Fancy a change of career? How about becoming a boat builder? There is an academy in Dorset that could change your life…Words Paula McWaters
Early summer at the Boat Building Academy in Lyme Regis and 16 students are completing the nine boats they started crafting less than eight months before. Launch date is in three weeks and there is a lot of tweaking to be done before the boats are ready for their maiden voyages.
The boatshed floor is covered with shavings; the workbenches are a mass of chisels and clamps; and the air is ringing with the sound of industrious carpentry. Ex-automotive engineer Matthew Goode is well on with his modern version of a Norwegian faering (a four-oared rowing boat) in glued ply, while ex-servicemen George Herivel and Will Heward are fitting out the intricate latticework floor on a 13ft clinker sailing boat. Seven boats are new-builds and two are substantial restoration projects, with the students working together to get them finished.
LEARNING TRADITIONAL SKILLS
The standard is very high. It is easy to forget that these graceful vessels started life as nothing more than planks of wood – or in one case, rolls of glass fibre. Academy Principal Yvonne Green is proud of the students’ progress. ‘Some of them had barely any hand tool skills when they started and now look at them. Our aim is to kit them out for work. There is a great skills shortage, particularly in traditional boat building, and we give our students the competence and the confidence to make themselves useful in a boatyard from day one.’
The Academy was set up in 1997, primarily for midlife career changers, but, says Yvonne, ‘we attract students of all ages and life stages’. Past students include Ian Thomson who now employs BBA graduates to build space-saving sectional boats for his Nestaway company. Many of the instructors are BBA graduates, such as Matt Law, who says, ‘I get a real buzz from being part of the students’ progression. They learn how to analyse, assess and evaluate their own work and they end up as very capable people.’ Instructor Justin Adkin adds: ‘We take them right through from ordering plans to build and fit-out.’
And while the students will be happy to see the boats finished, there is a sense that they will be sorry to leave. Friendships, as well as future working partnerships, are being forged along with the boats.
The Boat Building Academy, Lyme Regis Marine Centre, Monmouth Beach, Dorset DT7 3JN (boatbuildingacademy.com). There are two 40-week boat building courses a year, leading to a City & Guilds 2463 Level 3 Diploma in Marine Construction, Systems Engineering and Maintenance. Other related short courses are on offer.
50, from Zurich, Switzerland
HER BOAT A gunter-rigged, strip-planked sailing dinghy in Western red cedar.
HER STORY ‘I got interested in boat building five years ago. I became friends with the guys at a local boatyard and they helped me restore a wooden rowing boat. When I saw this programme I knew it was for me.
I left my job as a graphic designer and my very supportive husband behind to do this – we’re thinking of going into business together when I get back to Switzerland, as he makes specialist boat parts.
This has been fantastic. My co-worker on this boat is Richard Jolly; he’s going to tow it to Lake Zurich. It will be so exciting to launch it. I am only just beginning to realise how much I have learned. When I look at this boat, I think, “Wow! We did that”.’
33, from Sheffield, Yorkshire
HIS BOAT Restoration of Scoop, a 1987 glass fibre, multi-purpose motor launch.
HIS STORY ‘I used to be a diver, but I got married last year and my wife and I decided to settle on dry land.
‘When I joined the course I planned to make a strip-planked canoe but it would have been a quick project, so I decided to restore a motorboat instead. It’s been great experience working on glass reinforced plastic. We’ve cut out the floor and built a new structure and frames. Now, I’m adding wooden detailing. It will look like new. The skills I have learned will come in useful: I have been offered a job working with a guy who restores old Bentleys. I’m heading inland for once.’
26, from Reading, Berkshire
HIS BOAT Restoration of Elizabeth R, a 1952 Cornish clinker-built motor launch.
HIS STORY ‘I did a degree in sculpture in 2008 and a year later made a Canadian canoe with a friend, which we paddled from London to Wales and back. I saw a link to the Academy website and thought it looked amazing. I teamed up with Alasdair Bartlett to buy this launch to restore; everyone thought we were mad. But now it looks great. We’ve learned so much. This has been a rare experience: to be with people of different ages and backgrounds. It has cemented something in me: the skills you learn here, you can take with you anywhere. I’d like to work for the British Antarctic Survey doing boat maintenance. I’m sure that’s achievable.’ See Jack and Alasdair’s blog on toofitforfirewood.tumblr.com
18, from Banagher, Ireland
HIS BOAT Tiny Might, a plywood speedboat on a cedar frame with an engine from a jet ski.
HIS STORY ‘I’ve been around boats all my life; my father owns a marina on the River Shannon. I saw this course in a magazine and as soon as I’d finished school I was over here. I bought an old speedboat and our instructor suggested putting a jet ski engine in it. It has saved me about £4,000 but it’s been a series of mind games getting it to work. The engineering side has been brilliant. I’ll work for my dad for a while and then go travelling. I’d like to work in a boatyard in Lake Tahoe or Australia eventually.’