All aboard: The de­light­ful story of Dad’s Boats in Ludham

We dis­cover the story be­hind a beau­ti­ful pedal boat be­ing built in Nor­folk and meet the craft’s re­mark­able cre­ator

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Dominic Cas­tle Š PHO­TOS: Steve Adams

ASu­per 8 cine film flick­ers into life; the soft colours, light­ing and fam­ily sa­loon car in­stantly place it in the 1960s.

Two young men un­tie a craft on the roof of the car, which is parked close to the wa­ter’s edge on a beach in the early morn­ing sun­shine. The sea is smooth and calm as the pair put the boat in the wa­ter, don life­jack­ets, climb in and, fac­ing each other, turn and pedal swiftly and smoothly out of shot.

The next film shows the two re­turn­ing as the sun low­ers, happy at what they’ve achieved – a 12.5 hour, 60-mile cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the Isle of Wight in a home-made pedal boat. The films were shot ex­actly 50 years ago and one of the two men in the boat was David Wil­liams, who now lives in Horn­ing and was the cre­ator and builder of the boat. He still re­mem­bers the trip he made with friend Jeremy Buck­land in de­tail.

“We had a word with the coast­guard and they said they’d keep an eye on us, just in case. So we worked our way out to The So­lent and went all the way round the is­land. We did have the tide to help us, but we were quite fit then!”

They had other ad­ven­tures on the south coast but had to aban­don a Chan­nel cross­ing at­tempt. There was no prob­lem with the pedal boat but the es­cort ves­sel wich was with them was not cop­ing well with a slightly bumpy sea.

David, who re­tired to the Broads al­most 40 years ago af­ter a ca­reer in the tex­tile busi­ness in the City of Lon­don, ac­tu­ally made his first pedal boat, nick­named ‘The Sieve’ by his fam­ily, when he was 16 to al­low him to fol­low his ra­dio-con­trolled yachts while keep­ing his hands free.

It worked well enough, though David found it a lit­tle jerky to use solo. Na­tional Ser­vice in­ter­vened but when he re­turned he de­cided to have an­other look at the pedal boat.

“The poor old Sieve was fall­ing to bits,” he says. So it was turned into fire­wood and he had a new idea. “With a two-man one you would have an even drive, a smooth ride.”

He set to work and the Cy­clone was born. “It worked so well that I brought it up here with my wife on honeymoon and we spent a fort­night on the Broads with a yacht and the pedal boat in 1961.”

Nor­folk had al­ways had a hold on the fam­ily. “We al­ways hol­i­dayed here. My grand­fa­ther used to bring his chil­dren here in the 1890s, my fa­ther brought me and my brother, I brought my chil­dren and they brought their chil­dren!”

Cy­clone was an es­sen­tial part of the fam­ily too. “When we had small chil­dren on hol­i­day we used to take Cy­clone with us… though there was one mishap when it came off the roof of a car on the mo­tor­way!”

It was re­paired and gave many more years of ser­vice be­fore it was do­nated to a tod­dlers’ school where it was adapted to be­come a see-saw boat.

David then made one which suited him and his late wife Jean. They’d pedal the craft ev­ery morn­ing from Horn­ing half­way to Wrox­ham and back while they were in their 70s. But even­tu­ally Jean wanted a more sta­ble boat and Life­cy­cle, the cur­rent de­sign, came along.

It was that de­sign which led to the cre­ation of the com­pany Dad’s Boats to build and sell a lux­ury pedal craft to well­keeled cus­tomers. It was started in 2012 by David’s son-in-law Stephen Pitkethly and his wife Anita.

“When we’re ped­alling along we get so many peo­ple say­ing ‘where can you hire one of those from?’ I didn’t take any no­tice re­ally, be­cause I thought it was just a fam­ily thing that we amused our­selves with,” says David. “When Stephen de­cided to make a busi­ness out of it I thought that was great and I was happy to help.”

“We al­ways said one day we ought to do some­thing with dad’s pedal boats,” says Stephen. “With the pop­u­lar­ity of cy­cling, every­one be­ing en­cour­aged to ex­er­cise a bit more and the en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues

“When we’re ped­alling along we get so many peo­ple say­ing ‘where can you hire one of those from?’”

around how we power things we thought ‘now would be a good time’.

“It was mid-re­ces­sion and we were con­stantly hear­ing on the ra­dio about how rub­bish we are at mak­ing things in this coun­try and we don’t in­vent any­thing any more and we thought; ac­tu­ally we have a re­ally good idea here and we know loads of peo­ple who are fan­tas­tic crafts­men in Nor­folk so we said; let’s start the com­pany now and let’s make it in Nor­folk wher­ever we can.”

From his time work­ing in de­sign in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, Stephen knew where to look. An ex­pert au­to­mo­tive firm makes the 17ft long fi­bre­glass hulls, a stain­less steel fab­ri­ca­tion com­pany does all the hard­ware and Colin But­ti­fant’s Swal­low­tail Boat­yard in Ludham, famed for tra­di­tional wooden yachts, fin­ishes it all. It is not a quick process; it takes around six weeks to build a boat.

“Ev­ery­where we go it is ex­tremely well­re­ceived. Peo­ple think it is a fan­tas­tic idea, that the guy who in­vented it was a ge­nius, that they can’t be­lieve the idea is that old be­cause it is so cur­rent,” says Stephen. “They like the fact that we’re mak­ing them in Nor­folk.”

At the mo­ment Dad’s Boats is a low vol­ume, high qual­ity busi­ness, mak­ing a small quan­tity of boats each year. Stephen is look­ing at the rental mar­ket as a pos­si­bil­ity for a slightly more util­i­tar­ian ver­sion, and elec­tric as­sist and so­lar power are other op­tions un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

Stephen says that David made a so­lar pow­ered craft, Ter­rapin, five years be­fore the Broads Au­thor­ity launched its own ves­sel, Ra, and would like to ex­plore de­vel­op­ing some of David’s other re­mark­able boat de­signs along­side the pedal craft.

You can hire one of Dad’s Boats from Be­laugh Boat­yard (be­laugh­boat­yard. com). If you fall in love with it and de­cide to in­vest in one you’ll need to find £12,700. You can also see the 1968 footage and video of the new boats at dads­boats.com

ABOVE: One of the fin­ished boats, ready to be ped­alled awayLEFT: The stain­less steel ped­alling mech­a­nism and gear­box

ABOVE LEFT: Stephen and David take one of the ear­lier boats out of the shed ABOVE RIGHT: A pro­pel­lor in the early stages of con­stric­tion

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