The blog will now be devoted not to boat building but to my 82-year-old Vertue, Sally II, now undergoing a well needed refit at Johnson & Loftus in Ullapool (and gliding...)

Friday, 9 September 2011

Speak for Yourself (edited)...

Any professional boat builder who says: "Well, I don't do this for money. Just for the love of working with wood, recreating the beauty of a bygone age, keeping the old traditions alive..." etc, etc, blah, blah, blah, is either reliant on a pension, independently wealthy or growing skunk in the loft.

Well I'll have you know that I, for one, am very fond of money and nothing makes me happier than the sound of an envelope being torn open to reveal the down payment on a new dinghy. My writing brings in a meagre sum every year, and decreasing steadily as fewer people are drawn to my erratic ramblings, which leaves me increasingly reliant on scratching a living in what the late John Leather, author and designer, yacht historian and brutal realist called "a precarious and unrewarding business..."

By which he certainly didn't mean we should not do our utmost best to make a go of it, but be aware of the difficulties and frustrations. John was not a romantic, but a true lover of boats and as keen as anyone to keep "the old traditions alive..." etc, etc. That had to be, in his view, of secondary importance, however, to earning a living plying a viable trade.

Those who build boats as a hobby have my full support and admiration. They can afford to build them to perfection, innovate, experiment. Who's counting the hours anyway? I and most of those foolish enough to build wooden boats commercially try and build as quickly as they can, for speed is good in many ways, not least your eye and hands keep fresh from day to day. And speed, of course, equals money.

So, the boat building perfectionists with a little more time on their hands are admirable. No one does it better. Admirable too are the charitable trusts and the training establishments. However, in passing on the skills, or keeping youth off the streets, are they helping potential boat builders secure commissions by taking on commissions themselves, at lower rates, or making it harder?

Ultimately it's the likes of us, unfunded and unsubsidised what's trying to make a living from building boats, and a craft that can't scratch a living is irrelevant and deserves to die out.


  1. When a couple of Gentlemen walk down the docks to where I'm diligently trying to beat the weather and get a coat of paint on an old vessel, I can be assured one of them will say "a lot of work..." and the other will say "...a labor of love".
    I keep my head down for fear I will say something sarcastic - and keep sanding while the clock is ticking. Even the pennies count in this profession. Not to say I don't love it.

  2. Adrian, at least you'll never be outsourced to an Indian call centre!

    To be fair to the hobbyists and the boat building schools - they do raise the profile of traditional wooden boats which probably creates some demand for working boat builders like your self

  3. You slightly misunderstood me. I thought I made it clear that I have no problem at all with the wonderful bunch of so-called 'amateurs' whose work is often of a superior standard to those who try and scrape a living.

    They make take a little longer (but are often, embarrassingly quick). I can think of one of their number who resides not a million miles from here, and another in Inverness whose work is peerless.

    No, it's the schools and charitable trusts which take on work, that I feel I should question even though it may be like having a go at the RNLI or Queen Mum (Gord bless her!).

    Turning out boat builders or encouraging youths to learn a skill is admirable. Great, brilliant. On one hand I have nothing but praise for them; on the other I wonder how many commissions are lost to working boat builders, ironically some of whom may well have learnt their trade in these very same institutions and are desparate to get work when they leave but would find it hard to compete on price. Just a level playing field, that's all. Help me!

  4. I've posted up a few more thoughts on