“I do enjoy watching a customer go away happy,” Kilkeel-based boatbuilder Gerry Smyth (pictured above, left, with Will Treneer, co-owner of the 14.95m Inter Nos PZ 46 – built by G Smyth Boats) told Fishing News. “I’ve always said that the day you’re worried about the money you’ve made on a boat is the day the show’s over.”

Gerry’s passion for boats, and fishing, developed from a young age. “I had my first punt when I was only 14. Me and one of my best mates, Tom Higgins, who works with me now, had a punt together fishing 20 creel pots.

“However, I knew that I didn’t want to go prawn fishing or anything like that. So I went away to serve my time as a carpenter – but I always had a boat at the same time, creeling whenever I could.”

After nine years working as a carpenter, Gerry returned to fishing full-time. “I bought an under-10m potter, and started fishing with my brother. We fished together right up until 2006.

“All through my fishing career people were asking me to fix this, or fibreglass that, mend this and mend that – I was always fixing and fibreglassing things.

“I then built some small fibreglass boats – just to get a feel of things. When Cygnus Marine Boats started selling off all their moulds, I bought the Cygnus 28 set with the intention of building myself one.

“In the end I built four or five of them, and took one to the boat show in Galway. We sold one there, and then another locally – and it just went from there.”

In 2009, G Smyth Boats was formed, and more orders soon followed. Ten years ago, the company moved into its custom- built 6,000ft2 workshop. Situated a stone’s throw from Kilkeel harbour, the workshop is where Gerry’s day usually begins.

“I get in at around 7.45am each day. We work from 8am to 5pm. When we first started out, we could be working until 10.30pm. Boatbuilding is a disease – you have to be at it all the time.

Gerry with his mother, Mrs Bridie Smyth, at the launch of his first 12m catamaran in 2019.

“There’s no such thing as a typical day for me. I can set out with the best intentions of doing something, and then I’ll get tied up with something else.

“My role is to oversee generally what’s happening and what’s going to happen. So I’ll start the day by catching up with everybody to see what they’re working on and their intentions for the day ahead – what they’re making and what they’re planning on making.

“I’ll then go and see the girls in the office – that’s my daughter Caitlin, who has been with me for about two and half years since leaving school, and Ceara – who’s been with me 12 or 13 years. I’ll check with them to see if anyone is looking for me, or needs me.”

With the company having grown to 18 employees, Gerry encounters a wide range of tasks over the course of his working day.

Gerry onboard Inter Nos during the vessel’s first sea trials. “I’ve always had a good eye for line. If I’ve a design in my head, I’ll draw it on a piece of paper and send it to Iain Macleod, our naval architect. He’ll mock it up and then I’ll pop up to his office and we’ll sit there for a couple of days in front of his computer taking a wee bit out of this, and a wee bit out of that.”

“Joel Chambers, who joined us out of school, is now one of my foremen. He and my other foreman Richard Gordon, who was with me at the very start, look after a boat each.

“We normally build three boats at a time. We also have a laminating workshop, which is two miles away, where our six laminators work. That’s where we laminate the hulls and then transport them here, where we have 10 boys fitting out.

“It runs well. I’ve a good team of boys. You’re only as good as the boys you have around you. I never raise my voice, and there’s never any arguments or things like that. We just go with the flow. If something goes wrong, then we’ll sort it out. There’s no point yapping about it – that won’t get it fixed.

“It used to be me who was very fussy and making sure everything is right – but now Richard and Joel are both fussier than I am! They ensure that everything is 100%. If anything is out of place, they’ll soon let me or somebody else know.”

However, Gerry isn’t averse to lending a helping hand wherever it’s needed. “I still wear a boiler suit every day – what you see is what you get, and I think that’s why people like us.

“If there’s something getting fabricated, like a set of rails or a rail roller, I would help the fabricator to get it up and welded. Then someone might ask me to do a job that I wasn’t expecting, or somebody might pop into the workshop. That’s one of my main jobs now, building relationships with customers – talking about their requirements, and how we can help.”

There is, however, one side of the business Gerry doesn’t get involved in. “I have never sent an email in my life. I’ve never turned on a computer in my life, and I wouldn’t know how. I don’t even know the password to it. I have nothing to do with any of that.

“Caitlin and Ceara look after that side of things. I’ll tell them what to say if I need to reply to somebody – but they usually know better than me what to say!”

Despite the responsibilities of running a successful business, Gerry still finds time for his other great passion. “I’ve a 9.2m vessel of my own, the Caitlin Anne N 222 – named after my daughter. I still go out fishing creels every couple of days.

“I’ve always fished. I’ve always had a boat out. The fishing is a disease too – I still have to go creeling.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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