Classic boat revival?

Hout Bay Builder Pete Adamo Reports Flurry of Orders for his two Flagship Boats

Four boat orders in four weeks – not bad by any builder’s standards, especially amid stiff economic headwinds.

That’s the happy news from veteran builder and sailor Pete Adamo who, with his partner Pierre Malan, pioneered a new type of traditional sailing boat in the early 1990s, but had all but given up on building another one after a five year order book drought.  “It is totally out of the blue, and really quite amazing,” Adamo told SABBEX. “Three orders all came in together – all from different people in the Langebaan area.”

Adamo hopes the surge in interest could spark a Renaissance for Hout Bay-based Sentinel Boats, and for his 18ft Explorer and 14ft Challenger classic boat models inspired by a similar UK model,  the Drascombe Lugger. The Explorer is a gunter rigged open day boat, while the smaller Challenger can be rigged with either a standing lug or gunter rig.  Sentinel also builds other classic designs on a custom basis.

At its height Sentinel produced eight or nine boats a year, with both local and foreign clients. Adamo handles the woodwork, fittings and accessories, and outsources the fibreglass hull and deck to a production partner. Each boat takes around six weeks to produce, with the finishing phase completed at Adamo’s own home nestled in the forest.

A possible reason for the recent upswing is the ongoing popularity of the two models in the Langebaan lagoon, where there are around 17 – mostly Explorers – which participate in a regular regatta.   Adamo believes the design has broad appeal for ‘family’ sailors looking for a robust boat able to go to sea, but still small enough not to have the hassle of managing a larger boat.  Various modifications along the way have made it ‘child friendly’. Said Adamo: “We knew the market would never be really big – people in this country generally want bigger and more powerful boats.  But we realised there is a gap for people maybe a little bit older, looking for a good safe sailing boat for the whole family.”

In fact the buyer profile is younger than expected, possibly driven by experienced sailors looking to downscale from larger high-maintenance vessels.  The boats also accommodate sleepovers – evidenced by a couple who regularly sleep out with their two kids in the Langebaan lagoon.

Initial impetus for Adamo’s classic boat project  came from SA-born naval architect Dudley Dix, who designed the Explorer (he subsequently emigrated to the US). “He is a traditional boat guy,” said Adamo of Dix, who was also based in Hout Bay. At its first boat show in Granger Bay Adamo sold five Explorers to local buyers and ten traditional rowing dinghies which  were exhibiting on behalf on another manufacturer to Italy.

The early success allowed Adamo to ditch his office job and concentrate on boatbuilding, while continuing to serve as an active member of the NSRI.  He was Hout Bay NSRI station commander for eight years but retired after a heart bypass operation..

When boatbuilding floundered during the 2008/09 global financial crisis Adamo shifted focus to ship repair, with only occasional boatbuilding forays.  Now it appears he might change tack once again.

He is currently enlarging his home, building another house, studio and garage on his property.

Adamo is also a much-loved raconteur and living archive of maritime history.

Don’t expect him to sail into the proverbial sunset anytime soon.

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