The story of 'boat insurance at the touch of a button'
by Mark Jardine on 16 Mar
16 March 2017
Mark Lee of Craftinsure at the RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show © Mark Jardine / YachtsandYachting.com
We spoke to Mark Lee to find out more about his own sailing and the story of starting Craftinsure, the marine insurance company which pioneered 'boat insurance at the touch of a button', when the internet was still in its infancy compared to what it is today.
Mark Jardine: How did you first start sailing?
Mark Lee: I was taught to sail in Hong Kong by the Royal Engineers in 1972 (my father was there on a posting with the Army); we sailed at Fort Stanley in Bosuns and Enterprises. It was great fun and a lovely place to sail. I did get very sunburnt, and that was one of my early memories, but I've had a love of boats ever since.
Mark Jardine: Was this sailing just messing about in boats?
Mark Lee: Very much so. The first boat we ever owned as a family was a Mirror dinghy which my dad bought at the Ideal Home Exhibition. We used to go on camping holidays and the Mirror used to always come with us, and one of the best holidays we ever had was in the long, hot summer of '76 where we camped on Filby Broad and had the dinghy with us for that holiday; it was just brilliant.
Mark Jardine: Since then you've sailed in a number of classes. What was your next step, and your first real experience of racing?
We were subsequently based in Dover, and sailed in Dover Harbour from the Royal Cinque Ports Yacht Club which ran a Winter Series that was open to lots of classes. Fortunately Dover Grammar School had, amongst others, Martin Styles (father of Hugh) who is a very keen sailor. His enthusiasm spread across all the children that he taught: sailing amongst his pupils during my own school holidays encouraged and help me build my sailing skills too. We used to sail in boats like Streakers, Lasers, and the Junior Leaders Regiment in Dover had some Bosuns, and so we used to take part in the racing in the harbour. We also went and sailed in events like the Southport 24hr Race, which was great fun, and, believe it not, the Three Rivers Race twice in a Scorpion which for a deck-stepped boat was ridiculous (shooting bridges involves lowering the rig)! I remember practising taking the mast down with Rob Smith in Dover Harbour and the Harbour Patrol Boat rushing over to us to find out what on earth we were doing and whether we needed any assistance!
Mark Jardine: You sailed the Scorpion for quite some time after this.
Mark Lee: I went to join Hythe and Saltwood Sailing Club, just down the coast, which was a bit of a Scorpion stronghold. I'm still actually a member of the Class Association, even though I no longer own one. I had many happy years sailing one; they're a great boat with lovely people in the class.
Mark Jardine: At the time you were sailing a Scorpion you were involved in Commercial Insurance, but another sailor in the Scorpion class, Rob Cage, was involved in Marine Insurance. This in a round-about way is what led to the start of Craftinsure. Could you describe how Craftinsure first started up?
Mark Lee: We were both working with Eagle Star, Rob was also working with Navigators & General for a while and was then in the city as a Cargo Underwriter, and I was working in the city as a Commercial Sales Manager. About the time that Zurich took over Eagle Star we both left and he decided that a quote engine for boats online might be the way forward, right at the infancy of 'quote and buy' on the internet, and we built Craftinsure together, to what it is today. The original design specification for the software firm was to have the quote in front of a customer within eight seconds of being online, which was a very difficult thing to achieve with dial-up internet which was so much slower than today's broadband. The website engine is broadly unchanged since its first design so we think we pretty much got it right from the off.
Mark Jardine: This was pioneering back in 2000/01, as things on the internet were pretty basic. You must have had some huge technological hurdles to overcome, and to get it right early on must have been a very difficult challenge.
Craftinsure came into existence whilst Rob and I worked for Württ (embergische (UK) Ltd). We were very fortunate to have in charge of the IT part of the firm, a German reinsurance company, a guy called Tony Ledger who totally understood what we were trying to achieve. We threw away the rule book a bit to make it happen, but without cutting any corners, our underwriting result has proved the test of time. Certainly early on, like any new business, we had a few issues and struggles but I'm pleased to say we came through those. I do remember selling insurance at the same time as selling ice creams on my local golf course at one stage to pay the bills! I was occasionally answering phone calls from customers on our website which was strictly taboo as anyone who plays golf will know!
Mark Jardine: Who came up with the line 'Boat insurance at the touch of a button'?
Mark Lee: The strap-line and the logo, which people will know today, were partly the idea of our software house Coreview and partly Rob's. Our strap-line and panting spinnaker, which is an allusion to our love of sailing, have stayed with us ever since. We actually insure all sorts of boats, and have a great reputation on the inland waterways in the motorboat and narrowboat communities as well. It's there for all boats really, not just for dinghies or sailboats. Our aim remains to cut out the middle man and to offer savings from internet trading to our customers in the form of cheaper premiums.
Mark Jardine: Talking of other types of boats, you've also sailed quite a few keelboats, in yachts such as the Sonata. What did you enjoy most about Sonata sailing?
Mark Lee: I sailed Sonatas at Medway Yacht Club, where there still is a big fleet. One of the nicest things about the Sonata is that it was a David Thomas design as a pocket cruiser-racer, and it really ticked all the boxes. Tim Townsend and I both had young families at the time, and to be able to take your kids for a picnic and stay overnight on it and then it being a great boat to race as well was perfect. There was a big fleet of them at the time and you could tow it behind a car, so we took ours twice to Ireland and once up to Scotland to take part in championships. It's still a fantastic little boat and one that you can pick up for less than the cost of some of the modern dinghies.
Mark Jardine: As well as the keelboat sailing, since the Scorpion, you've sailed in Contenders and most recently Wayfarers with your wife Jane. How much fun are you having in the Wayfarer together?
Mark Lee: The Wayfarer is another great family boat. Just recently we went down to Poole and David Harding took a great photo of us which appeared on YachtsandYachting.com I'm pleased to say! It's a fun boat, very safe, but which you can compete if you want to race. We've done both, we've cruised and raced and we keep it at our local reservoir, sailing from Broxbourne Sailing Club where we now live in Hertfordshire. When we get time we really enjoy using it.
Mark Jardine: With classes such as the Wayfarers, the GP14s and Merlin Rockets, Craftinsure are very active in supporting those circuits. What does that mean for Craftinsure as a company and why do you choose to support sailing in that way?
Mark Lee: Craftinsure, became a privately owned company shortly after launch, and we had to find a new underwriter. We were very fortunate to find at Navigators & General, the chief underwriter at the time - Rod Daniel who now works alongside me at Craftinsure. He clearly saw the value in what we were doing and, as part of our partnership with Navigators & General ever since, we have looked after two or three of their schemes, the Wayfarers and GP14s in particular have long established links with Navigators & General, and Craftinsure are very proud to be looking after those. We saw the Merlins as a particularly fine development class where we were happy to put something back into the industry by supporting their travellers' circuit.
Mark Jardine: It's been fascinating seeing Craftinsure grow from when you initially started up and it's great to see a pioneering company, which changed how dinghy insurance was done online, thriving into the company it is today. Many thanks for your time.
Mark Lee: Thank you!
Find out more about Craftinsure at www.craftinsure.com