A History of Broom Boats (1945 to 1993)
By 1946 Broom’s were building a range of new designs for private sale or charter. The 42ft Admiral, 37ft Commander and 33ft Captain Classes were all hard-chined boats, which made the most of the spaciousness and shallow-draft characteristics of the type. With their extensive brightwork and varnished hulls, they epitomised the popular image of the quality cruiser for a score or more years. In the meantime, Broom became founder members of the Blake’s Holidays organisation which bought out Harry Blake in 1946. Naturally, their boats featured prominently in the brochures. Throughout the 1950s the premises were extended, and a brokerage service was added to the company’s activities.
The first member of the third generation of Brooms, Barney’s son Barney Jnr, had joined the firm in 1946. However it was his younger cousin, Basil’s son Martin, who was destined to guide the company through the GRP era and into the present day. After completing a five-year apprenticeship with boatbuilders Herbert Woods (another yard whose manager had bought himself out of the Norfolk Broads Yachting Co back in 1898) and two years National Service with the RAF Marine Branch, Martin joined in 1958, taking on the management of the hire fleet. Within six years both Basil and Barney Snr had retired and Barney Jnr had entered the church, leaving Martin to run the whole business.
At first, many of the conservatively minded Broads boatbuilders spurned the advent of glassfibre construction in the mid-1960s. Their wooden boats had set remarkable standards for longevity; they mostly operated in fresh water, rarely ventured into rough seas and, when not in use, were kept out of the sun’s harmful rays, in boathouses or ashore. Many feared that plastic was unproven, and that a switch to the new material would mean sacrificing traditional crafts and jobs. A minority were more positive about the inevitability of GRP. Building and maintenance costs would be dramatically reduced, hulls could be moulded in a variety of shapes relatively simply, and savings would be reflected in lower retail prices and reduced hire charges. Self-drive holidays afloat could thus be extended to those with more modest incomes, helping to counteract the new wave of competition from overseas ‘package’ holidays.
Martin Broom and four like-minded businessmen took the initiative and formed a consortium to set up Aquafibre Ltd of Rackheath, Norwich. The new company was geared to supply a selection of hull and deck mouldings for completion by Broom and others. The first product from the factory was a 29ft 6in semi- displacement cruiser designed by RM Martins. It was marketed by Aquafibre as the Ocean 30; Brooms version, with a wooden superstructure, was known as the Broom 30. It was launched at the 1967 London Boat Show, heralding the end of the timber-hulled construction at Brundall. Both 30-footers sold well for many years, but the second Aquafibre hull, a 37-footer unveiled in 1969, was to become one of the most popular designs of all time. John Bennett was the chosen designer, and his association with Aquafibre continues to this day.
The Ocean 37 and Broom 37 Continental, followed by the Broom Crown based on the same hull, stayed in production with only minor alterations for an incredible 18 years. The early Continentals followed the precedent set by the Broom 30 by sporting a wooden top, but in 1971 this last vestige of tradition was surrendered to glassfibre. In addition to mainstream production, scores of Ocean 37s were fitted-out by other yards and by DIY owners. Following disagreements among the founders of Aquafibre in 1971, Broom bought out the others and took full control of the company. The destinies of the two firms became even more closely meshed. Other models were added to the range, including Broom’s European 35, which helped to establish a thriving export market for the company, and an Aquafibre offshore cruiser, the Ocean 42.
In the early 1970s, an Irishman named Derek Dann visited Brundall to study the hire boat business. He had been appointed to head a new subsidiary of the Guinness Group, the Emerald Star Line, which was to operate a charter fleet on the River Shannon. The first boats used by the company were Broom 30s, but before long a wide range of Aquafibre mouldings, some designed specially, were being fitted out for them by Broom. Twenty years on, the link remains, with 160 Brooms already in the fleet and 20 in the build programme for 1993. Some are special broad-beam boats with flybridges, known as Shannon Stars and Royal Stars. It was partly due to the Irish connection that designer Andrew Wolstenholme developed a new range of Aquafibre inland craft, from two berth 20-footers to nine-berth 45- footers, for hire fleets on the Broads and other north European waterways. All have lowering masts, and many incorporate folding windscreens for low air-draught.
By the mid-1980s, over half the hire boats on the Broads had been moulded by Aquafibre, and Wolstenholme’s latest designs have kept them in this dominant position. The company now claim to produce the widest selection of inland charter hulls in Europe.
Alongside all the series-built boats, Broom has always been prepared to cater for special requirements. One notable example is a boat called New Venture, which was christened at the 1986 London Boat Show by Princess Caroline of Monaco in her capacity as patron of the Peter Le Marchant Trust. The Trust specialise in providing holidays for families which include disabled people, and the boat is a 37ft hire cruiser fitted with an overboard hoist, interior lifting devices and a special WC.
The flagship of the fleet is the Broom 44. Like all the others, it reflects traditional British quality with overtones of Dutch, German and Scandinavian styling, yet it is subtly innovative. In foul weather, the command position can be completely enclosed at the press of a switch. The bathroom and shower are larger than the norm. The layout of the saloon is unconventional, yet practical. A great deal of attention has been applied to details such as grab rails, lock catches and moulded-in side boarding steps. The standard interior finish is satin teak, but buyers have a wide choice of alternative woods and fabrics.
With up to 29 knots available from twin 430hp Volvo TAMD 72s, the Broom 44 is built in two versions: one for Europe and one with an alternative deck layout for the Mediterranean. The company’s traditional exports have been to Germany and the Low Countries via their Dutch distributors, and direct to Scandinavia from Brundall. The move towards southern European markets is relatively recent, and Broom are actively looking for representation in the west and south of France.
One of the concerns expressed by many boatbuilders in recent years is the lack of ‘starter’ boats in their model ranges. Market forces have caused the average size and price of production boats to creep up to such an extent that few are producing smaller craft as a basis for trading-up in the future. This was highlighted last year by Brooms analysis of their meticulously-kept ownership records and brokerage ledgers (many used Brooms are resold via their own brokerage operation, which is usefully for spotting trends). It was to redress this omission that the Broom Ocean 31, introduced at the Inland Boat Show in Nottingham in May, was developed, in conjunction with Norfolk -based Haines Marine. An inland and coastal displacement cruiser with single or twin Volvo 50hp diesels, this five-berth aft-cabin boat offers either a flybridge or Brooms traditional aft- deck layout. Its hull is based on a Wolstenholme design for one of Aquafibre’s range of European charter boats. The starting price of just under £60,000 makes the new 31-footer a competitive boat, and Broom believe it is a worthy successor to the popular 30 which was discontinued back in 1981. It heralds a series of similar craft, with a 34-footer already past the design stage.
I am confident that the new boats equal the benefits and economies currently available from typical aft-cabin steel cruisers from Holland, but our boats have the improved exterior styling and detail work that can be achieved only from fibreglass.Martin Broom
Today the Broom Group consists of three companies: Broom Boats Ltd, CJ Broom & Sons Ltd, and Aquafibre Ltd. Between them they encompass just about every conceivable facet of the marine business. Broom Boats cover the building programme, the fleet of 50 hire craft, repairs and maintenance, and the marina which was built in the 1970s. CJ Broom & Sons are the public relations and marketing organisation for the group, and handle all the sales of new Broom and Ocean boats plus the extensive brokerage section.
Martin Broom is chairman and managing director of all three companies. At Aquafibre his co-director is Ben Mackintosh (of the famous confectionery family); at Brundall it is his wife Jennifer, who looks after the hire fleet and designs the interior décor of new craft. Their daughter Mandy represents the fourth Broom generation, as sales secretary.
During 1989 Broom acquired adjacent boatyard at Brundall, formerly the late Colin Chapman’s Moonraker factory. At present it provides additional space for winter lay-up, but the increased water frontage, the mould shop and the dry storage area may be utilised for boat production in future years.
Despite the demands on him, Martin Broom has found the time to join others in shaping the future of British boating via the British Marine Industries Federation and National Boat Shows. In 1991, after two years as chairman of the latter, he was awarded the MBE for his services to the industry. Three generations of Brooms have helped to bring about the transformation of the Norfolk Broads, from the rural backwater to the famous leisure waterway and boatbuilding centr. Old ‘CJ’ would be astonished, and certainly very proud, if he were able to see the modern results of what he started almost 100 years ago.
Originally Published in Motor Boats Monthly. Reprinted in Sweeping Statements, Summer 2007