Biz Extra

Published: November 26, 2021 | Updated: November 27, 2021

Traditional marine skills going back centuries are kept alive by the Boat Building Academy

By Andrew Diprose, editor

Coleman Marine Insurance, a Gallagher company, prides itself on a history of taking an active interest in the marine industry and its heritage.

As an island, the UK has depended upon its traditional boat building heritage, skills that could quite easily be forgotten if it were not for the likes of the Boat Building Academy in Lyme Regis.

Following a recent visit to the Academy by members of the Coleman Marine team, they felt compelled to take an active interest in the fine work undertaken and to spread the word.

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Will Reed, Director and Trustee, Boat Building Academy, Lyme Regis.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I live in Lyme Regis and am married to Bella who’s a graphic designer. We have 3 children; 10 year old Monty, 7 year old Edith and Hector who’s just 5 months old.

I initially joined the Boat Building Academy (BBA) as a student at the age of 27, back in 2006. I was already a furniture maker before that in Buckinghamshire and saw the boats as an expansion of my skills.  It was the beauty of wooden boats that attracted me and I find it fascinating working with complex compound curved shapes – boat building goes far beyond what you do with most furniture making. I’d always been interested in boats, enjoying narrow boats, kayaking and sailing.

During the course I built myself a sailing boat, a lateen rigged 21 ft daysailer. The course is highly practical and hands on. It includes bench joinery skills, planking skills, fibre glass, oar making, restoration, sail making, marine systems, engine fitting and servicing and there’s lofting which involves drawing the boats full size. It’s a fully immersive experience and intensive training course.

‘Life changing’ are the words to describe what the course did for me. We hear this all the time from our students who have done the course too. For most people it gives them a way into an incredible lifestyle – it’s definitely a lifestyle choice deciding to make boats for a living. It’s about doing something tangible and practical and gives you something with a physical end- product, which is so incredibly satisfying.

After I graduated from the BBA I ran a successful boat restoration and furniture making business in Wiltshire. However, I always stayed connected to the BBA and did some part time teaching and helped set up the furniture making course in 2009. In 2013 I moved back to Lyme Regis full time. I became the Director at the BBA in 2019, which I’m extremely proud of.

What is the history of the Boat Building Academy?

It was established in 1997 and is based in a seafront building which was built by the RAF in 1938 as a marine craft unit, and was home to RAF personnel. It formerly housed several large rescue boats to pick up pilots who had been gunned down or rescue crew from ships that had been destroyed.

The Academy was founded by a chap called Tim Gedge, a Naval Commander who flew Harriers in the Falklands. He was a big yacht racer and he was aware of a gap in the marine skills world and identified that there were not enough boat builders to fill all the positions. He set it up with the ambition to train people and fill this skills need. He retired from the business in April 2021 and now has the title of Honorary Life President.

Tell us about your flagship boat building course.

Our flagship 40-week boat building course teaches men and women how to build boats to industry standards. There is no strict skill requirement to join the course, all that is asked for is enthusiasm and dedication to the training. Tuition is practical and ‘hands-on’, with minimal classroom learning. The classroom learning is important, however, and prepares students for the City & Guilds Level 3 qualification. A bi-product of the training is that approximately 1 out of 3 students leave with a boat, which they’ve built collaboratively along with their fellow students.

Left to right: Eleanor Richoux, Lorraine McGowan, Emily Stokes, Obiama Oji, Donata Gocke and Cora Firth.

What type of people does the course attract?

We have up to 18 students on our 40 week course and run 2 courses a year. We attract a good mix of male and female students. People come from all over the UK and our reputation also brings in students from across the globe. We have a great reputation for excellence and as it’s vocational training we have a fantastic track record for getting people in to work.

We have a real mix of attendees with different motivations for joining. Our current course, for example, has 5 students in their 20s, a handful of retired people and the rest in between. We attract lots of people looking for a new career. Whilst it’s set up for professional training, some people in retirement decide to do it for the sheer joy of it.

We have 9 bedrooms on site to house students, and beyond that we have a good network of rooms and flats around town to put people up.

Our 40-week course covers all aspects of boat building, from traditional and modern wooden boat building, through to fibre glass. Graduates go on to jobs in all of these 3 areas. Most people are attracted to wooden boat building and have secured employment post course in some of the fabulous yards like Stirling & Son in Plymouth, Elephant Boat Yard in Southampton, Tommy Nielsen Boat Yard in Gloucester Docks and Spirit Yachts in Ipswich. Our graduates are highly sought after. There’s a real caché to certification from the Boat Building Academy.

The Academy was granted charity status in January 2020 and as a result of that we now offer bursaries to our students to help fund applicants who might otherwise not be able to afford their training. The bursary scheme aims to help the next generation of men and women to learn the fundamental skills and craft of boat building and furniture making. We are about to launch a fundraising campaign to raise funds to enable us to continue and grow our bursary support.

What other courses do you run?

We run a 12-week furniture making course which since its inception in 2009 has produced a stream of capable woodworkers who have worked in all aspects of the industry. It’s highly practical and intensive in nature and the course furnishes students with the key foundational skills required by the industry. In the latter part of the course students make a piece of furniture of their own design.

We also run 2 – 5 day short courses over a variety of subjects, ranging from introductory courses in woodworking and boat building, to more specialised courses, such as GRP repairs and wooden boat restoration. We are constantly trying to improve and want to be able to help more people.

What do people need to do if they are interested in attending one of your courses?

Our next 40-week course starts in March 2022, for which there are still places available. We would urge potential students to visit our web site boatbuildingacademy.com/ and to get in touch.

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Getting to know our team at Coleman Marine Insurance

Name: Dean Shaw.

Role: Development Executive.

How long have you been in the business?

Three years.

What’s your marine career background?

A brief stint working in yacht broking and sailing boat distribution, followed by a rather less brief stint in a small marine underwriting agency – part apprenticeship, part baptism of fire.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Lunch/Dinner/Golf with clients. You really get to the nub of a client’s needs and plans when with them off the reservation (and expensed food does taste better).

Use 3 words to describe yourself.

Impulsive, impatient…

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A wealthy retired restaurant critic.

Who do you most admire?

Henri Poincaré, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Albert Lasker, David Ogilvy. They all shaped the world we live in (one rather more visibly than the rest).

Tell us something about yourself that we don’t know.

I only recently broke my first egg.