The corridors of power…

Britain’s luxury boat builders are heading for a scrap. Two of the three big names – Princess and Fairline – are now controlled by Graham Beck, a secretive South African who breeds racehorses and makes his own-label wine. Beck, who is in his 70s, has his eye on the third big player, Sunseeker.

Sunseeker has shown little interest in Beck’s overtures. Robert Braithwaite, who owns the company with his brother, is determined to remain independent.

But he has a problem. Europe, on which Sunseeker depends for most of its sales, has increasingly fallen under the control of a single distributor, a German company, leaving Braithwaite with little room for manoeuvre.

Adding to the pressure, Ferretti, the luxury Italian yacht builder, is rumoured to be planning an all-out assault on the UK market.

Braithwaite says he will never sell out, but the heat is on.

My favourite boat story involves the Barlow Clowes investment empire which went down in the 80s, spelling ruin for thousands of elderly investors who thought their money was going on gilts. The firm’s founder, Peter Clowes, used their funds to buy planes, cars, houses and a $2.5 million motoryacht.

Investigators later joked that the only gilt-edged assets they could find were the gold-plated taps on Clowes’ yacht.

  • Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times

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