Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Robin's Skiff project

So, here we are in the second week in May. Normally, we would be out on the water – taking groups of young people or adults sailing on PIONEER and learning about the environment, working together and establishing social contact. But as we all know, these are not ‘normal’ times and instead of standing on the gently moving deck of the 156 year old Class A smack, feeling the wind on your face and perhaps the odd splash of salt spray, we find ourselves indoors and locked down.

All of a sudden, there is a feeling of what am I going to do with myself over the next few weeks? As a boaty sort of person, if I can’t get out on the water, then at least I can prepare for the end of lockdown when I can get afloat! Some years ago, my wife bought me a kit of parts for a rowing skiff. The crate has remained in my garage, unopened, for about 8 years, waiting for the opportunity when I can devote some time to its construction. Lockdown has certainly given me that opportunity!

I haven’t had the benefit of a Boat Building apprenticeship at the Pioneer Trust, so I must admit my boat-building skills pale into insignificance when compared with the skills and projects undertaken by the Apprentices already covered in this Blog. But, the pre-cut plywood panels that are ‘stitched’ together with wire soon bring a few bits of wood into a pretty sleek-looking rowing wherry. The seams are glued together with epoxy and fibre-glass taped over both inside and out. This recognised ‘stitch and glue’ construction method makes for a stiff and strong monocoque hull with only three final frames epoxied in place to help maintain shape and strength.

Progress has been in fits and starts as there have been other things to get on with at home! As I write this, I still have the gunwhales to finish, the out-riggers to fit and sliding seat framework to build and fit. Then there is the not-so-small job of sanding and painting her, but I certainly hope to have the boat afloat and rowing in Brightlingsea Creek just as soon as possible.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Eleanor and Frazer's latest projects

My name is Eleanor and I am one of the apprentices at Pioneer Sailing Trust. It is coming up to the year mark for my time with Pioneer. Looking back over the past year I have learnt so much! Before Pioneer I had next to zero woodworking sills. My previous boat building experience lay in fibreglass so it was an exciting change to be faced with the challenges of new materials and techniques.

I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of such an incredible team. It is a shame that the lockdown has prevented us from continuing our work. However recently, to keep my skills in check, I have become the proud owner of two decrepit dinghies one of which I am looking to refurbish! Hopefully this will make my time away from Pioneer productive.

Hi my name is Frazer and I've been working as an apprentice at the Pioneer Sailing Trust for just over three years now. Before the pandemic I had been working alongside other apprentices in the construction of a new 24ft rowing gig.
We used iroko for the fit out and 2 pack varnish to finish

Our first finished gig named "Varuna"
Our new gig ready for her wooden fit out

Due to the pandemic and for the safety of the workers Pioneer had asked us to stay at home. This was unfortunate news for me as I really do enjoy the head scratch that is boat building! However there was nothing I could do about it so I began to think of how I can spend my time.  Luckily enough for me I have a small shed in which I pursue my hobby of blacksmithing.
The first week of my isolation I spent my  time tidying my shed up and finishing my long time goal of getting my fly press fit and ready for action.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Tom's boat projects so far ...

 Since there is no-one working at Harker’s Yard at the moment due to Covid-19, we will be taking a look at what’s going on in the farm yard where I live, in Great Bromley.


Skibladner, is a 14-foot clinker dinghy built in 1889 in Norway as a lifeboat for a fishing trawler. I got given her by the previous owner after he ran out time and money to keep looking after her. When I got her she was in quite a sorry state and in the winter of 2013 at the age of 12, me and my dad made quite extensive repairs to her including: A new transom, new sheer planking, a new stem and quite a few frames. Since then she has come back to our farm every winter where we have done some more work to her such as replacing her keel, replacing more planking and more frames.
At the moment while in isolation I have been replacing yet more planks. I have replaced one full length plank and three short sections. I am hoping to get her sailing as soon as I can, once we allowed. It is especially exciting this year as I have had a brand new suit of sails had for her by Steve Hall in Tollesbury.

14-Foot Barges boat

This is a 14 clinker dinghy built by Cyril White in Brightlingsea around the 1960’s. She belongs to a friend of mine who asked me to repair everything that needed it. Since putting her into my workshop I have replaced her stem, forefoot, stern post, part of her transom and last week replaced her port side garboard. The plan is to replace at least another two planks, a new riser and new thwarts.


Lilian is a 30-foot Thames sailing Bawley built in 1869. I brought her for £1 in 2015 when I was 14 years old. Since then I have removed her deck and deck beams, made and fitted some frames, floors and stantions. Recently I have cut out a beam shelf ready to steam into place and bought enough wood for all the full width deck beams.

The plan is to replace all of her deck structure and deck planking, all of her floor timbers, most of her frames and a complete new rig. I am planning to make all of her rigging myself including all of her wooden blocks.


Deva is a 23-foot Mawcome bay prawner build by Crossfied of Arnside in 1912. I brought her in May 2019 and took her home. Since then I have replaced her arch board, horn timber and started replacing some of her planking. Recently I have removed her stem and forefoot due to it being very Iron sick which happens when the iron fastenings react with the oak. While in isolation I have been making a new stem and forefoot ready to install into the boat soon. She will need a few more new planks and quite a few deck repairs before going sailing again.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

where's our table!?

What’s going on in the yard? September 2019

Being on placement at Pioneer Sailing Trust for two weeks has given me just a snapshot of what is happening here at Harker’s Yard as we head into the crispy autumn days of 2019.

In the workshop, Fraser, one of the boatbuilding apprentices, is working on 39ft racing yacht Lady Nancy. Lady Nancy was built in 1893 at Neilsen’s Yard in Norway as a one-off design and the current rebuild has been commissioned by Sue, sister of Jamie Green, the previous owner of the boat, in his memory. After the rebuild, the aim is to race Lady Nancy again and continue the success this elegant and historic vessel has had over a long lifetime. Sitting on a wheely office chair, Fraser tells me he is fettling in the rebate to accommodate the planking. Working on Lady Nancy will be his first big planking project and what a project it is.

There’s a lot of talk about the missing wooden table which used to be in the Pioneer Sailing Trust tea room. It’s been sneaked into the yard to be sanded and varnished after a few too many stray lunchtime forks. I test my finishing skills and patience with a few coats of Epifanes varnish and it’s starting to look very shiny indeed. Too shiny for potential crumbs and coffee mug rings? By the end of my placement, a controversial imposter table appears in the tea room hinting of a new office-based home for the beautiful table we have been working on. Whatever your opinion, it’s important to keep that cup of coffee as close as possible! Written by Kate (SHTP2 trainee)

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.

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.