Human Resources

Proud moment as boatbuilder’s first apprentice and longest-serving employee celebrates 45th anniversary

Dennis ‘Digger’ Barnes reaches his 45 year career milestone.

By Andrew Diprose [email protected]

Published: December 11, 2023 | Updated: 11th December 2023

Sunseeker International’s first apprentice and longest-serving employee has celebrated his 45th anniversary with the Poole-based boatbuilder.

On his first day in 1978 Dennis ‘Digger’ Barnes received clock card number 16 at the start of what was to become an impressive career.

Joining as a Trainee Engineer under the guidance of the then-28-year-old John Braithwaite, Dennis’s early impact was evident as he quickly impressed the Braithwaite family with his engineering acumen.

It was at a time when marine apprenticeships only existed for larger commercial ships in East Yorkshire.

Dennis was encouraged to pursue a ‘Heavy Vehicle Engineering’ course.

Dennis 'Digger' Barnes of Sunseeker

Dennis ‘Digger’ Barnes

Forty-five years ago Sunseeker produced just one boat per week at the West Quay Road workshop.

Today, the original shipyard has expanded sixfold since the late 1960s, evolving into a critical site for testing and finishing yachts before they embark on a global journey to owners.

With a current workforce of 2,200 people, Dennis now serves as a Lifecycle Manager for Sunseeker International, overseeing quality assurance.

Over the course of his 45-year tenure, he has generously shared his wealth of boat building knowledge with hundreds of apprentices and colleagues.

From a Trainee Engineer, Dennis was promoted to a Foreman in 1988 and subsequently a Manager at Willis Way.

In 1987, the site produced up to 28 boats per month.

By 1999, Dennis was appointed Site Manager.

Today, Willis Way is a dedicated 55-foot build facility for Superhawk, Predator, and Sport Yacht models.

The Sunseeker Manhattan 60 launched in 2005. This yacht range remains a popular choice for owners world

The Sunseeker Manhattan 60 launched in 2005. This yacht range remains a popular choice for owners world

One of the standout moments in Dennis’s career occurred at Willis Way when he and his team successfully delivered one 60-foot yacht every five days to meet unprecedented demand for the Manhattan 60.

The ambitious project resulted in the construction of 69 boats in just 18 months, a feat Dennis considers the pinnacle of his career.

He said: “The Manhattan 60 project is my proudest achievement in my 45-year career.”

In early 2000, Dennis established the first formal marine apprenticeship scheme alongside two former Sunseeker employees and a local college.

The award-winning Sunseeker apprenticeship programme known today is the result of Dennis’ blueprint in training, ensuring a legacy of skilled boat builders.

He said: “Teaching people and passing the knowledge that I’ve learned over the years to other people so that they can carry on what we’ve got at Sunseeker, has inspired me to stay at Sunseeker for 45 years.

In 2021, Dennis’s role evolved to Lifecycle Manager, reflecting his expertise in planning, people management, production engineering, and build processes.

He acknowledges the visionary dream of founder Robert Braithwaite.

He said: “I wouldn’t be where I am today, and with the knowledge, I have without the two Braithwaite brothers.”

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