Yacht a super place to base our business in

Outside the OceanWeb office is, front, Sara and Dr Ben Hextall with Sara's brother Damian Brand and other members of the team

Outside the OceanWeb office is, front, Sara and Dr Ben Hextall with Sara's brother Damian Brand and other members of the team

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Bosses of an expanding company that has moved into new premises in Port Erin are hoping they will inspire other businesses to be based in the south.

OceanWeb Ltd provides marine IT and communications to superyachts around the world.

Nearly 100 of the vessels, owned by wealthy individuals and business concerns, and worth millions of pounds, rely on the company for their internet connections.

For several years the business was based above a shop in Church Road in the village.

But as the firm expanded and more people were taken on the rented premises became more and more cramped.

Managing director Dr Ben Hextall said they were determined to stay in the ‘beautiful south’ and launched a hunt for suitable premises.

They found the answer in the former Wesleyan Sunday School in Victoria Square, next door to the Erin Arts Centre.

Ben, 50, looked around the new offices which have been carefully converted and told Business News: ‘This is such a beautiful building.

‘This has been a long labour of love but we are delighted with the result. It has all been worth it.’

His wife, Sara, 49, director of the business, said: ‘We have kept many of the original features of the old building, such as the gothic arches and the great thing is that the place is designed for expansion in the future.’

Dr and Mrs Hextall have bought the building,dating back to the early 1930s, from village resident Sheena Maddrell. They successfully gained planning permission and change of use from a workshop to include office accommodation. The couple and five other people now work there. Ben and Sara said they have in some respects kept the business ‘low key’ in terms of publicity but this will no longer be the case as they fly the Manx flag to the outside world.

They praised builder Dave Dixon and everyone else involved in what they described as ‘epic’ conversion work.

Sara said: ‘This is an office building for the future as we hopefully expand and take on more people. We hope we might be able to inspire other businesses of the benefits of living and working in the south of the island.’

Sara, maiden name Brand, and who attended Castle Rushen High School, said: ‘We want to continue growing our business and providing a great service for our clients around the world, bringing more business into the Isle of Man and employing more people.

‘Everything we have done here is future proof. We have all the capability to put more desks up if we need to and every step of the way we have been trying to keep one step ahead.’

Sara’s brother Damian Brand, 41, is the IT manager at the business.

He showed Business News a large screen on the wall which indicates where the superyachts are in the world that use their services.

There are approaching 100 of them dotted about.

Sara and Ben say they have won more clients through word of mouth and by building up an excellent reputation with captains and senior crew of the superyachts.

They point out that the ‘must attend’ event every year in the yachting calendar is the MonacoYacht Show where they meet up with contacts in the close-knit world of superyachts.

Damian said he was preparing to go out to Palma in Majorca this week to work on a new installation on a yacht.

Visitors to the Port Erin business pass a dome at the front on the approach to the front door. Domes like this are put on superyachts to receive satellite and internet communications.

Damian said: ‘A dome has already been shipped out to the yacht [in Palma] but we have to put the network equipment together and then install and commission.’

Sara said that before the dome went up with the name of the business displayed, people in Port Erin had been taking a keen interest in the building with some coming in off the street to find our more.

Last Friday it was the turn of the island’s lieutenant governor Sir Richard Gozney to pay a visit and to officially open the OceanWeb Ltd office.

Speaking to Business News before His Excellency’s visit Mr and Mrs Hextall said they were delighted to be helping to put Port Erin on the map.

OceanWeb Ltd is essentially a specialist provider of high quality marine communication ‘solutions’ for the yachting industry. They provide a ‘one stop’ service, fulfilling communications requirements for superyachts including expert consultation, equipment and airtime provision and complete management of these communication and airtime services.

In fact Ben had only just arrived back home in the island following a short trip to Italy on business.

Ben studied Marine Biology at the University of Liverpool.

His successful career included time working at Port Erin’s Marine Laboratory before it closed. He met proud Manxwoman Sara there - her father Andy was also a lecturer there.

OceanWeb was created in 1997 when Ben’s services were required on the IT and satcoms for the Team Group 4 Yacht taking part in the Vendee Globe, reputed to be the hardest and most arduous sailing race in the world.

There were further projects on board racing yachts including Whitbread, Volvo, BT Global Challenge, Clipper Ventures.

But the business developed as he concentrated on the high end superyachts.

Sara said she deals with all non-technical issues.

The couple have two children, Alex, 16 and Jasmine, 13.

There are many interesting features of the new headquarters. They include a chill out room with two bean bags which can only be reached by ladder.

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