A significant contribution

We report on Dave Ovington's funeral, some personal views of his life and work, and what now for Ovington Boats

Friday April 15th 2005, Author: Andy Nicholson, Location: United Kingdom
The enormous attendance at Dave Ovington’s funeral last week was a visual gauge on just what an impact his untimely death has had on all those that knew him.

Holy Saviours Church in Tynemouth was packed full. All the seats taken, all the standing room taken and another estimated 200 outside - listening to the service over a PA in the spring sunshine. Many had had an early start to the day travelling to the North East of England; others had simply walked from their homes nearby.

It was a hugely dignified and personal service, the Vicar Tim Duff, had known Ovi himself and once crewed for him in a local race. Tributes were spoken and hymns sung as many fought back tears, with others unable to.

Adam Ovington, Ovi’s eldest son aged 20, was remarkable in his composure and spoke fondly of his father and his family.

For many the service showed just how Ovi had touched so many lives in some many walks of life. The Ovington family were joined by friends, the local community and sailors, and staff and customers of Ovington Boats. As the Vicar so aptly put; “Each of you will have your own personal memories of David, Dave, Davi, Ovi...”

A reception was then held at the Grand Hotel in Tynemouth, a short walk down to the sea from the Church.

Nick Kincaid, a long time friend of Ovington summed up why so many had attended the day: “I think that comes out of him being such a well liked personality. There were a lot of people there who knew Dave, but may never have done business with him or bought boats from him - but they were there because they knew him and appreciated his commitment to sailing generally, not just to classes he was building.

“The funeral was one of the biggest local events the community has seen and the number of people who travelled such a long distance, the man must have had some draw to him.”

While many of the local community had not been involved in sailing, or the boat building business, Kincaid says that over the past four or five years there had been an increasing awareness locally of what Ovington Boats had been achieving. Olympic Medals were being won in boats built in their town.

Julian Bethwaite, who had worked closely with Ovi for many years, drew on what is own father, Frank, had said when trying to place Ovi’s contribution the sport. “My father simply commented that Ovi was very important because not only did he understand high performance boats but he also understood the importance of making a good boat and making it on time and servicing the public.

“I think England has lost a phenomenal resource and it will be hard pressed to replace him. He was the first person who was really close to me that I’ve lost and it is quite gut wrenching.”

His first meeting with Ovi was not convivial says Bethwaite – a clash of different hemispheres. The second meeting, on neutral territory in the South of France was more successful. The pair discussed how to build an 18 foot Skiff and it was the start of the partnership that would ultimately bring the 49er to the world.

“Everyone thinks I did the 49er,” comments Bethwaite, “but the 49er was really a team effort - Dave brought the construction technique. The design and the rig - at that stage we were well ahead of the English. The sails were a bit Swedish and a bit Australian but the big thing that David brought to the 49er was the construction idea, the epoxy, the way we were doing them. The epoxy/polyester gelcoat system was very Dave Ovington.”

The list of craft that have been through the gates at Ovington Boats is long. The 49er was joined by the 29er, the business started with Enterprises, and still produces classic designs such as Flying Fifteens and 505s. The Musto Skiff hull is Ovington, so too the B14, the K6 keelboat and Ovington Boats have produced more Mumm 30s than any other builder. International 14s were a passion of Ovington’s and he played a significant part in the development of the class. He was himself a Prince of Wales Cup winner and said in 2003, “The 14 is still the best ride downhill.”

Crewing for Ovi in a 14 some years back, Nick Kincaid remembers how keen a competitor he was: “We were sailing the 14 shortly after they became asymmetric boats and he was always encouraging the crew to pull the spinnaker up or down that bit quicker and on one occasion I went in, spurred on by his wanting the kite down quicker, gave it an extra tug and got it down and got back out on the wire. He said ‘that was fine, but I should keep my elbow out of his eye the next time.’ And when I turned round the lens of his prescription sunglasses was in the bottom of the boat and he was out on the wire squinting with one eye. We had to stop and get his lens…”

Ovi will also be remembered as a key ambassador for the sport says Bethwaite. “The success of a sport is based not just on the sailors but on the people who supply the product, and quite often in our sport and especially at ISAF level, the people who supply the product are normally considered the bad people. I think David turned a lot of that image around in addition to supplying an exceptional product - which the sport has to be eternally grateful for.”

At the funeral service the congregation was noticeably dotted with white polo shirts. On closer inspection the shirts bore the Ovington Boats logo and the strapline long associated with the company ‘Built to Win’. It was a fitting tribute paid by the Ovington Boats workforce to proudly wear their work shirts on the day.

Attention has already been paid to what is now to happen with Ovington Boats the company. The loss of Dave is a tragic one for the business, but he leaves a company with a world class reputation and a skilled and dedicated workforce.

The company is owned by the Ovington family and this week an interim management team was put in place. One of Ovi’s oldest friends, Martin Jones, has been working closely with the family to ensure the business operates as normal.

Three key existing members of staff are looking after specific areas. Dave Hall the sales and marketing, Ray Outterside the composite construction and quality control and Veronica Brown the finance. Adam Ovington comes in as Managing Director.

Jones, who was the first person to race against (and be beaten by) Ovi on the Tyne many years ago, has an impressive business background which will help ease the situation immensely. His current business Insensys was set up two years ago and provides a technology product to the oil and gas and the wind energy markets. Prior to that he has had a software business, and a consultancy business.

“In the last ten years I have been involved in seven mergers, or acquisitions. I guess it is a fairly reasonable CV for the task in hand,” says Jones reflectively.

While Adam Ovington takes on the role of Managing Director, Jones says that this is an interim measure and that Dave Ovington had discussed with his sons whether they wanted to be involved in the business. Adam is currently in his second year at University and will return in September to continue his degree in Ancient History.

Jones will be investigating all options for the family. “We are considering everything at this stage,” he says. “There is a very, very skilled and committed workforce there and very strong management team - who are committed to produce high quality boats in the north east of England. And continuing to do that must be the favoured option for everybody concerned, including the family.

“There are obviously a number of options open to us with the business and my job is to look at all the options and to select the most appropriate routes forward. Then, at some point in the future sit down with the family and discuss where it might go.”

While there is an obvious timescale in place he stresses however that an ‘interim period’ will be as long as necessary.

The company employs around 20 people and operate out of two sites in Tynemouth. Mariners Lane handles the production side of the business and is where the 49er and 29er are built and Tanners Yard is where more of the one-off and development work is carried out.

Ovi has touched many people in his life. Those personal memories will not be forgotten and we can hope that what he contributed to the sport and his legacy to boatbuilding is not forgotten either. Good luck to Ovington Boats. Like.

To read the many tributes sent in by readers click here.

To read an interview with Dave Ovington in 2003 click here.

More photos on the following pages...

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