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Interview: Edward Thomas, founder of Gym Marine and Bosun aboard a 45m Heesen

With the summer season in full swing and the superyacht fleet in general experiencing it's busiest period of the year in the Mediterranean; thoughts are now beginning to turn once again towards the future.

We caught up with Edward Thomas, founder of Gym Marine and Bosun aboard a 45m Heesen to talk industry and innovation.

YS: Hi Ed, how are you?

E: Good, thank you; I'm currently drifting around the stunning Archipélago Cabrera off the southeast tip of Mallorca- it's a beautiful day and the guests are ashore, so we're catching our breath a bit!

YS: Sounds lovely, how's the season going so far?

E: It's been an interesting one, that's for certain. We were hauled out in the yard at Genoa in late March to have some major structural work done having sustained damage to the keel; a repair which lasted over 4 seemingly endless months. It's good to be back in the water though, and especially so to be back in Mallorca straight away- I love it here!

YS: Crikey- what an ordeal, I can see why you're pleased to be back afloat!

E: Yes it was, but we all learnt stacks from it- working in the shipyard can be pretty exciting as there are lots of new things going on that are miles away from the regular wash-down/chamois routine we're all so used to during charter seasons. The structural repair work taking place was particularly interesting and the mechanics of the project management involved in a major job like that were fascinating too. Plus I spent a lot of time driving a cherrypicker...

YS: Tell us a bit about Gym Marine- how did you come to the idea?

E: It really came about at the end of my first year in the industry working on a 55m Feadship in the USA. We had a set of dumbbells which used to live on the sun-deck all year round; displayed in a basket on charter and stored in a locker when the guests were away. Polishing them before every trip used to absolutely infuriate me, much to the rest of the deck crew's amusement. But seriously- these things rusted overnight, and no matter how much cling-film we wrapped them in or how carefully we dried them every morning they were simply a nightmare. I used to sit there polishing away at midnight after the guests had gone to bed cursing the fool who'd overlooked the purchase of rubber clad models! You should see how that set looks now...

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'Rust ridden dumbells aboard a yacht in America'

YS: So, in essence Gym Marine will sell corrosion-proof equipment?

E: We can't eliminate the corrosion element completely; the maritime environment will always offer up the perfect conditions for rust, but our product range has been carefully selected to include items which are made of materials which are more naturally suited to use at sea. We can offer items made of marine-grade stainless steel, or galvanised in zinc or nickel- along with obvious solutions like plastic and rubber cladding. Products in the range like the Concept 2 rowing machine come with 5 years of free replacement parts, and that includes corrosion damage. The general feeling is that by choosing the correct kit, yacht captains and managers are saving themselves money in the long term because the equipment has a longer life span. It's also easier to maintain and leaves one less thing for the deck crew to be worried about preparing for charter. We've also got a good number of support services we can back up equipment sales with, kind of like a warranty where we can offer emergency support on high value items like cross-trainers and send technicians, spare parts or replacements out to your boat wherever you are at short notice. I know what it's like when something breaks down on charter- all you want is someone to come along and take it away whilst delivering a new one, and thats what we want to offer..

YS: Interesting. So who's behind all this? You've never struck me as a fitness expert...

E: That's not fair! But yes, I have had some help. I've partnered up with a good friend who is the director of a leading online retailer of fitness equipment (gymmarine.com), and they have a well established business and a logistics network which spans the whole of Europe and further afield too. There's a service and retail centre in Barcelona and their links with suppliers and manufacturers are seriously impressive. For me this works really well because I have a passion for yachting and my business partner has a passion for fitness, and knows his market really well too. With his existing operation already booming we are ready to open up Gym Marine right away. The only thing we're waiting on is the website- which is in build and promises to look fantastic. If I could flick my fingers and have it done tomorrow I would, but these things unfortunately take time as ever..

YS: When will it launch then?

E: August 16th I hope- my birthday!

YS: And what's the bigger plan for the business following the launch?

E: We have a really clever contract-hire scheme that we're assembling the finer details of right now which is aimed at busy charter yachts. I've worked on boats before where the charterer has requested a week before the trip that we have a treadmill onboard because he's training for a marathon or something. Usually the crew have to run off to Decathlon or somewhere similar and buy a unit, which gets left on the dock after the charter because there's nowhere to store it onboard. Gym Marine will identify the right unit for your needs, drop it off at the boat before the trip, offer support during the cruise if it goes wrong and then take it away again for you wherever you drop off. This is going to save a few headaches!

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'The Concept 2 rower- Comes with a 5 year warranty'

The holy grail for me is engaging with new-builds and getting involved in designing the fitness space/wellness deck so that it best suits the needs of the boat, crew, and most importantly the new owner. Gym Marine already have a lot of experience designing luxury fitness spaces in private houses, and this is something we can translate easily onto yachts. It's all about ergonomics, layout and actually stowage- which is one of the major issues with bulky equipment at sea which can cause major damage to the yacht if incorrectly secured. The new-build market is growing still- in April 2014 there were 6 new orders alone, and 20 launches- all over 40m and the largest was 140m (Source: Boat International July 2014). I'd gamble that all of these boats had some sort of fitness offering onboard. I will be spending the months following the launch talking to yacht builders, management companies and naval architects to determine where in the process we can fit. For a new build we propose to design the space, deliver the branded equipment to the yacht's spec, train the crew on how best to use and maintain it, and then of course offer aftercare and kit reviews so that we can adapt the space to suit the owners changing fitness needs.

YS: You'll be busy then!

E: Yes, and I'm also studying for my OOW Yachting is an industry which is still stuck in the dark ages in a lot of ways, even though the yachts we work on and service are seriously hi-tech. A lot of bridge procedures and admin are frustratingly still paper-based and just need not be so. I was doing the GMDSS corrections on the bridge the other day and must have printed out over 200 pages, only to throw away their predecessors. Think what a dent in the rainforest GMDSS corrections alone are making the world over across all commercial vessels!! There's still lots to be done, and I'm really keen to find new ways of doing things in yachting using technology. My father won Ernst and Young's 'Entrepreneur of the Year' prize for his work in the tech space and I'd like to follow in his footsteps in some small way. You can 'like' our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/gymmarine/

YS: Well best of luck! We'll be looking out for the site launch and keep in touch.

E: Thanks, should anybody require any more information on what we're doing with Gym Marine or have any questions related to this interview then please feel free to drop me a line at hello@gymmarine.com 

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