Prout Fails Again
As of 2002, Prout declared bankruptcy again and according to Peter Nash at the boating-industry.com web-site, a veritable soap-opera unfolded. The first move was closing down the UK operations via a phone call from Canada, telling employees on February 13, 2002 to pack up their belongings and leave.
As you may already know, Prout had been bought by Quest (a subsidiary of the Canadian Winfair group) in July 2000. In September 2001, Prout went into receivership for the first time before being reborn as Prout UK. History repeated itself within six months, though the consequences were permanent this time. As late as Janurary 2002, Terry Turl allegedly was visiting the facility, telling workers there that more boats were being sold. After the call and the subsequent lock-out, Prout employees found themselves on the street without the pay that they were entitled to.
Meanwhile, some Prout catamaran owners resorted to hiring Prout employees directly to finish their boats in nearby yards. It's likely to be a sentimental journey for most of them as they are unlikely to work on Prout designs again.
As of February 25, 2002 the story became even more interesting.
Apparently, Bill Reid (a former chairman at Prout) had a high court freeze the assets of Prout UK, as he feared the only truly valuable assets would be spirited out of the country before he was paid the royalties that were due to him. What are these assets? The molds for the hulls, of course. Presumably, the Concordia yard in Thailand was the desired destination, since Prout had started shifting production there starting in 2000.
Despite the High Court Order, the Canadian owners then allegedly instructed Terry Croakin, the GM of Prout to pack up the molds and ship them out of the United Kingdom. When Croakin refused to break the law, he was fired on Janurary 24, 2002. So much for expanding production in the UK... It appears that the Winfair group wanted to present the British courts with a fait accompli and thus curtail Bill Reids bargaining position.
While receivers were appointed for Prout, the former GM Croakin found a boatyard and took over seven out of ten boats-in-progress to finish them. Presumably, the potential boat owners got into more than they bargained for. Croakin also hoped to help out the former Prout employees who were let go by hiring them to the yard.
As of February 26, 2002, the receivers, Begbies Traynor, that were appointed to administer Prout UK have ruled out selling the company for now as the sale of a non-operating business is very difficult. Subsequently, Prout was liquidated, its assets sold.
Starting during the summer of 2002, a company called Broadblue created a new division called Broadblue Catamarans. Broadblue has made a name for itself in England for its wood furnishings and the ship-building school it owns. The manufacturing facility is not far from the old Prout plant, and the deliveries that Broadblue made this year are most likely hulls left as work-in-progress when Prout UK was closed.
Broadblue Catamarans currently builds a model called the Prestige 38, which is a slightly modified Prout 38 sailing catamaran. However, they are also building the 46 model and have plans for a 42' model. Judging from some e-mails I have received, they may have also acquired the 39' Escale molds.
A familiar cast has emerged from the shadows of the Prout UK/Prout Catamarans bankruptcies: Robert Underwood is the managing director of this venture... Prouts chief designer also jumped ship. Interestingly, the Broadblue Catamarans web-site makes no mention of Prout, other than in the test reports that you can download. Thus, the folks at Broadblue must have decided that the Prout name was such a liability that they did not want to acquire it. Still, I wonder why the site mentions Mr. Underwood as the MD, as he is the chief liability in my book.
On the other hand, there is hope that Broadblue will escape some of the problems that dogged Prout. Perhaps modern manufacturing management will move in to remove the disadvantages that Prout suffered from vis-a-vis its continental and international competitors. In the best of all worlds, these changes will be a combination of smarter manufacturing management and some capital intensive upgrades like CNC milling machines that would allow Broadblue to minimize labor and inventory while maximizing quality.
It will be interesting to see how Broadblue will re-enter the market.
If you liked the 34' models (perfect for couples or young families) you can buy an updated version in South Africa at Creeksea Ltd. Among the changes that I could see were wider sterns (the older designs were canoe-style double-enders) as well an interior which closely matches the colors of the Prout/Broadblue 38' series.
The wide stern is a welcome change, as it allows not only for built-in swimming ladders, it also increases the interior volume of the ship substantially. This in turn will make the new 34' settle less in the water as gear is brought on board while also increasing stowage significantly.
Creeksea also manufactures a 40' long boat that was based on an older 38' design. Considering todays exchange rates, having a boat built in South Africa could be very attractive indeed.
There is no word on the location of the Snowgoose 37' model molds. Presumably, this "classic Prout" mold design had little economic value in todays market and has been abandoned. Like the 34' the Snowgoose was a canoe-style double-ender. Hence, the boat was difficult to board from the sea and was quite sensitive to the effects of weight. When empty, she sailed like a dream even if her very conservative rig was too small for New England conditions most of the time.
Yet, despite these relatively minor failings, this design was probably the most prolific of the Prout models, with literally hundreds built. Only Gemini appears to have built more 105's than Prout had built Snowgooses. Overall, Snowgoose owners seem to be very happy with their boats. They are conservatively built (like all older Prouts) and hence will probably survive most anything that nature can throw at it.
The molds for the 60+' long power boats (a.k.a. Panther, et. al.) seem to remain in Thailand at Concordia. I have yet to see them re-born anywhere, so an update on the designation and source would be welcome.
I am not sure if Advanced Yachts simply has a stale web-site or if they can still source the entire gamut of Prout boats. If anyone knows, I'll gladly post it here.