Five Minutes With: Sean McMillan of Spirit Yachts

Sean McMillan of Spirit Yachts

Sean McMillan of Spirit Yachts - Credit: Tim Wright

Gina Long meets Ipswich-based businessman Sean McMillan who built a boat for James Bond

Q You build supremely elegant classic yachts – how did it all start?

A I started Spirit Yachts with the late Mick Newman in 1993. We wanted to create a range of thoroughly contemporary yachts in terms of performance, but with all the elegance of those from the 1920s and 1930s. As Mick put it: “Why do all modern yachts have to be fat, white and plastic . . .”

We were determined to bring wooden yacht building into the mainstream of 21st Century yacht construction by developing lightweight laminar structures with an impressive strength to weight ratio. By developing very sophisticated build techniques, we’re now able to build our yachts as light as those built from carbonfibre. This has resulted in them being very fast and gaining great success in classic regattas around the world.

We’ve built 54 yachts over the past 20 years, most of which have been exported around the world – indeed we won a Queen’s Award for export in 2008 which was a great accolade. We were also invited to take part in the Avenue of Sail at the Queen’s jubilee pageant on the Thames in 2012 – the only modern yacht present.


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Our yard is in the Old Wet Dock in the centre of Ipswich. Most people don’t know that Ipswich has perhaps the finest wooden yacht building yard in the world.

Q Is it true that one of your yachts made an appearance in a James Bond movie?

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A Yes, in the film Casino Royale the yacht in the Grand Canal in Venice being sailed by Daniel Craig is a Spirit 54. She was the first sailing yacht to be in the Grand Canal with full rig in 350 years because the canal has a fixed bridge at either end! The whole process took six months of shipping or sailing the boat, first to the Bahamas and then into the Mediterranean and up to Venice – all for about two minutes of screen time, but wonderful publicity and commercially very valuable.

If you could add one hour to your day, what would you do with it?

Walk more with my dog – a gorgeous German shepherd called Charlie. My wife, Jenny, has had these extraordinary dogs for most of her life and introduced me to them when we met. Charlie is just coming up to two years old and is an absolute delight.

Q Has anything or anybody inspired you lately?

A The way a woodlouse curls up has got me working on a folding windscreen mechanism for a motor yacht.

Q Where do you want to travel next and why?

A Jenny and I have our own Spirit, a 52ft sloop called Flight of Ufford, which is currently at the end of a season in the Caribbean culminating in organising 10 Spirits taking part in the Antigua Classics regatta. Whilst that’s been great fun – and a lot of hard work – we want to cruise back to the West Country this summer. Places such as Dartmouth, Fowey and Newton Ferrers are quite beautiful when visited by sea.

Where do you feel most at home?

On board Flight.

Q Describe your social life?

A Full and hugely important

Q What was the last performance or concert you went to?

ABig band jazz at Snape Maltings. I love jazz, but Jenny is not quite so keen.

Q If you could change something in your life what would it be?

A Absolutely nothing. I’ve had a varied life so far and wouldn’t have missed anything. There have been some very difficult times indeed, but they have made me stronger and more determined, and possibly a nicer person too. I hope so.

Q What do you want to postpone?

A Getting any older.

Q What’s your favourite thing to do on a Sunday morning?

A A late breakfast with the Sunday papers, walk Charlie, then down to the White Lion in Ufford for a glass of Scotch!

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