“I didn’t want to just make boxes all day,” – Greg Walters
What started as a curious pastime has grown into a promising business for Johannesburg businessman Greg Walters, who produces quality replica classic boats for the local market. He and his colleagues from GAW Marine have expanded their furniture factory into a boatyard, where cabinets compete for space with replica V8 20’ barrelbacks.
Walters, who founded the business four years ago, combines timber and engineering skills with a childhood passion for boats, to produce a range of artisan boats that would not look out of place in a Marilyn Monroe postcard. “I have always been in love with them,” Walters told SABBEX. “I decided to start building one ‘on the side’ in the factory – it turned out stunning. I had only had it for about a week when somebody offered to buy it from me.”
The sale was ample motivation to start a second classic boat project, followed by another, until mahogany hulls took pride of place over kitchen cabinets. “I saw the writing on the wall with furniture sales,” said Walters, who was only too happy to refocus his business strategy on the marine sector. “We’ve got these prototypes now for the better part of three or four boats, and we’re getting to the point where we can’t do much else,” Walters said, adding that the next step was to stabilise the business and settle on an export market. To this end he has already visited numerous classic boat shows and commissioned an in-house design from KND naval architects in Cape Town. To date they have produced replicas of a 1940s American 20’ barrelback, both botail and waterjet, and a well-known European design powered with twin V8s.
Walters says the project’s success is testimony to years of hard work: “We’ve put a lot of systems in place, and have been sorting it out for the better part of eight years. A lot of research.”
Another success factor is attention to detail, in particular to modern building techniques. For Walters, building from scratch is also preferable to restoration: “We’ve steered away from restorations and rather build replicas from scratch using more modern techniques, partly to eliminate hassles.”
Some things, though, stay the same – the use of African Mahogany. Says Walters: “It just holds up much better – it has got the right properties for wooden boats in terms of expansion.”