A little bit about me before I joined the college

I’ve always loved making things and I have been both practical and creative from an early age. I have a formal education in the Arts (Photography) and firstly, I found work with a community arts charity and then in the environmental sector. Somehow I wasn’t entirely fulfilled by either of these career choices, nor was I thrilled by the prospect of working in an office or sitting at a computer for years on end.

However – and in the meantime – at the end of 2011 I was lucky enough to be able to buy a 60ft steel narrow boat. I bought it as a project, with the intention of renovating and refitting it so I could live aboard. After a few years of hard graft and enjoyment, I wanted to know more about boatbuilding and especially the traditional aspects of the subject. Enrolling at the International Boatbuilding Training College, Lowestoft, turned out to be an easy decision and perhaps one of the best life-choices I’ve ever made!

My year with IBTC:

I’ve been at IBTC Lowestoft for nearly a year now and am close to completing the course. I don’t recall a time in my life where I have learnt so much in such a short space of time. It seems that not a day has gone by where I haven’t learnt something significant about building boats, or resolving problems or nurturing the use of my hands, tools and head. It’s a credit to the college, and the instructors, that each student is guided through the course at his or her own pace, each of us achieving a level of craftsmanship that we can truly be proud of and which, at times, we all thought beyond our capabilities. The 12-week joinery course at the beginning was the perfect start. It taught us to read and understand wood, its strengths and weaknesses; to understand the advantages of one joint over another and to acquire the skills in marking, measuring and cutting to fine tolerances. Precision was drawn out of us at every step of the way. Joinery was all about honing our tool handling skills (and our planes!). The way to apply pressure to a chisel; the way to set up a plane to get a wafer thin cut; the way to position our bodies when using a coping saw. We made some really useful things whilst learning these skills – a carpenter’s mallet, oilstone box, bench hook, tool chest, bollow plane. It was wonderful to make some things that we will not just keep forever, but will keep us making things forever!

I have learnt that boatbuilding is a vast subject and one which could, and I hope will, provide a lifetime of learning and enjoyment. The International Boatbuilding Training College provide a learning experience in a real working boatyard; where all the boats worked on are for real clients, whether they are new-builds or are in for repair and restoration work. The emphasis has always been on quality and excellence, where phrases like “would that do for your own boat?” or “spend the extra few minutes to get it just right” or “Perfection! The only standard worth working to” are common. Jobs are allocated to students on a basis of what we need to learn rather than what needs to be done. As students work their way through the syllabus, jobs are found on this boat or that to achieve the different elements of learning; making a stem and apron, steaming timbers, fitting carvel or clinker planks for example.

For me, the variety of different boats in the yard has been a real advantage. One begins to understand that there is a wide variety of boat design and construction, depending on the boats’ intended use. While there are various ways to achieve an outcome, the fundamental principles of design, structure, strength, integrity and longevity normally guide the way. It is these guiding principles that seem to be the emphasis of the teachings. They provide a framework for thinking about and applying practical boatbuilding skills. bThe course also includes a series of short courses that weave in subjects that are intrinsic to traditional boat building: painting and varnishing; caulking; plumbing and electrics; knots and splicing; boat terminology, among others. These have been hugely informative and a great way to partition the year.

Moving on:

I have learnt so much in the past year but this only feels like the beginning! Once I’ve completed the course I will be trying to find work with a reputable yard or builder to continue my apprenticeship, with the aim of one day setting up on my own. I am currently applying for a position with Spirit Yachts in Ipswich.