Focus on Boat Builders: Cygnus Marine, Cornwall

28th October 2016

Established in Falmouth in 1972, Cygnus Marine specialised in building GRP fishing boats and pleasure craft. Although it is no longer an active business, having ceased trading in 2007, the business was responsible for the construction of a range of models.

In its 35 years of operation the company produced over 2500 vessels which were put to use in locations as different as Iceland to Africa. At their peak they were one of the UK’s largest manufacturer of GRP vessels and gained a reputation for reliability as well as innovative design.

When the company ceased operations the moulds were auctioned off and live on in the hands of other boat builders

The company

Initially located on the Tregoniggie Industrial Estate, Cygnus Marine boats began life by fitting out Lochin 33 vessels which were known at the time as a ‘Falmouth Fast Fisherman’. The story goes that co-founder, Patrick Bray, during a university break at home with his parents stumbled across a project at a creek on Helford River. A local fisherman needed a hand with fitting his 10m boat with some mouldings that had been supplied by Lochin Marine and Patrick pitched in. During the few weeks that the build took place a number of fishermen expressed an interest in the remodel and Patrick saw an opportunity.

Within a year, Patrick had enlisted the help of his university friend Chris Brook and established a company in Falmouth employing local tradesmen in a purpose designed workshop. The team consisted of Keith Harris (moulding), Dave Crocker and Denis Laity (engineers), Peter Always (metal fabricating) and Ron Coote as the foreman. Both Bray and Brook, from non-marine backgrounds, ran the business side of the operations.

The timing of the start-up couldn’t have been better and by 1975 the mackerel boom was creating a huge local demand for inshore vessels with good hold capacities. Teaming up with a traditional wooden fishing boat builder (Gary Mitchell), Cygnus commissioned a 32’ displacement hull from which mouldings were taken and the start of the GM range of GRP’s took off.

Joining the company in 1976, John Peters brought experience in naval design and allowed the company to drop the base build of the Lochin and begin producing their own products. As their reputation grew so did the business and, with assistance from the local council, the company moved to a 25,000 ft2 workshop on the Penryn Industrial Estate. The move coincided with the closure of the Porthleven shipyard and Cygnus was able to offer posts to some of the skilled workforce.

With larger premises, the company was able to work on bigger builds and Cygnus added a 44’ hull to its catalogue.

With innovation at the heart of their design the company wanted to expand its offerings and include a faster fishing boat. They commissioned Ian Cullingworth to design a 33' semi-planing vessel with multi-role capabilities which went into production, to that design, as the Cy-Fish. That proved successful and Ian Cullingworth was then commissioned to design a fully planing 26', again with multi-role capabilities and which entered production as the Cyclone. Both designs, together with extensions of them, have continued in production since the early 80's.

The success of the designs looked to have secured the businesses future and the management team explored alternative opportunities; Chris Brook left to start his own business in Worcester building displacement fishing boats and Patrick added Steelship Ltd to his business interests.

Unfortunately, the timing was not favourable and cashflow problems took their toll forcing a buyout of both Cygnus and Steelship by the lifeboat building company, Watercraft Ltd in 1983. A much larger firm, Watercraft, based in Shoreham and Gosport, also ran into financial difficulty as they failed to meet an order for the MOD due to contractual speed problems. The combination of the financial pressures across all three companies tipped them into administration.

Several months of uncertainty passed as the Receivers began to sell off assets and attempt to find a buyer for the businesses. However, it was only Cygnus which was able to demonstrate a profit and offers came in for the GRP yard only. After a couple of purchasers pulled out the management team at Cygnus, consisting of Ernie Cooke (sales and marketing) John Peters (design and production) and Andrew Clynick (admin and finance) were offered the chance to buy the business.

Focusing strictly on GRP builds the company thrived and began to grow an international reputation as John Peters branched out in a consultancy role with the UN. Visiting developing fisheries around the world Cygnus secured contracts for projects in Chile, Hong King and Yemen. They also became a subcontractor for various other marine builds including yachts.

European and domestic sales were booming until the combination of the cod ban and the introduction of Pressure Stock Licences in the mid 1990’s slowed down the order books. The licenses meant that if you wanted to buy a new boat then you had to scrap an existing vessel of similar dimensions. Cygnus spotted a potential opportunity and began buying up old boats to acquire their licenses. The company effectively became a license broker, trading their stock to allow new boats to built.

The gamble paid off and Cygnus expanded again, purchasing a new yard in Falmouth and renting additional factory premises. The expansion traded under the name of Bluewater Projects and focused on building the Mystic 55 and three Mystic 60’s for Alan Morgan Yachting.

As the three directors approached retirement age a decision was made to sell the business and Bluewater was sold to Royston. The main factory and machinery was all sold and the moulds were auctioned off to other boatyards with the workforce finding jobs elsewhere.

Though Cygnus is no longer operating today, their boats still live on in many ports across the UK and the moulds continue to produce excellent quality vessels under different brand names

The boats

The Cygnus Bosscat BC30

The Bosscat BC30 was designed with a catamaran hull and was available in lengths of 8-10m with a high bridge deck and freeboard to reduce slamming to almost zero. Driven by twin diesel propulsion the BC30 is capable of speeds up to 30 knots see one on fafb The Cygnus Beachworker BW23/26

An agile and multi-purpose vessel, the Beachworker is a ruggedly designed, shallow water launch boat which was very popular for Cygnus. It sold across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean. Available in 23’ or 25’ lengths and could be fitted with stern or outboard, petrol or diesel engines. They were known for their fuel economy, stability and manoeuvrability.

The Cygnus CY15

The baby of the catalogue, the CY15 is a traditionally shaped boat which was primarily used for rowing and oyster fishing. Some vessels were fitted with small 4hp outboards.

The Cygnus Cygnet 23

With a trihedral hull the Cygnet 23 is a multi-purpose, shallow draft vessel which provides a wide and steady work platform ideal for commercial fishing. The Cygnet is 7m in length and was made with self-draining or loose boarded decks. An efficient design the Cygnet was very popular and reliable.

The Cygnus Cyclone 26/30

The Cyclone was perhaps of the company’s most popular boats and provided exceptional buoyancy and stability under the hauling area. Fast and able to carry good payloads the design significantly reduced slam to a minimum and was sold across Europe and even to skippers in the Amazon and Antarctic. At 9.15m the design was adapted to produce the larger Typhoon 33/38/42. You can buy new Cyclones using this link from FAFB

The Cygnus Cyfish 33/39

A fast planning workboat the Cyfish 33 offered a range of wheelhouse arrangements in its 10m length. The design featured a tunnel implant which delivered smoother water flow. The design was adapted to deliver the CY39; a semi-displacement but longer workboat. The moulds for the Cyfish are still in use and you can find models available via FAFB

The Cygnus DS25

A coastal fishing vessel designed for all year round use with a one or two man crew, at 7.78m in length the DS25 featured flared bows and a sheer line. Able to be operated from beaches and in tidal harbours due to its shallow draft the DS25 could be fitted with trawling, creeling, long lining and gill netting machinery. The design was an adaptation of a traditional West Country fishing boat.

The Cygnus GM16

Based on the Traditional Cornish Cove boat, the GM16 were constructed as a single man fishing boat but were also adopted as purse seine skiffs and pleasure craft. Incredibly versatile, they combined stability with performance to prove a popular vessel.

The Cygnus GM19

The mould for the GM19 is still being produced by Cygnus Marine Boats and produces a sturdy workboat capable of launching from shallow waters and features an upright stern, long keel and low bilges. The GM19 have been used as crabbers, netters and purse seine skiffs and many diverse operations.

The Cygnus GM21

Introduced in 1977, the GM21 quickly became the standard against which all other similar models of craft were constructed. 6.4m in length, the round bilged hull is ideal for inshore fishing and delivered robust work performance.

The Cygnus GM32/33/38/40/44

Heavy displacement vessels these craft were designed to be suitable for a range of fishing methods and provided good carrying capacity, spacious accommodation and durability. Working boats the range was very popular in the fishing industry and over 600 vessels were built specifically for this purpose.

The Cygnus Holton 24

Wide beamed with deep bilges the Holton 24 is an ideal inshore fishing boat with a length of 7.4m. Working examples can still be seen in Poole Harbour Search fafb for holton The Cygnus SF33/38

With a bulbous bow for large displacement the SF33 and SF38 made excellent trawlers or crabbers. They are very stable sea vessels.

The Cygnus Tornado 26/28

A fast cruiser with a deep V hull, the Tornado was available in 26’ and 28’ lengths and was sold as a pleasure boat or sea angler.

The Cygnus Typhoon 33/38/42

A fast workboat with applications for both commercial fishing as well as passengers the Typhoon was based on the smaller Cyfish and Cyclone hulls. It provides a gentler ride with reduced slam, good buoyancy and able to deliver speeds of up to 30 knots. The wheelhouse and foredeck are part of the main mould lending extra rigidity to the structure. The moulds for the Typhoon were purchased by ISF Boats.

The Cygnus Gaffer 29 WB29

Based on a traditional Falmouth Working Boat or Gaff Cuter, the Gaffer was designed as a pleasure sail boat which could also be used to dredge for oysters.

Over thirty years the company produced some innovative designs, many of which are still in commercial operation today; some being available to buy on Find a Fishing Boat

GM 19 GM 22 and GM 26 under construction

still being produced by Cygnus Marine Boats

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