While Poland's famous Gdansk shipyards face an uncertain future, the country's yachting industry, centred in the northern Lake District, is experiencing phenomenal growth and is set to become a European yacht-building hub. Exports already reach almost all corners of the world due to a combination of good quality and low prices helped by the falling dollar.
"We hold first place in Europe in the production of sailing yachts six to nine metres long," claims Marek Slodownik, an official in the Polish Chamber of Boating Industry.
Slodownik says that yachts hold sixth place on the list of exported industrial products, with more than 95% of the sailing and motor yachts made in Poland now going for export, chiefly to Germany, the UK, France and Norway. "Sales of yachts grew by 12% in 2006 against 2005, and 2007 is expected to be quite a good year too," predicts Slodownik.
Indeed, the value of exported yachts was PLN440m (€123m) in the first six months of 2007, Poland's Central Statistical Office reports, with about 9,000 yachts sold abroad during the period. Norway bought 1,900 yachts, France 1,800, and Germany 1,500. Polish yachts, in smaller quantities, were exported to French Polynesia, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. "The yacht-building sector is growing swiftly and Poland can become a European centre in the area of yacht construction," reckons Marek Wilanowski, owner and CEO of the company Skipper Yachts, another major Polish producer that expects to boost production by 30% next year. "Our future is exports."
Diving for pearls
The situation of the yacht-building business stands in stark contrast to that of the country's shipbuilding one. The government's battle to save the Gdansk shipyard with dollops of aid, despite criticism from the European Commission, culminated in an agreement in November to sell the complex to a Ukrainian company. Even so, the shipyard now employs only about 3,000 people,...