Norfolk yard Webb Boats has revived the Caprice, a Riva-style 21ft launch
Starting your own company in the midst of a recession would seem like madness for most people, but for Howard Webb it was a no-brainer.
With 40 years in the business, the Norfolk-based boat builder knows a good thing when he sees it and when the chance to revive the Caprice range came up in 2011, it was simply too good an opportunity to pass up.
“I’ve been self-employed for the past 30 years, working for other boat yards, moving around as and when people had work for me. It was just one of those situations when an opportunity arose,” Howard told MBY.
And so it came to pass that he bought a five-year licence from Creative Marine to use the original moulds and make a start on a new generation of Caprices.
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Designed by Andrew Wolstenholme in the 1990s as a British version of the classic Riva-style launch, the first of these 21ft models found a Swiss buyer almost instantly and was delivered before the end of the year.
Labour of love
Building boats on spec by hand, with only the help of his wife Christine, was a time-consuming business, however, he estimates that each model takes 1,500 man-hours to complete.
So it was not until three years later that Howard had enough free time from his boat repair and maintenance day job to complete the second model.
Displaying at the Southampton Boat Show for the first time last month, the Webb Boats stand was overwhelmed by demand from curious punters.
“We got a huge amount of interest, there were times when we couldn’t even get near the boat – it was so popular!” he adds.
“We had quite a lot of quite serious interest in it. We just felt that whilst we are known locally other than that nobody knows us, so it was a good opportunity to get our name out there.”
Fit and finish
The appeal of the Caprice is undeniable, particularly when you consider the bespoke approach that Howard takes to the construction process.
Starting with the original mould for the Andrew Wolstenholme-designed GRP hull, Howard builds everything by hand including the mahogany decks, walnut dashboard and chromium deck fittings. In fact, the outboard engine and ancillaries are the only off-the-peg elements.
Previous Caprices have been sold with a 21hp Nanni shaftdrive for river cruising and even a 350hp unit for high-speed tomfoolery, but Howard recommends the 110hp Yanmar set-up to get the best of both worlds.
“They used to fit 350hp Mercruiser outboards to the Caprice back in the 1990s, but it was a bit of a handful. We find 110hp is more than enough for this model,” he adds.
Interior options include a drinks locker or fridge and a mahogany table, while the layout consists of an L-shaped seating area around the main helm seat.
The resultant boat costs £65,000 brand new, which is a fraction of the price of the 27ft Riva Iseo, which is the smallest model the Italian yard makes these days.
“The inspiration is a Riva you can’t get away from that,” Howard admits, and it’s this kind of thinking that has him hoping of returning to Southampton next year with even more Caprices to his name.
With further success, Howard hopes to eventually buy out the moulds entirely from Creative Marine, hire extra staff and go completely independent, which would be a remarkable achievement for a one-man operation launched in the middle of a recession.
“Having been through a few recessions in my working life I know that they all end eventually,” he adds. “And if you keep plugging away, when they do you’re in a good position to capitalise on it.”