The first task for an apprentice at Harker's Yard is to make his or her own tool box. Tyler's was painted a cool, practical grey – a different colour from everyone else's so he could identify it easily – and he'd also added a drawer. This had been his own idea as he wanted somewhere to keep small things, like pencils and safety goggles, so they'd be easily retrievable. I asked him if he'd always been good at making things and he said no, not really, he'd never done any woodwork before he came to the Pioneer Sailing Trust I wondered what had prompted him to apply for an apprentice's place. He'd been away for a week with his school, sailing Pioneer herself, when he'd heard about the scheme. He'd then spent two weeks doing work experience at Harker's Yard and that had helped him decide that this was what he wanted.
It had probably helped the other folk decide that they wanted him as well. Harker's Yard does not have the fiercely competitive attention-seeking ethos of Sir Alan Sugar's "The Apprentice". It's necessary for people to get along together and co-operate as they work on different jobs on the same three or four boats. I've also noticed from my own experience how many boat related problems need to be talked about by the shipwrights or engineers before the way forward is agreed – talked about, not argued about. It's not to do with power and egos, it's to do with finding the best way of tackling a problem. Old wooden boats are individual, there are few standard solutions.
Tyler's school career had been a bit disrupted. “You don't realise how much missing learning matters until you've missed it,” he said but he'd clearly worked really hard in the Sixth Form and done well – one A, a B and two Cs as his A-level equivalents at the end of year 13. He'd taken the BTEC route of constant coursework, continuous assessment, weekly deadlines rather than the stop-go panic of revision and exams. He spoke about this really well and I just wished that the some of the gung-ho educationalists who argue for a return to 100% assessment by exams could shut up and listen to someone like Tyler.
stapling the gig
I asked whether he'd considered university. No, he was clear that that wouldn't have been for him. He was fed up with sitting around in a classroom listening and writing stuff; he wanted to get on and make things and be able to see his progress. To be accepted as an apprentice at Harker's Yard he'd had to take a written assessment (mainly maths and 3D awareness as well as a personal statement) and he'd also had to follow the instructions to make a simple half-lap joint. On his two week's work experience he'd made a paddle. I just have to say here how impressed I am that someone who'd never previously done any woodwork could so calmly get on and tackle these jobs. But that's probably because I know I'd have failed the test myself.
So he's in and he's one of the team and that's where he'll be for the next two years, as well as attending Colchester Institute on Fridays to keep up with the more theoretical skills. After making the toolbox he spent the first couple of weeks doing bits and pieces, scraping out excess glue, learning how to mastic in between the planks of the former Trinity House work boat that is one of the yard's current restoration projects. He applied primer and gave other people a hand where needed.
Now Tyler is properly at work on the latest gig. These tough elegant rowing boats were designed to be a real project for the apprentices offering them a range of skills to learn. In a previous post Abbey described the careful task of covering the plug (the mould) with a thick layer of tape to protect it from the gluing that will come later. Tyler and others are stapling on the first diagonal layer of thin mahogany veneer. The technique itself is simple but what's really important is to be working with care and precision. Tyler describes himself as a perfectionist so I would guess he'll find this a satisfying task. I'm looking forward to following his progress – and I hope that new toolbox will soon be filling up nicely.
|A half-lap joint|