I was always interested in making things and taking things apart. So after A levels in Physics, Chemistry and Maths, I chose Mechanical Engineering at Bristol University, UK, My first floating experience was in an inflatable toy boat before I could swim, and it was another forty years before I made my own float tank.
In the meantime I invented a whole lot of things for other people as a consultant in Europe. These went from toys to nuclear bits and pieces. For example I invented a better filter coffee machine, an electron beam recording machine (the forerunner of the CD), an award winning range of wheeled steel containers, the current BT coin accepting telephone, stuff like that. My apprenticeship was firstly in Aircraft during the development of Concorde and then in a major consultancy where I became chairman of senior consultants and promptly left to do my own thing.
For a while I lectured on Newtonian mechanics, design, production and materials at Brunel University.
I read John Lilly, “Centre of the Cyclone” some time around 1976 but it was not until I was asked to make a float pool in a suitcase to use in hotels that I really latched onto floating. It was of course a crazy idea but I realised the products around then were, what shall I say, not really designed to appeal to the eye. By that time I had experience not only of production engineering but also product design and I felt I could contribute. When the time came for me to take the plunge into having my own product, in 1999, the float tank was my goal. I wanted a niche product, ethical, possible for a one man band and fun to design. With my wife Gini we sold the first one at the start of the millenium having literally hand made all the patterns, it is now called the Tranquility and we still sell it today.
To our surprise we quickly became the major world supplier in terms of numbers sold and from the beginning international sales, thanks to our website, were what kept us afloat. That pun is inevitable I’m afraid.
We found with our next couple of products, cabins and the round one, that couple floating was very popular and we developed our cabin for two to supply commercial centres who could sell couple floating more easily than single floats to new customers.
By this time we had moved to Norfolk UK, a rural area, and progressed through increasing sized workshops until 2008 when the world financial crisis forced us to shrink again as sales halved overnight. Still though we were selling more than anyone else.
My background in the scientific, high tech. end of engineering has helped us to become expert in the background to floating which is much more complex that we thought or was on record when we started. I research disinfection, salt densities, shampoo chemistry, regulations around the world and feed this into Floataway’s products.
I float of course, I have floated all night on several occasions although usually it’s two hours for me. I have awoken to find myself in sleep paralysis, the water feels like a block of wood and that timeless experience, but no psychic awakenings or hallucinations. I prefer to concentrate on the natural self healing power of regeneration through relaxation.
Long time ago I read the little book by a hero of mine, Still, the book is called “the river of life”. Still was an amazing man, an American, he taught himself anatomy by digging up corpses and single handedly invented Osteopathy. He make himself a logging station in a forest to earn money to found both the London and Paris schools of Osteopathy. In his book he suggests that getting blood flow to damaged tissues is the secret that Osteopathy achieves, and I think he was right.
Floating does that too.
I guess as engineer, I believe that while any fool can make something work given enough time and money, you need an engineer to make it for the right price. I try to make float tanks affordable with a realistic return on investment, easy to self assemble and safe. As a designer I want the products to look right and sell themselves and to be thought through from the ground up. You don’t have to mad to be a small company manufacturer in a global niche market, but you do have to keep on trucking!
Colin Stanwell-Smith, Director, Floataway, Hingham, Norfolk, UK