Arthur has always had a passion for boats, and planes making models from a young age. At 16 he took an apprenticeship with GE Wade marine engineering in Bembridge Harbour as a fabricator fitter, and later the service and repairing of inboard marine engines. The company was sold and re named Harbor engineering.
A new design of American engine was starting to be imported – “the outboard motor”. Harbour Engineering was offered the Evinrude outboard dealership. Arthur, the youngest employee was offered the job of looking after the new engines, travelling to London for courses. The outboard customer was adventurous and exciting. Coupled to the latest designs of plywood speedboats, you could achieve 30mph!
Soon after, along with a group of friends he purchased a wooden speedboat. It soon became evident why it had been sold so cheaply, it was wet, handled atrociously and needed constant repair. It was used until it could be repaired no more.
Harbor engineering became heavily involved with Souter’s shipyard in Cowes. Powerboat racing was in its heyday. Souters were busy building many of the famous race boats of the time. Arthur was involved in fitting many of the engines to these boats, including the Gardner brothers Levi design “Surfury”-the most advanced boat of this generation. Back at Harbor engineering Arthur could see the company was losing interest in smaller craft, and outboards were not favoured.
It was 1967; Arthur was 25yrs old and just married. He decided it was time to take a risk and open his own engineering shop specializing in outboard motors. He registered it as Bembridge Marine LTD but traded as “Bembridge Outboards”. He initially managed to take the Penta outboard agency; they were not popular and after a short period he managed to win the Johnson outboard agency. Johnson gave good dealer back up, giving comprehensive training from the European headquarters in Belgium. The company did well taking on staff to cope with the demand. Speedboat design had improved greatly-now made of glass fiber. It became apparent the best way to sell an outboard motor was on the back of a boat. Bembridge Marine took the Fletcher boat agency and they sold well.
The crew were close knit and involved in many major accidents, including taking crew from the deck of a burning tanker “The Pacific Glory” The lifeboat crew were awarded commendations and invited to Buckingham Palace. He had a son called James! (Never to be called Jim!)
In 1974 a waterside premises “Chamans boat yard” came up for sale; it had a slipway, storage and larger buildings. Arthur borrowed the funds to allow the purchase of the premises. The company traded under the new name of Bembridge Outboards. The UK was catching up with the USA and fiberglass boats were being produced in more varied designs and greater numbers. Bembridge Outboards took the Shetland boat dealership and a little later the more versatile Dell quay dory dealership which was more family friendly. The engines were improving in design and power. Arthur had always wanted the Mercury outboards dealership and, with the new larger premises, it was finally offered. We still remain the same dealer today. Mercury was the power boat race team choice and Bembridge Outboards was involved in several race projects.
One of the more notable race boats was the first ever rib called “Rocking pneumonia”. It was owned by John Caulcutt. It had been designed by Atlantic College in Wales. Arthur became friendly with a designer called George Marvin. He embraced the rigid bottom inflatable and went on to design the original Avon Searider RIBs; Galt Glass a GRP production company in Cowes, went on to produce the first Avon Seariders. Bembridge outboards started to sell some of the Seariders as rescue boats to local sailing clubs. Club members liked the safety and comfort and started to want the Ribs for leisure.One customer commissioned a 5.4 meter Searider with a new Mercury 6 cylinder 115hp to set the record to ski from IOW to Le Havre. The boat was just controllable and the mono ski record was set. Son James (Jim) spent ever more time hanging around the yard. Another son was born-Tom.
John Callcutt also took part in endurance racing. He refitted “Rocking Pneumonia” with long range fuel tanks and twin 60HP Mercury outboards to race from the UK to Monaco. The boat did well but unfortunately got crushed between a ship and a sea wall in northern Spain, putting an end to the race. It was repaired and lasted many more years. In 1984 John Callcutt was asked to put together a small team for the round Britain race sponsored by Heineken beer. Carlsberg had a multi-million budget, Heineken wanted to capture the hearts of the spectators, and be the underdog! They purchased a Fatercraft which just squeezed into the minimum length to be able to race; it was named Thirst Aid! Bembridge Outboards set the boat up with twin hand start 50hp Mercurys the minimum hp required. Heineken followed the boat round the country handing out free beer and balloons to the crew and spectators – the boat made it round intact never finishing last. Carlsberg sunk in the Irish Sea, Job done!
Bembridge Outboards custom grew and with it the need for more choice. A few discerning customers wanted larger boats. Bembridge Outboards went direct to the US importing Boston Whalers, Donzi and Wahoo boats-some of which are still with the original owners.
In 1987 the company took part in a project to restore Donald Cambell’s tender to Bluebird. Overhauling the engine and drive gear.
Jim Robinson took a three year apprenticeship with the RNLI at the East Cowes base, training in the maintenance and repair of the RNLI’s fleet of rigid inflatable boasts. He also took part in boat handling and lifesaving courses. In 1989 Jim left the RNLI and moved to Greece, working for a number of British owned companies providing marine engineering, maintenance and stainless fabrication in Govia marina. He also maintained a fleet of boats for a number of clients linked to summer homes on the North west coast.
In 1999 Jim returned to join his father Arthur. The premises were in need of modernization to keep up with growth. The company planed and undertook a long term rebuild program, replacing buildings, upgrading the entire site and introducing one of the first rack and stack systems on the south coast.
Business and the economy were booming. The racks filled. The company sold large volumes of boats, in one season selling one third of Ribcraft UK’s orders. Jeanneau was another important brand for the company selling over thirty boats in three years. Arthur retired in 2003 and Jim took the helm.
Tom Robinson joined the crew of super yacht “Philanti” owned by Thomas Sopwith in 2000, staying two years. After this he joined the team at Ocean marine ( part of the Ferretti group) shore based servicing the super yacht industry in Palma. Tom Robinson returned to join the expanding company in 2003.
Ribs sold in the biggest numbers, but all brands were offering the same simple finish and harsh seating. Jeanneau had great ideas features and finishes. The company decided to put together an experimental cabin rib trying to take the best ideas from both brands. Using a Mike Ring 7.50 hull the first Shearwater was built in 2004. It worked extremely well but was a little tight on space.
It caused lots of interest and orders. The length was later increased to 8.6 which gave more space.
The Shearwater 860 went on to sell in large numbers and was nominated for motor boat of the year awards in 2008.
The BBC Working Lunch program visited the company shortly after.
Shearwater has pushed on with new models even through more testing times, recently being chosen by Wally Yachts to design and produce a light weight, diesel tender for its new Ace model.
The main company has reverted to its original name Bembridge Marine LTD as it has branched out into many areas of the marine industry currently leasing two other yards in the local area. The company has a young dynamic team who are well equipped to deal with the most up to date engineering on the market today.
“When I started out an elderly customer said “remember nothing in life is constant except change” how true that has been.
Throughout I have listened to what the customer wants and tried to fulfill their wishes and at times led the market by introducing RIBs and centre consol boats.
It is particularly pleasing to see Jim and Tom and the young enthusiastic team taking Bembridge Marine forward in the same fashion.
I am glad I stood aside when I did, but I have to admit I do miss the customers and the banter and buzz“.