Line designation was changed, along with the company name to Sealine. The yard stood out from the crowd almost from the start by offering coloured gelcoats where most other boatbuilders were churning out white or brown hulls.
Sealine offered blue, yellow and orange options, with the clear intention being to offer something sexier, sportier and more saleable in an evermore-crowded marketplace.
Fibrasonic might have been late on the GRP scene, but some canny marketing and great boats meant it kept within spitting distance of its larger, more established rivals.