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 

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

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