Page updated: 11 September 2023
This page has been prepared from notes of phone calls, e-mails or conversations with John Bennett, Chris Jeckells, David Cornabe and Mike Lankester, Kevin King and others. Errors here can be assumed to be because of misunderstanding or poor note taking. Please post any corrections or further information on the Forum.
It was John Bennett who designed the SeaHawk. Born in 1922, he served as an officer in the Army during the war and, in 1948, started a boat building business. The design of the SeaHawk grew out of ideas originating in the early 1950s.
In 1960 John started a new business at Great Yarmouth and finally put the ideas into practice, buying in a Fairy Marine GRP hull. The hull had strip planking topsides and became the first prototype of what was to become the SeaHawk that we know today. Later a second version was built by another company, based in Gorleston, using cold moulded plywood, remembered by John as Design 477. It seems likely that Design 477 was this boat, as this is the number used for the GRP design that is the subject of this site.
Mike Lankester's mother worked as a secretary for John Bennett around this time. Mike remembers that a year or two before leaving school in 1964, he was invited on a promotional cruise along the south coast, between Dover and Littlehampton. Apart from John Bennett, Mike remembers that also on board was "Bim", short for the nickname "Sunbeam". This trip was in a wooden prototype SeaHawk.
At one point a correspondent from one of the boating magazines came aboard. Mike reports that John was most concerned that, while the he was aboard, they managed to get the boat on the plane. This was not something that John had intended! Shown a photograph of an example of the SeaHawk that we know today, Mike barely recognised it as the boat he remembers sailing in. If the prototype would plane, perhaps this is not surprising!
Since that conversation with Mike, a book has been found with information about a prototype SeaHawk which might explain the difference between the boat Mike remembers and the one we know today.
By 1968 John was advertising his business in BOAT WORLD, The Sail and Powerboat Year Book. The book includes a list of Sail Marks and the one for the "Sea Hawk" is shown on the right. This mark is interesting as it shows no similarity to that used by Reedcraft when they started manufacture of the boat, though it does echo the "H" that appears in many of the John Bennett drawings and plans for the SeaHawk right up to the 1990s and used by Pyefleet Boat Sales.
Around this time he remembers that he was approached by firm of agents, "International Marine". They were looking for a design for a client to build. This was Reedcraft and the version that was to be the SeaHawk as it is currently known. Jeckells, the sail makers, records show that all orders for sails for the SeaHawk between 1969 and 1973 came from "Marine Sales International Ltd". This suggests that rather than an agent, this was the registered name for the company trading as Reedcraft or that there was some other close financial link between them.
John says that the first production boat from Reedcraft was due to be put in the water on a February day in the mid or late 1960s. He was invited to the launch and arrived at Reedham to see a BBC Television van at the western end of the quay and an Anglia TV van at the opposite end. It was blowing a Force 7 from the South West. The wind was against the tide and white horses were all around! The mast had not even been erected and John assumed the launch was to be postponed. However, the opportunity for the publicity clearly proved too much for the builders. John was asked if he'd like to be aboard when they launched. With apparent amusement in telling the tale he reports that he declined the offer! Not deterred two men, one who had never sailed in his life, went aboard and, in front of the cameras, proceeded to put the boat through its paces. It performed faultlessly.
John recalls that a boat was taken, single handed, across the North Sea to a boat show in Holland soon after this first launch. Whether this is the same North Sea crossing as that reported in the Reedcraft publicity of the early 1970s or not is not clear. However, the newspaper stories quoted by Reedcraft indicate two men made the crossing to show the Boat in Holland.
When it first appeared on the market Reedcraft priced the basic boat at £555. There were a range of options that were available, some of which are mentioned within the "Marketing" and "Description" options under the main Boat menu on the site. [It is hoped that someone "out there" can provide a copy of the original price list.]
During the time Reedcraft were making the boat the Company approached Jeckells about supplying sails for a taller rig. The standard mast is approximately 21ft in height above the gunwales. The new version was to have a mast 24ft high. Jeckells have on file an internal memo dated 26/1/72, with a response on 3/2/1972, concerning this project. To the owner of a SeaHawk it makes fascinating reading - and might even bring a smile to your face, as certainly, anyone who knows a SeaHawk will be astounded by the observations and conclusions made by "J.S.S." about the boat. No doubt all students of sail making will be intrigued, on another level too, for it must represent the classic frustration for anyone in the trade. Chris Jeckells, who passed me the memo, following my initial telephone call with him, said "I was on a SeaHawk yesterday, and I know that they heel to a certain angle and stay there!", without needing to say that such predictable behaviour is the sign of a good design.
Reedcraft probably built around 340 boats through the seventies but ceased trading in 1979 after a catastrophic fire. However, by then, certainly by 1977, the moulds had been bought by R. Moore & Son (Wroxham) Ltd.
The earliest sail number currently known to be on what is believed to be a Moore's boat is #343, although some Reedcraft boats are known with later numbers than this. The early Moore's boats are being termed "Crossover" boats by this site. These boats contain features that were previously thought to be unique to either Reedcraft or Moore's boats. It is now realised that very earliest Moores boats (possibly in the range #340-#350) retained Reedcraft sail plan and were fitted with "Reedcraft-style" cockpit lockers but "Moore's-style" jib sheet winches.
It can be seen from their 1977 Price List that Moores had some fresh ideas for the SeaHawk. It also appears that discussions with John Bennett took place about updating the boat. It is not known who initiated these and it could be that Moore felt they were losing sales because the SeaHawk design, then over 20 years old, lacked appeal compared with more modern designs.
The drawing below, dated November 1987, was found in the Jeckells archives and shows that a completely new upper moulding was considered. The design retains the distinctive cabin door, but displays a radically different roof line forward of the mast reminiscent of some of the other designs becoming available at the time. Whilst it loses the window at the front of the cabin it provides more headroom in the cabin forward of the mast.
This new Mk VI design was never manufactured, but would have allowed either for the forward bunks be set higher in the boat, with more stowage capacity beneath them, or for locker space to be created in the increased headroom. Either option would have made the four- berth model a far more practical proposition for more than week-end cruises. It is a shame that drawings of the planned interior have not yet come to light.
As can be seen from the copyright stamp, dated 1994, it seems that this new version of the SeaHawk was under consideration almost up to the time of Moore's failure. (This drawing also raises the issue of the sail emblem and what was prompting the reappearance of the "H" style logo.)
Meanwhile, on the 5th December 1991, the first of two tall rigged SeaHawks were built. (According to Chris Jeckells, this boat was displayed on the Moore's stand at the London Boat Show in 1992. However, the boat taken to the show is now to be found at Hickling Broad, and it appears doubtful that it ever had a taller mast.) The second, and only other tall-rigged boat, had a main and genoa supplied to a Mr Blackwell on the 7th May 1993.
Having supplied the sails for all the Reedcraft produced boats, Jeckells had continued to be the sole supplier when R. Moore & Son took on the SeaHawk. In April 1993 Jeckells became involved with the company as more than supplier. The builder had got into financial difficulty and as a result had spare building capacity. The building Jeckells was using at that time, both as a sail loft and for their fitting out and upholstery business, became subject to new regulations and could not be viably upgraded. As a result, they were looking for new premises. Jeckells bought into the Moore's building and so helped keep them building SeaHawks until they finally ceased trading in 1998.
It is the builder who keeps records of the number of boats built and requests the appropriate sail numbers from the sail maker. Chris Jeckells recalls giving those records away to someone who came asking for them at the time when R. Moore &Son went into receivership. As they were not judged to have monetary value, the receiver was not concerned about recording who took them. Chris cannot remember who it was, but knows that he would have had a genuine interest and was probably known to him. It would be wonderful if the person who obtained the books at that time could be found and allow them to be published here.
Prior to the auction disposing of the Moore's assets, all the moulding tools were obtained by Mistral Craft, a company based at Loddon and owned by a Mr Jim Tubby. They were reported, by David Cornabe, to have produced two boats for Pyefleet Boat Sales, of Colchester. However, three boats, and possibly a fourth, are known to exist from this period.
David, who at the time he contacted the site, was considering taking on starting up manufacturing the SeaHawk and had extensive conversations with John Bennett about the project. He bought Almaz, later renamed Skylarking, which he reported as having the sail number 501, when writing to the site in 2005, although the photographs he sent at the time show it with neither emblem nor sail number. However, it is not known where he obtained his boat. Possibly, he bought the first example built by Mistral Craft and when he referred to producing two boats for Pyefleet, he was referring to the two boats that we know exist with the numbers #502 and #503. #502 is " Isolde", which has a red "H" sail emblem and the number 502. The third, #503, is "C-Auk". When Gordon Jones came to sell this example, in 2018, he wrote:
My understanding is that it was bought from Mistral Craft by John Bennet when they went bust. It was warehoused and finally sold to David Cornabe of Colchester in 2003.
However, given that David's reports were within two years of his purchase, while Gordon's is some 15 years after the event, it seems likely that Gotdon's source, presumably John Bennett, had got things a bit muddled in his memory and falsely tied together the conversations he was having with David Cornabe and the example he owned, #503. What can be said is that, by 2010, all three of these boats had moorings on the Norfolk Broads. #501 and #503 at Hickling Broad and #502 at Ranworth.
That still leaves a possible fourth boat that may have been built by Mistral Craft, the one seen in Pyefleet's advertisement and handbill which is shown without a sail number, but with a black "H", rather than red sail emblem.
While Mistral Craft built the first two boats, Boat Mart magazine reported that Pyefleet Boat Sales had "taken over production from Jim Tubby" by the time of the 2001 National Boat, Caravan and Leisure Show. However, it seems more likely that Pyefleet only took over responsibility for marketing the boat, because David Cornabe reports that it was Mistral Craft that sold the mould tools to the next owner.
An advert that appeared in the magazine "Buy A Boat For Under £15,000" in September 2000 priced the boat at £12,995, including VAT for a "ready to sail package" but, by the time of the National Boat, Caravan and Leisure Show, "Boat Mart" reported it was "a great buy at just under £10,000". In John Bennett's view they priced the boat far too high and he understood that none were sold. Both companies ceased trading soon after this period. The yard at Loddon was sold, the site becoming a housing development.
Mistral Craft sold the tools to a company based in Colchester, Cair Paravel, who planned to continue production. However, the director/ owner, Jerry Gilmer, and former partner in the Colchester-based Classfibre, who, historically, had moulded the large Oysters, re-won the contract and began to produce a 73ft boat for Oyster, as well as other very large boats. As a result, the plan to build the SeaHawk got put to one side. Jerry was then made an offer for the tools and decided to sell them.
The buyer was Sam Watson and he produced another set of mouldings from the tools, planning to complete his boat in the summer of 2004. In the spring of that year, David Cornabe began negotiating to buy the full set of moulds with a plan to start building SeaHawks himself. David's background was in selling and he had previously sold John Bennett's Sunquest Range, built by Colvic.
Around this time, a sale to Simon Bailey, of a company called North East Fibreglass Fabrication and Design (2 Tyne Court, Wallis Road, Skippers Lane Industrial Estate, Middlesbrough, TS6 6DT, Tel: 01642 457556) was agreed. By August David's purchase was looking doubtful as the new owners were being slow to return his calls. He began to wonder if they planned to use the hull mould for themselves. His other work obligations also began to make the project more difficult.
In May 2005 Edward Crawford wrote saying:
I collected the hull and cabin door and various bits and pieces but the cabin and interior bunks are still down south as we could not get them all on the trailer and as far as I know they are still there.
Simon is still interested in selling the moulds.
He attached the following two scans, of photographs he took, presumably before loading them onto his trailer. They appear to show the hull itself, the cabin floor and forward V-berth tools.
Edward also attached a scan of a part completed boat, presumably Sam Watson's. There seems to be another mould tool in the background.
After the collection of the hull tools, in 2004, Sam Watson still had the superstructure tools and David reported that he was still hoping to sell them. So it seems that the complete set of tools were not sold, or at least paid for, only the hull tools which were then in Middlesborough. David also reported, at that point, that there was a moulding or tool for an inner liner/roof which wasn't fitted in the SeaHawk that he bought (Skylarking, #501), saying "Jim Tubby has it at Mistral Craft".
Contacted in January 2006, Simon Bailey at North East Fibreglass Fabrication and Design confirmed that only the hull tools were collected from Colchester and that the other parts remained there. He explained his company was once the biggest builder of GRP boats in the north east, but by then was more involved windows and other products. He confirmed that he would prefer to sell on the moulds, but would also consider manufacture of spare parts from the moulds, suggesting that, if necessary, he would collect the remaining moulds and tools from Colchester.
In October 2006 a Jon Collins posted on the feedback form on the site:
Hi, I would like to add to the SeaHawk moulding history and to tell you that the super structure mould was covered in petrol and burnt till it was nothing by an angry farmer Chris Chamerly in Pebmarsh. So anyone looking to find them try contacting heaven because that's were they ended up.
Unfortunately, he left no email address, so this news couldn't be confirmed, although Google reveals that Pebmarsh is a village near Colchester.
Confirmation about the destruction of the superstructure mould tool arrived in April 2010. Kevin King wrote attaching a number of photographs. He had bought Sam Watson's incomplete boat and said:
I finally got it in the water on Sunday (17th April) at Brightlingsea in Essex. Was a bit worried about keel bolt leaking but all was ok. Had a brilliant maiden voyage in perfect sunshine.
I have got in contact with Sam Watson about the moulds and he said the chap who bought them came down to pick them up and could not get them all on his lorry so left top mould behind but never came back for it. Unfortunately the farmer upon whose farm it was stored eventually lost patience and burnt it.
In May 2014 Shaun Lithgo contacted the site, reporting that he was planning to re-start manufacture of the SeaHawk. An experienced boat builder, Shaun had been involved in building other John Bennett designs. He was in the process of establishing a new company which would use space in his new works, in the north of England, that were then being fitted out.
His researches had established that the mould tools that had been taken to Middlesbrough had also been destroyed. The company that owned the yard where they had been stored was cleared was it had gone into receivership. As a result Shaun was looking for a suitable boat from which to make new mould tools.
Unfortunately, the emails from Shaun have been lost so when further news did not arrive, it was not possible to discover what happened to his plans. Searching for his name and boat building companies proved in vain, so it seems the story of the SeaHawk may be at an end.