The rural market town of Diss in South Norfolk, beloved by Sir John Betjemin and birth place of John Skelton, poet-laureate to Henry VIII, isn’t a name you’d necessarily associate with boat building in the region. But back in the early 1970s it was the home of the Almarine Seafire speedboat.
Designed by John Neate, and a development of his earlier Spitfire speedboats, the small but mighty Seafire now has something of a cult following online. The 9ft Spitfires were originally built by John’s company Mitchum Marine in Surrey, before he relocated to Norfolk in the late 1960s where he continued to produce the boats in a small yard in the town centre of Diss. In the early 1970s he approached local company Alma Components, run by Doug Bartlett and Jim Price, seeking help with the electronics and a new company, Almarine, was formed. Manufacture was moved to a purpose built building at the back of Alma’s factory on Park Road, the original boat design being modified to produce the new outboard powered 10ft 6in Seafire and its water jet twin the Meteor.
I was contacted by Doug Bartlett’s daughter, Sarah Briscoe, a few weeks ago and she kindly gave me permission to upload some 1970s cine footage of the Almarine boats to the Broadland Memories YouTube channel. Produced by her father and Jim Price, “The Prop and Jet Set” dates from around 1974 and shows both the construction of the boats at the factory and also river trials of both the Seafire and the Meteor. The footage is believed to have been shot at either Weybread or Earsham gravel pits in the Waveney Valley, with some river scenes which were presumably shot on the Upper Waveney. Designed to be easily transported, the film shows the Seafire being carried on the roof of an Austin Maxi with its launching trolley. Highly manoeuvrable on the water, they do look like great fun!
The second film, shot on 16mm, shows trials of the Seafire on the River Yare around the Trowse/Whitlingham area by the looks of it. A River Police launch is seen to be showing a keen interest at one point! Back at the gravel pit, the second half of the film show trials of what I presume must be the prototype of the larger,and extremely elusive Javelin which was also designed by John Neate for Almarine.
Alma Components was purchased by the American company Hamlin Electronics in 1976. The moulds and Almarine name were sold to another local company who continued to produce Seafires before the company finally folded in 1978. It’s a short-lived, but interesting piece of local boat building history. When in production, a large number of Seafires were apparently exported to Holland where they still appear to have a keen following. In more recent years, there has been a revival in interest in the boats in the UK too and there is a dedicated Almarine Seafire and Meteor Lovers Facebook page for owners and appreciators alike. More history and photographs can be found on the Almarine Boats website.
My thanks to Sarah Brsicoe and also to the lovely folk at Video Impact of Loddon for passing on my contact details to Sarah.