Friday, 7 September 2018

Meeting Shari



Shari, fresh from a week on Pioneer, breezes into the room. A huge beaming smile greets me, “I’m sorry, I must stink” she gasps. She doesn’t at all! She is radiant, windswept and utterly exhausted but has agreed to talk to me about her time spent working for The Pioneer Sailing Trust before she heads off on her next mission - to try and free Morgan, the orca whale, held in captivity in the Canary Islands. Born in the Seychelles on 2nd June 1986, Shari’s family moved to Cape Tribulation in the far north of Australia when she was 18 months old. Early days were spent being educated by ‘the School of Air’ where they were sent educational toys and puzzles in the post before going on to the High School in Cairns.  Her passionate love of sailing began when, aged 16, she was sent on a sail training week aboard a large schooner and her love of the sea blossomed.



A young passenger (left) and Shari (right) navigate Brightlingsea waters on Trinity.

Later that year her mother brought her to England to live in Hereford, close to her grandparents. It was a huge move, starting afresh in a new school, new friends, all very daunting at that young age. However in true Aussie style she embraced it, studying ‘A’ levels in Modern History, Politics, Sociology and Archeology. She then accepted an unconditional offer from Essex University to read International Relations and Politics. Essex Uni was close to the sea, a major factor in her choice! 

Pioneer CK18 as seen from a drone.

Following her gap year back in Australia, this energetic young girl started life at University, living in Wivenhoe and working at the Station Pub to earn some extra money. How incredible it would be to have a job working and sailing at the same time she thought. Some fruitful conversations led her to a few unpaid yacht deliveries and the next stage of her plan was to head down to the Mediterranean and find work on a super yacht. This required several courses on Health and Safety and various other skills which ate up her savings, leaving her unable to afford to travel out there. Frustrated, she continued working at the pub and by chance a great friend, Alex, who had previously worked on Pioneer, told her about the Bosun’s job available at Pioneer. Was this to be her opportunity? Sadly not at this time as Alex got the job! 

Shari using a blowtorch and a scraper to strip Pioneer of her old paint.



Josh (left), Matt Baker (middle), and Shari (right)
pose for a picture on Pioneer during Countryfile filming.
However, she started to volunteer for the Trust as an extra pair of hands when needed and when Alex decided to move on she stepped comfortably into his spot as Bosun. Her role is hugely varied - in her words “I do as the mate tells me!” The mate is 22 year old Josh with whom she works closely as they are the 2 permanent members of staff on Pioneer with 4 skippers working in rotation. She is going to miss his banter and sense of humour! The sailing season runs between April and October with the winter months spent taking the boat apart for general maintenance. The worse bit about the job - cleaning the heads, but the best, well, where should she begin....?  The biggest part of her role has been to make sure people feel comfortable and safe aboard. If they don’t, they won’t have fun and Shari wants to show them how exhilarating sailing can be. 

Madi (left), Josh (middle), and Shari (right) pause in stripping Pioneers paint for a photo.

She exudes such a love for life which must be extremely contagious. Her warm personality shines through and her eyes light up as she describes how rewarding the days on Pioneer are. She is a wonderful role model to young and old alike. Groups have included Emmaeus, the homeless charity, Young Carers, a charity supporting young people caring for an ill or disabled parent and many other special needs groups. Listening to her talk about people making new friendships, the shared experiences, the sense of family, team-work, the cancer sufferers, the opening up of emotions, the laughter, the tears, the talking, the heartbreaking stories, makes us both feel incredibly grateful for all that we have and just how rewarding her job has been. She is moved to tears by her passion for the role and by the realisation that she is moving on.

School children from Stevenage pose with Pioneers crew- Shari can be seen on the far left.


This extraordinary girl has many more strings to her bow. She has taken time off to work for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in Japan, highlighting the tragic capturing and killing of dolphins. She has loved returning to Pioneer as she feels the boat is her ‘happy’ place even on a cold, miserable British day! The next stage of her life will take her to Tenerife to join the Free Morgan Foundation which is trying to free a female orca held at the Loro Parque in Tenerife. As she says “if I don’t at least try, I will fail, so I am going to keep trying” This bright and ebullient young woman has been a key part of The Pioneer Sailing Trust. I sensed by talking to other members of the team just how much she will be missed and I feel honoured to have met her.


Passengers from Emmaeus enjoy a heary meal in Pioneers galley alongside Shari (left).

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Volunteering at Pioneer Sailing Trust


Volunteering at Pioneer Sailing Trust
By: Gemma Bailey & Jasmine von Kaenel



During the half term of the New Year, Gemma and I had the pleasure to go and see what goes on behind the scenes and take part  at  the Pioneer  Sailing Trust.  During the last week of October Gemma and I had an immense experience aboard the Pioneer herself.  


In the New Year Gemma and I decided to do some volunteering at Pioneer since we had such an amazing time before. When we do anything with Pioneer, we are always looked after and are guaranteed to have a super time. This year we worked in the workshop, preparing Pioneer for the sailing season.

I did a whole week and Gemma did three days, but even with such limited time it was a brilliant experience.  We worked hard and everyone made us feel welcome!  On Monday, I worked on the blocks, sanding them down getting ready for the top coat.  After lunch, we got the rudder from the Pioneer and started to scrape away the old paint ready to apply the wood preserver.  Tuesday was very much of a continuation of Monday, but still was quite fun.  

Then finally on Wednesday, Gemma started and we both got the job to sand down some gig oars.  Then, after lunch we had the privilege to tape boards of plywood and then cut them with the jigsaw (which was pretty cool). After that we decided to do “A more fun job?” says Gemma, so we got to do some planing and sharpening of blades, which kind of ended up as a completion  between one another, “ Who’s Planing board looked the best?”.

The next day on Thursday, we started to sand down some other oars and clean them in white spirit.  After we did that a few times we took them into another room to start  varnishing them (this was                                                a Zen moment).

 

Then, on our last day, Friday, we got some sand paper and removed any bumps or dips, to create the perfect finish.  Afterwards  we had to put some more coats of varnish on the oars to get a glossy look. Then after our tea and coffee break we got on to making this blog, hoping to share our experience and to influence other younger people to do something as great as the Pioneer Sailng Trust. This has definitely been a once in a life time experience creating a new path and an interesting future.
   






Friday, 29 May 2015

Meeting Felicity by Julia Jones

Meeting Felicity


Felicity at the Tall Ships event last year
Felicity Lees is the Operations Manager for Pioneer Sailing Trust. She's 31 and has already worked for five years at Harker's Yard. Looking back, however, one could argue that Felicity has been in training for this post since the age of 9 when her parents sent her together with her twin sister and her brother on a week's activity holiday with Fellowship Afloat. Fellowship Afloat (http://www.fact.org.uk/_ is based on the lightship Trinity moored in the  Tollesbury saltings. This was already a familiar area as Felicity's parents had a yacht on the saltings. She was mainly used as a weekend base, a floating caravan and the family rarely took her out. Felicity's first week on Trinity was life-changing. She learned to sail, to have fun and adventure, to socialise. The memory that has stayed with her most strongly over the years was being offered the helm of a Sou’wester and told to aim at some distant sea mark. After a few moments the skipper moved forward to collect his jumper, or some such, and she realised that she was being given real responsibility, was being trusted. 

Felicity and her twin sister talked and talked about the events of that first holiday. Then, with their brother, they were given a Mirror dinghy and the adventures began. She described how she loved the Arthur Ransome 'Swallows and Amazons' series and demanding that her mother read them to her again and again.
“Why didn't you read them yourself?” I asked her.
“I don't know. I simply loved the way that my mother read them to us, sitting on the deck of our own boat, in those magical Tollesbury saltings.”
Felicity and her brother and sister set out to create their own Ransomesque adventures – sailing their Mirror dinghy across to Bradwell, lighting fires, catching crabs, finding hiding places and making stinging nettle soup. Back on the saltings they would follow the board-walks for long distances up towards the Old Hall marshes and then set themselves the challenge to return without touching any wood. This would involve creek-jumping, wading, swimming and getting covered in mud which they could then wash off in the Tollesbury salt-water swimming pool. They explored wrecks and made up ghost stories.

Her parents were loving, caring, concerned but busy –  both of them in full time jobs (her mother was a midwife) – and perhaps they hadn't realised Felicity was not doing well at school. Middle school was a painful memory as some teachers made her feel a failure. This left her at the time with a personal lack of confidence. But that experience now gives her an immediate empathy with other people whose schooling has left them convinced that they “can't learn”.
Directing the "swamp test" needed to help develop safety 
Earlier in our meeting she was describing how she had battled a local school to convince them to allow a student to join Harker's Yard on work experience one day a week.
“The way they were talking made me so angry. Everything they were saying was negative,” she said.
Personally if I was a school, or a community group or a funding body I would give Felicity  whatever she wanted. She is so determined, thoughtful and clear.

Man Over Board drills with primary schools 
Whether or not her teachers noticed, the week at Fellowship Afloat and Felicity's passion for sailing  gradually transformed her level of achievement. She was still a dreamer, still obsessed by sailing but now that she knew she wanted to spend more and more time at Fellowship Afloat she realised that she was going to need to get her school work done so that her parents would let her go. She got involved with the RYA qualifications scheme and passed her level 2 at the age of 11 - at the same time as her  Key Stage Two SATs. She began to love this different sort of learning. She also noticed from the slightly older youngsters, who were volunteer instructors and role models on board Trinity that she wanted to be better at school. So she pushed her self to do better. One type of learning reinforced the other. As she struggled to calculate tidal heights, for instance, she discovered that maths generally was becoming easier. Finally she began achieving at school as well as outside and made it to Essex University, not just for her undergraduate degree but for a Masters in English Literature with Professor Marina Warner, no less. (And for those of you who don't know, at this point you bow your head in intellectual acknowledgement – or, at the very least you smother a reverential gasp).

Felicity had a gap year before she went to university and spent it working with Fellowship Afloat. This was the point at which she really began to understand how fortunate she'd been in her own childhood and how tough life was for many other people. She met children who had been physically deformed by the Chernobyl disaster, for instance. At Fellowship Afloat she went sailing every day, whatever the weather. She became hardy but she also learned that sailing by itself wasn't enough for her, it was the people that mattered. This is the attitude that informs her work at Pioneer. The essence of the job is to use sailing, the environment, the yard, Pioneer herself to make a beneficial difference to people's lives.

A  sailing trip to Holland with the apprentices to visit other boat yards
Operations Manager is a varied job. Felicity has responsibility for the sail training groups on Pioneer as well as for aspects of the management of the apprentices in Harkers Yard. She also liaises with local community groups, other charities, volunteers and funders. It would probably take a whole new blogpost to do justice to the range of activities she undertakes and the variety of people she meets as she works. I think I'll return to the influences of her childhood and the Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons analogy. I asked her which character she would have liked to be, expecting the answer Titty, the imaginative, thoughtful story-teller – Felicity had described herself as 'dreamy'. But no. “Who was the tough one?” That was Nancy.
“Yes, as a child I'd like to have been Nancy.” Then she paused and we both felt united in our appreciation of the confident resourceful Amazon pirate who has captured so many Ransome readers' hearts. “Except now in my job I'm Susan,” she added.


Felicity talking to Penny on launch day of HLF clothing project
Susan, for those who don't know was the child who took care of warmth and safety and making sure that fires stayed alight and there were regular meals. Few children would ever have admitted to wanting to be Susan. The combination however of Nancy;'s adventurous resourcefulness, with Susan's practicality plus a goodly dollop of Titty's qualities of imagination and empathy seems to me to be exactly what's required of the operations manager at Harker's Yard. I hope they phrased it that way on the job spec.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Meeting Ben Lucas - 25.3.2015 by Julia Jones

Punts racing off the Stour Sailing Club 2003 Regatta
Ben Lucas is 22. It's easy to assume that a young man of that age will have spent most of his childhood indoors hunched in front of a screen blasting aliens or engaged in virtual high-speed car chases. It wasn't like that for Ben. He was born in Harwich, although the family soon moved to Bradfield, where he grew up, as well as in Manningtreee – all beside the beautiful River Stour. Ben is part of the Lucas family who have been winning the unique sailing punt races at Manningtree regatta for the last hundred years. Sailing punts had been in the area for centuries before that. They have big sprit sails but no rudder or centreboard and were originally used for punt-gunning and eel-fishing in the shallow waters of the Stour.

Ben working on one of the floors
for the Trinity House tender
 Ben did not take up punt-sailing but spent many hours of his childhood standing in the river, usually on Bradfield beach, sometimes up to mischief with his friends, sometimes looking out for evidence of young bass at low water. “As soon as the gulls began to dive, you'd rush over there and chuck in your line. You'd maybe get three or four and then the bass would move and the gulls would follow and you'd follow them.”

His father had a 16' dory, and a friend had a caravan and a barbecue, so every day could be spent on the beach in the school holidays. He was so deeply suntanned he looked like Mowgli, he said. He remembers an especially good birthday present of a knife with a serrated edge and a gadget to undo shackles. As Ben grew up he helped his father with the game-keeping on the local estate. He learned to shoot and was invited on friends and family pheasant shooting days as well as wild-fowling and clay-pigeon shooting. There was a moment of disruption in this happy rural childhood when his parents split up but Ben was determined to stay local to Manningtree. Even when home was directly opposite the Harwich School he made the trip to Manningtree every day to continue attending school there.

Ben liked school. He wasn't especially academic but was happy in the environment and knew he would miss it when he left. He did labouring jobs in the summer and got his 5 GCSEs at A* - C. At 16 he moved to attend Otley College to do what he had thought was a game-keeping course but turned out to be more agriculture and conservation. He made good friends during his year at Otley, then moved to Suffolk New College to study motor cycle mechanics. Ever since he'd been a child Ben had loved taking things to pieces to see how they worked. Now he was learning to put them back together again. A parking job (he's good at backing trailers) at Suffolk Yacht Harbour at Levington led Ben to realise that outboard motors were not so very different from motorcycle engines laid on their sides so he began working in a marine workshop there.
A section of planking completed by Ben
Ben was 18-19. This was his first adult job. The work was busy and varied. It could be dirty, when replacing wheel-bearings in a seized up trailer for instance. Ben's very tall (it's a family characteristic) and, while that was a help in making it possible for him to do quite a number of heavy jobs unaided, it could be quite a squash getting into cuddies and cramped engine rooms. Ben recalled the delight of being able to get out on the water and test an engine in whatever power-boat he'd just finished servicing.

Ben, through no fault of his own, left this first job in quite difficult circumstances and had very little to show for a year's hard work – except invaluable experience. A bleak period followed. Ben's father had moved to Portsmouth so he worked a while there, subcontracting. That was time-limited and anyway Ben's life still centred on the Manningtree area, so he came home and existed as best he could on casual work and the dole. He remains angry about the number of employers who don't even bother to acknowledge a CV or a job application when someone is struggling and doing their utmost to find work.

Discussing a problem with
Harker's Yard shipwright, Mick
The Job Centre put him in contact with the Prince's Trust who, at that time were running regular taster courses in partnership with Pioneer. “Loads of us came for the trial sessions,” Ben recalls, “But when we were told we had to stay two nights on the boat, most of them dropped like flies.” Ben worked for about six weeks in the yard and working on joinery. He had never done any carpentry before and particularly remembers the impression made on him by Jim, Pioneer's skipper, with his extreme carefulness and attention to detail. That's a quality Ben recognises in himself and it was a very good moment when Felicity called him into the office and said “We'd like you to stay.”


Now Ben is nearing the end of his time as an apprentice at Harker's Yard. He still sees himself as likely to be working in something like mechanics or agriculture or anything connected with his beloved sport of shooting but he has learning some important things that he knows will help in the future, whatever he does. He has discovered that he likes learning – of all the apprentices he is the first to compile his NVQ folder and he's proud of that. He knows he likes working with other people, being part of a project, and earning respect. He doesn't like blame culture; he likes finding a problem and suggesting a way to fix it. He likes the sense of community at Harker's Yard “There are no strangers here.” While he's ready to “flee the nest” he knows he'll miss Pioneer – and he hopes that the others will miss him too. “I tell them, they'll never find anything once I'm gone. I'm organised. I know where things are kept.”  
Transferable skills - Ben has been making a new stock for a family heirloom shotgun.
Here he explains different sizes.


Thursday, 26 February 2015

Meeting Charlie 25.2.2015 by Julia Jones

Charlie on Pioneer (under her winter cover)
“She's so big. It's amazing. I haven't been on board since I was in primary school. I'd forgotten how big she is...” Charlie first met Pioneer when he was at Brightlingsea Junior School. He was probably in year 5 or 6 when he and his class gathered at the Colne Yacht Club  to split up into groups and take turns going on board the half dozen or so vessels that had been collected for them. He can't now remember the other boats that were there that day – it was Pioneer who made the lasting 
impression.

Looking aft
Quite often when you revisit something as an adult, which you first encountered as a child, you're surprised how small it is – but Charlie was completely right: Pioneer in winter, standing proud out of the water, with her decks completely clear under her head-high cover, is impressive in an entirely new way. You see her lines and her shapeliness, feel the strength of her construction – that gorgeous long keel...

I asked Charlie whether he was looking forward to sailing Pioneer this summer and wasn't at all surprised by the enthusiasm of his response. I also admired the fact that he'd already volunteered to work as an extra hand on board the smack when the Brightlingsea youth club offers some local youngsters a chance of a few days away. When Charlie was younger it was the youth club that first took him fishing. Now he sees a chance to help others in return.

Personally, I've never been all that keen on fishing (scared of the hooks, I think) but it was a real pleasure listening to Charlie talk about the sport, especially when he was describing the peacefulness of reservoir carp fishing when you've got to relax and stay quiet for the sake of all the other people who are fishing there. And the great moment if you catch something big, weigh it, photograph it, then put it back into the water, holding it carefully in your arms while it regains breath. Then you watch as it swims away. Charlie also fishes off Bateman's with a float and ragworms; he goes out after bass with his step-dad in a fibreglass boat with an outboard motor and he made me laugh with his account of fishing for mackerel with his dad in Scotland and the seal who lurks ready to grab the fishermen's catches as they're hauling in their lines.

Charlie is the newest apprentice at Harkers Yard. After Brightlingsea Junior he moved on to secondary school and hated it. It wasn't his sort of learning. He hated sitting behind a desk all day listening to people talk. School improved a bit when he took resistant materials as one of his options but still he was glad to leave at 16 and wasn't all that surprised that none of his GCSEs achieved more than a C.

Charlie with Aiden, looking at the
mock steaming device Aiden has made
for the Eastern Angles production Oysters
Now it's perfectly obvious, when talking to Charlie, that he's a thoughtful chap with a lot to offer and quite capable of learning when it's approached in the way that suits him. After he left school he worked for a flooring company and a scrap yard and a carpet fitting firm. Last summer he gave education another try, signing up for a plumbing course at the local FE college. But it was just like school again and Charlie found he was having real trouble motivating himself to get out of bed to catch the bus and go into Colchester to sit behind a desk all day …

Fortunately he met Abbey, who'll soon be completing her apprenticeship at Harkers Yard, and she persuaded him to get in touch with operations manager Felicity. Charlie had a chat, came down for an interview, passed the aptitude tests, did a couple of days work experience before Christmas and started full-time on Jan 12th. So far he's made his tool box and a paddle, helped with scraping out one of the gigs and got involved in the regular yard pranks and banter (see Abbey's blogpost). On Monday of this week (Feb 23rd) he competed his six week's probation and PST tutor John told him he'd been accepted for the next two years.

Jake and Charlie, showing
part of the scenery made by
Jake for Eastern Angles Oysters
This does, of course, mean he'll be taking lessons again – Monday and Wednesday mornings with John (alongside fellow apprentices Tyler and Tariq) and then weekly to Colchester Institute for foundation skills – but he doesn't seem too worried about the prospect. He had me enthralled telling me what PST tutor John had told him about the number of oak trees that had been felled to build HMS Victory. He's moved away from home and into lodgings and is getting to grips with the regular routine of getting to work promptly at 8am without anyone else needing to nag him.

Within the next week or two Charlie will begin to learn how to lay up the next gig and it'll be Tyler will helping him while Tariq joins the oar-makers. There are deadlines to be met in the yard and there are the fundamental patterns of activity – laying up a gig, lifting it off its plug, fitting it out and sending it on – just as there are the seasonal patterns of laying up, fitting out and crew-carrying for Pioneer herself. But within that overall working structure, Charlie finds that every day is different. 

That's certainly true at the moment. Ivan Cutting, founder and artistic director of the Eastern Angles Theatre company has written a new play, Oysters, based on oral history interviews and the 'Land and Sea' work of the Pioneer Sailing Trust, particularly the current restoration of the smack Priscilla. Oysters is currently in rehearsal ready for its opening on March 11th and then its three month spring tour of East Anglia. At the moment Jake is busy making scenery to Rosie Alabaster's design. Aiden has produced a mock-up of a steamer and Pioneer's skipper, Jim, has fashioned a replica tiller.

Rosie Alabaster's design

Jake's construction




Friday, 6 February 2015

Aiden's blog, written by Julia Jones

Aiden- one of his first trips on board Pioneer as crew
A bitter wind was whipping down the creek bringing scatters of rain and the threat of worse weather to come. Pioneer was standing high above the mud under her winter covers and I took several several cold exhilarating breaths of the sharp winter air before retreating into Harkers Yard to curl my hands round a warm cup of tea and talk to Aiden Lateward about his two years as an apprentice here.

Aiden studied cabinet making at college after he left school. That convinced him that he loved working with his hands and specifically working with wood but the jobs available in the furniture industry were mainly machine based. He spent two years restoring donated furniture for the charity Emmaeus until someone gave him a 'kick up the arse' (his words) and convinced hm to carry on developing his skills. Boats are wood, boats have curves (unlike most modern furniture) – learning to build boats offered a possible way forward.

After a false start with the Mayflower Project in Harwich (then only at the workshop-building stage) Aiden found his way to Brightlingsea and to Harker's Yard. He fell for the place and the work and the atmosphere immediately “I need to be here,” he thought. Aiden was interviewed and accepted, then found himself spending his first fortnight on board Pioneer scraping her decks. This was two years ago in Feburary 2013. It should have been enough to put anybody off. There was snow and a bitter wind, whipping down the creek ….

Aiden modelling traditional clothing worn by smacks-men 
Aiden filled his big boots with socks – four pairs, he recalls + two pairs trousers, T-shirt, jumpers, two coats, hat, scarf, gloves – and carried on scraping,. He met John Yarr, then first mate and Jim, the skipper. He asked them whether there was any chance he could try a sail sometime. As soon as the smack was ready to go back in commission they got Aiden setting up her rigging with them. He'd never sailed before but was often out on Pioneer during that first summer, and also sailed on board the smaller Brightlingsea Smack, Iris Mary CK105. It was an extraordinary moment when his mother suddenly discovered that his fifth great uncle, Joseph Alexander had been master and owner of Pioneer sometime in the late c19th. Aiden wondered whether he had been 'meant' to come to Harker's Yard.

Apprentice trip to St Katherine's dock
In August 2013 Aiden was one of a group of apprentices who brought Pioneer back from Gosport in time for Ipswich Maritime Festival. He volunteered to stay on board over the festival (with the help of a free beer voucher). When she left to take a group of visitors to the Walton Backwaters Aiden went with her as volunteer relief bosun. He's since been working towards his watch leader's qualification and dreams of sailing on board a tall ship one day.

Keeping a look out on the way into London
Meanwhile, back in the workshop, Aiden was laying up the mold for the next gig. He describes this as a job which tests your mettle as it's so repetitive and technically undemanding yet the quality is vital. It was summer and the glue was stickier than ever. Aiden got glue on his arms and legs, on his new Pioneer t-shirt, in his hair, up his nose. Then the gig had to be taken off the mold and placed in the cradle ready for fitting out – and Aiden's task was to scrape out all the glue residue, the classic newcomer's job in the workshop. The heat gun burned his fingers regularly but all the time he was enjoying learning the different curves of the gig, how they worked together, how the idea of the gig had been developed and designed. Aiden likes wood, likes feeling its tolerances, practising his skills until they become an instinctive part of him.


Currently Aiden's making his second set of oars and is confident that they are better than his first set (something to do with the size of the handles). He's enjoyed being part of an apprentices team rowing Matchless and spoke with real feeling about the pleasure of making something, using it and also seeing it being used by the local communities. The gig-rowing and racing bring so many people together. Aiden's here at Harker's Yard until December. By then he'll have his watch leader's qualification and his NVQ level 3 in marine engineering and yacht building.  He already has level 3 in cabinet-making. So what will he do then – look for a job locally, with Spirit Yachts in Ipswich, perhaps? Work in a boatyard abroad? Join the Merchant Navy? Sail a tall ship? He knows he likes working with wood, working on the water, working with people. There are plenty of possibilities.



Aiden driving Pioneer's tender



Monday, 2 February 2015

Two years on - Aiden Lateward 28.1.2015

Pioneer in winter - with an on-board workshop
A bitter wind was whipping down the creek bringing scatters of rain and the threat of worse weather to come. Pioneer was standing high above the mud under her winter covers and I took several several exhilarating breaths of the sharp winter air before retreating into Harkers Yard to curl my hands round a warm cup of tea and talk to Aiden Lateward about his two years as an apprentice here.

Aiden studied cabinet making at college after he left school. That convinced him that he loved working with his hands and specifically working with wood but the jobs available in the furniture industry were mainly machine based. He spent two years restoring donated furniture for the charity Emmaeus until someone gave him a 'kick up the arse' (his words) and convinced hm to carry on developing his skills. Boats are wood, boats have curves (unlike most modern furniture) – learning to build boats offered a possible way forward.
Bleak view at Brightlingsea

After a false start with the Mayflower Project in Harwich (then only at the workshop-building stage) Aiden found his way to Brightlingsea and Harker's Yard. He fell for the place and the work and the atmosphere immediately “I need to be here,” he thought. Aiden was interviewed and accepted, then found himself spending his first fortnight on board Pioneer scraping her decks. This was two years ago in February 2013. It should have been enough to put anybody off. There was snow and a bitter wind, whipping down the creek ….

Aiden filled his big boots with socks – four pairs, he recalls + two pairs trousers, T-shirt, jumpers, two coats, hat, scarf, gloves – and carried on scraping,. He met John Yarr, then first mate and Jim, the skipper. He asked them whether there was any chance he could try a sail sometime. As soon as the smack was ready to go back in commission they got Aiden setting up her rigging with them. He'd never sailed before but was often out on Pioneer during that first summer, and also sailed on board the smaller Brightlingsea Smack, Iris Mary, CK105. It was an extraordinary moment when his mother suddenly discovered that his fifth great uncle, Joseph Alexander, had been master and owner of Pioneer sometime in the late c19th. 

 Aiden is using one of Liam's oars
as his model (3rd from left)
In August 2013 Aiden was one of a group of apprentices who brought Pioneer back from Gosport (where a group of young carers had been taking part in the Round the Island race) to Ipswich Maritime Festival. He volunteered to stay on board over the festival (with the help of a free beer voucher). When the smack left to take a family group to the Walton Backwaters Aiden went with her as volunteer relief bosun. He's since been working towards his watch leader's qualification and dreams of sailing on board a tall ship one day.

Aiden at work
Meanwhile, back in the workshop, Aiden was laying up the plug for the next gig. He describes this as a job which tests your mettle; it's so repetitive and technically undemanding yet the quality is vital. It was summer and the glue was stickier than ever. He got glue on his arms and legs, on his new Pioneer t-shirt, in his hair, up his nose. Then the gig had to be taken off the plug and placed in the cradle ready for fitting out – and Aiden's task was to scrape out all the glue residue, the classic newcomer's job in the workshop. The heat gun burned his fingers but all the time he was enjoying learning the different curves of the gig, how they worked together, how the idea of the gig had been developed and designed. Aiden likes wood, likes feeling its tolerances, practising his skills until they become an instinctive part of him.


A hollowing plane
Currently Aiden's making his second set of oars and is confident that they are better than his first set (something to do with the size of the handles). He's enjoyed being part of an apprentices' team, rowing the Harker's Yard gig, Matchless and he spoke with real feeling about the pleasure of making something, using it and also seeing it being used by the local communities. The gig-rowing and racing bring so many people together. Aiden's here until December. By then he'll have his watch leader's qualification and his NVQ level 3 in marine engineering and yacht building. He already has level 3 in cabinet-making. So what will he do then – look for a job locally? Work in a boatyard abroad? Join the Merchant Navy? Sail a tall ship? He knows now that he he likes working with wood, working on the water, working with people. That should give him plenty of options.