John Neate started his career in fibreglass with ‘Kit-Car’ manufacturing during the 1950’s. He worked with his father on them and to the left is a picture of the ‘Beckenham Mk1’. John is on the right. For its day it was a really nice car and had wire wheels that were associated with most sports cars of the day and a Ford engine.
John was ahead of his day in design, which moved to his boats in the 1960’s. He started with Mitcham Marine Spitfires, with a few variations before it found a version that he released.
This picture shows the first available version. The engine is a 25HP Evinrude 2 stroke. Later they came as a package with a Crescent Outboard.
This is the Mitcham Marine water-jet boat; and yes it flies.
John moved to Diss in the late 1960’s, bringing with him his Mitcham Marine Spitfire. He had also previously worked on racing cars and racing boats. He developed a water jet version using a UA jet unit. These were produced in Sheffield by Andrew Usbourne. Whilst developing the water-jet version of the Mitcham Spitfire, he sought help from Alma Components in Diss, Norfolk. A purpose built factory was built in the grounds of Alma Components for the new company and as a result Almarine was formed in 1972.
John started working for Alma then together with Jim Price and Doug Bartlett (Directors of Alma Components), commenced Almarine in August 1973. Alma Components were at the time leaders in their field of wire wound resistors and reed switches; making almost all the switches for ‘cash point machines’, but not boats.
John redesigned the Spitfire, increased the length from 9′ to 10′ 6″ and 4′ 4″ wide, making them safer. There was a little help from Doug Norval and Don Shed with their racing boat experience. With John leading the production the new boats now called Almarine Seafire and its water jet version the Meteor. Buyers in Holland were their main customers at the peak. Almarine were sending a container load of 30 Seafires a month there.
Consignment of Almarines being packed for transportation to Holland. Not quite like today.
Almarine Javlin very rare
Meanwhile at Almarine John was now designing a much bigger boat called the Javelin. The Javelin had 2 Rotax engines and 2 UA water jet units and was around 16 feet long. A very rare boat now. I only know of three.
Link Leisure in the USA sold Seafires and Meteors but information from Sarah Bristoe (Doug Barletts daughter) who worked for Alma states she cannot find any licencing agreements. John left Almarine and moved to the USA just before Almarine closed in 1976. He worked with Link Leisure, but due to under investment the company only lasted 2 years.
In the meantime the Seafire moulds were sold to local builders Harold Brothers of Diss. They continued making Seafires although theirs did not have the ‘A‘ on the rear panel but did have small circular disc on the front dash with a serial number. Tony Harold says they made of lot of yacht tenders for davits and also the Almarine Racers. They also finished off and sold a few left over Meteors, but they didn’t manufacture them. When they had too much building work to continue with the boats, they sold the moulds to a Canadian company who had been buying many Seafires from them. Eventually Classic Moulds of Diss ended up with some moulds, but Sarah is unsure as to whether they actually made any boats. It is known that they did, because a boat builder near Stalham told me they had as he worked for them on nights.
John was surprised to find such interest in the Mitcham and Almarine boats. Especiually as he was to return to the UK in retirement in 2014. It was possibly because I had always enjoyed them; and when I started the Old Speed Boats web site and Forum in 2000, I featured them with Albatross and Dowty. I had owned about three previously because they were small, fast, fun and could be skied behind.
Alma Components was sold to an American company Hamlin Electronics in 1976. Hamlin had no interest in the Seafire boats because they made bigger boats.
I own two of Johns very rare Mitcham Spitfires. One with a UA water jet unit and the other with a 20HP outboard. Both go like scolded cats and lift out with the outboard is phenomenal.
Mitcham Spitfire Inboard Jet
Mitcham Spitfire Outboard
See the restoration pages for both boats.