Cockwells yard tour - redefining tradition
SuperyachtNews visits the Cornish Boatbuilder, as it expands its shipyards and keeps traditions alive in the custom tender market…
Cockwells Modern & Classic BoatBuilding has been in business in Cornwall for more than 25 years. In that time, they have progressed from what, as described by Managing Director, Dave Cockwell, was a container and a shed, to employing well over 100 people. Staking a reputation for custom projects and boundary-pushing concepts, it was fascinating to visit the team in July 2022.
Cockwells gives the impression of a yard that balances tradition and innovation. One of the first interactions I ever had with the marine sector was working for traditional wooden boat builders after school and at weekends. Touring Cockwells reminded me of my start in the marine sector. The boatbuilder and son I worked for were craftsmen above all else, building custom projects from the ground up, using traditional techniques on wood and composite materials. The workspace was not spotless, nor did it feel sterile, and their passion for the projects was evident. In much the same way, Cockwells is vibrant and feels like it has a foundation that may have been lost in other parts of the industry, that of boatbuilding as a trade.
Recent acquisitions and expansions have seen the company grow its presence and capacity significantly. In 2020, Cockwells acquired the assets of Hardy Marine, a British semi-custom motor yacht manufacturer, in a deal made possible as a result of funding from Business Investment for Growth (BIG), financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and delivered by the Cornwall Development Company.
Cockwells already operated across two sites – one in Falmouth, as well as its Mylor Creek Boatyard. Its subsequent purchase of The South West Shipyard at Ponsharden, between Falmouth and Penryn, in 2021, expanded this capacity further. As lead designer Henry Ward informed us, the Ponsharden yard will, eventually, be dedicated to semi-production and custom motor boats, whilst the Mylor Creek Boatyard will be dedicated solely to superyacht tender manufacturing.
As the size of projects in the industry has increased, and expected lead times have compressed, tenders and the design considerations that come with them may not be given the time that they deserve. Sometimes seen as merely a piece of equipment, along with others in the garage, tenders are not always considered as boats in their own right. “Many builders these days are really just assemblers,” says Cockwell. “They are using moulded and prefabricated sections that often don't quite work together. That is not how we operate, we are boatbuilders first and foremost. We are one of, if not, the only truly custom manufacturer left in the UK.”
Cockwells Managing Director, Dave Cockwell (left) Jack Hogan (right)
I have seen many tenders at shows over the past few years, but few caught my eye quite like the striking cream and turquoise Modular Tender from Cockwells at Monaco 2021. This was the first time I met Dave Cockwell and his team, and we had a chance to sit on board what was, at that time, a beach club. Built to be a convertible platform, it was also produced on speculation for the Show. This undoubtedly bold decision for such a high concept tender paid off, however, with an order confirmed during the event (and another since.)
Chief designer, Henry Ward, explains that the tender is designed to give the yacht the flexibility of a platform that can be switched between an on-water beach club, fast guest transfer shuttle, luxury limousine or a work boat for the crew. By storing multiple modules onboard the primary vessel, this platform can then be customised for any purpose.
Modular Tender from Cockwells
During my visit to the Mylor Creek Boatyard, the team was working on everything from small wooden sailing yachts to 13m multi-hull superyacht tenders; the restoration of a classic Riva, to Cockwells’ own reinterpretation of the classic stylings that Riva pioneered. A custom project that had returned to the yard for a refit at the time of our visit, the striking 10.5m Titian Tender, is based on a concept by British design studio, RWD.
The diversity of projects was evident, and it was fascinating to discover how this diversity underpins the company and its growth. When I had the chance to speak with Cockwell again after the tour, he affirmed that he and his managerial staff work for the craftsmen on the shop floor. Not the other way around. They are there to provide the resources and nurture the work environment that allows the team to build that product on which the company has staked its reputation; the boats.
10.5m Titian Tender
The diverse designs, risk-taking approach and emphasis on traditional building techniques require a broad team with wide-ranging skills. Cockwell’s philosophy of hiring was refreshingly forward-thinking. “The industry is not doing enough to hire individuals with neurodiversity,” he explains. “Give me someone with a problem, as defined by traditional standards, and often, what you will find is a gifted tradesman or someone with a unique skill set.”
My discussion with Dave Cockwell took an interesting turn as we discussed this topic further. “Neurodiverse people can be picked upon in the workplace, which undermines their confidence. They need support and someone to give them a chance, and they can offer a huge amount. People across the industry are talking about making more diverse hires; the next stage is to actually do it. And that should extend to neurodiversity.”
With an exciting group of projects in build and more on the horizon, Cockwells is writing the next chapter in the rich boatbuilding history of Cornwall and the UK, and, as they explained, is always looking for new and unique talent to support this growth. Look out for them at this year's Monaco Show. Their tenders will undoubtedly stand out from the pack once again.
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