Boat builders on crest of a wave

Published online: Dec 28, 2011 News Tim Hunter -
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This summer, a common ritual will be observed at boat ramps up and down the country as thousands of Kiwis back trailers into the water, launch a boat and whizz off for some sea action.

Of all the ways we like to get afloat, getting into a 4-8 metre powerboat is by far the most popular. According to industry estimates there are about 170,000 of these craft out there - a number exceeded only by the flotsam of 250,000 dinghies, kayaks and windsurfers we mess around in and on at weekends.

Those numbers add up to a seriously big local manufacturing sector, by some accounts New Zealand's biggest.

But the businesses making New Zealand such a powerboat powerhouse are not big corporates or offshoots of multinationals. Almost invariably they are family affairs, run by committed, inventive engineering types who love what they do.

Paul Adams is one of them. A Southlander who rolls his "Rs" with the best of them, Adams founded Stabicraft 24 years ago in an Invercargill workshop, where he and colleague Bruce Dickens built their first boat.

Its characteristic design was born in the tough seas of Foveaux Strait, says Adams.

"It was based around a couple of clever fishermen in the local port of Bluff, who had the idea of an aluminium pontoon boat versus a rigid hulled inflatable. [They thought] `This rubber thing, we're always fixing it, it's not durable. Aluminium would solve a lot of the problems'."

Since then Stabicraft has become synonymous with the aluminium pontoon - its snub-nosed, angular boats clearly built for practicality more than looks.

"Some people can call it ugly," says Adams good humouredly. "But there is something about it that's kind of `stealth', that people like. It gives them a sense of confidence I think."

Ugly or not, the concept has helped Stabicraft become one of New Zealand's biggest trailer boat manufacturers. Adams estimates 8-9000 New Zealanders are buzzing about on a Stabicraft, as well as more than 1000 boaties overseas.

But some years have been tough - 2009 in particular, when Stabicraft had to lay off 13 people, reducing its staff to 47.

It was "a very difficult time," says Adams, "but we had to do it only once, and I think we made it as painless as we could for everyone."

But from those depths, business has improved and, at the end of 2011, conditions are looking better than they have for a long time.


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