One small Wellington manufacturer could probably have sold his output many times over during the floods. Steve Rea invented the Seahopper folding dinghy back in 1974 and since then he has built an incredible 8,000 boats. It probably makes him statistically the UK largest boatbuilder.
The basic boat is tiny; just 6ft 8ins long and weighing 27kg The hull is four sheets of marine plywood joined by incredibly tough and flexible plastic material. Once unfolded, cross-members brace the whole structure to make it rigid.
“I was very into sea-fishing at the time and wanted an alternative to a rubber dinghy,” said Steve, born in Rockwell Green, schooled at Courtfields and trained as an engineer. “If I invented it now I think I’d have made a million by now. It was ahead of its time.”
The Seahopper can be rowed, sailed or have a small outboard on the stern. In nearly 40 years it’s been sold all over the world. The Sultan of Oman sent a Rolls Royce down from the London embassy to collect his boat. “We had to take the back seats out but we got it in.” remembered Steve.
And that’s not the most unusual customer. Thames Water regularly buy Seahoppers to lower down through narrow manholes and navigate the huge London sewers.
At the height of its success the company was building 45 boats a month with a staff of eight assembling and varnishing, But according to Steve it was the old story of boosting turnover but not profitability, so now he’s cut back to just himself and his son building three boats a month to order.
The basic boat costs £1200, with sail, but there are larger versions costing up to £2000 depending on the specification.