Graduate Case Studies

The following graduate case studies show what a representative sample of people have gone on to do after longer courses.  Graduates stay in touch with each other and the Academy via the Academy-run private graduates’ group.  The Academy is regularly contacted by employers looking for properly trained people, people who need work completed on their boats (or a gate making, or a cabin wood panelled, or tables for their restaurant) which, because the Academy does no commercial work, is passed on to the graduates via the network.  Boats for sale, boats free to a good home, news and items of interest are also posted.

Graduates are working at, to name a few, Spirit Yachts, Elephant Boatyard, Peter Freebody & Co, Cockwells, Sunseeker, T. Nielsen and Co and Fairlie Restorations.  The case studies below show a small representative sample of how people have gone on to use their new-found skills.

38 Week Boat Building, Maintenance and Support

Brooke Ricketts – Class of March 2014

???????????????????????????????Brooke’s apprenticeship at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum didn’t open up until June 2015 (Brooke finished the 38 week course in December 2014) so he was able to do some home improvement work for his brother. It was a brutally cold winter when they returned to Chesapeake – Brooke’s family came with him to Lyme Regis – so Brooke’s first job was to install a wood burner in their living room.  Steffi, Brooke’s wife, said he was cleaner and better organised with his home improvement skills, for which she thanked the Boat Building Academy. Brooke started work at the museum at the beginning of March. The boatyard is an active part of the museum and they are encouraged to interact with the customers while working. Brooke’s main duty is maintaining the thirteen historic, fully functioning, vessels in the floating fleet. This covers painting, engine repair and lots of woodworking in between. They take the boats on trips around the area for events. During the winter months they build a small boat in the shop. Brooke says ‘I feel that I’m learning every day and that keeps me happy. It’s a fantastic place to work and I have great co-workers. I just been given an old motorboat built traditionally in our area in 1965 in need of some love.  I plan on working on this after-hours and eventually I will have a great ‘free’ boat’.

James Dickson – Class of September 2013

James Dickson (563x640)James comes from a fishing family but made a career in the law, becoming a partner in a leading Scottish law firm where he specialised in social and ethical finance and in funding renewable energy projects. He kept a Boat Building Academy brochure in a desk drawer for a number of years before deciding that it was time to stop looking wistfully at the pictures and to enrol in the September 2013 long course. He built a glued clinker sailing coble as part of the course. Since graduating he has volunteered as a boatbuilder at the Scottish Maritime Museum and Galgael in Glasgow as well as carrying out private commissions, most recently restoring an old rowing skiff for the Royal West of Scotland Amateur Boat Club. He also serves on the boards of a couple of charities, including Glasgow Wood recycling.  James says ‘I’m very glad I kept that brochure’.

Brian Reford – Class of March 2013

5509210Brian started rebuilding Land Rovers at 13.  At 16 his school arranged a week’s work experience at Henwood and Dean and Brian’s ambition to become a boat builder was launched. He took ‘A’ Levels in Design and Technology, Physics and Photography. When he left school he worked for a haulage and road surfacing company as a welder/fabricator mobile mechanic and saved the fee for the 38 week course at the Boat Building Academy, which he joined in March 2013.  As part of his training Brian built ‘Bunduki’, a 16′ V-hulled jet ski powered boat, design inspired by a Donzi Sweet 16.  The boat was such a success that it featured in a number of magazine articles, including prestigious WoodenBoat magazine’s Small Boats 2015 (page 86).  As soon as the course finished Brian went back to Henwood and Dean as an employee.  Brian says ‘While at Henwood and Dean I’ve rebuilt a cabin cruiser including; upgrading to a diesel engine, planking, fitting a new transom, and totally renewing all systems. I’ve replaced all the timbers in a very early motor canoe and fitted an entire new bottom in an ‘Andrews’ slipper launch; entirely new planking, stem, keel, shaftlog, hog and replacement engine. I’ve replaced the framing and repaired the timbers in a traditional Thames skiff and am currently reconfiguring/refitting the cockpit of a wooden power boat.  In June 2015 Brian is broadening his skill set by going to work at Rob Perry Marine, a marine engineering company a mile up the road from the Boat Building Academy.

Alex Brown – Class of September 2012

Alex BrownAlex studied Design and Technology at university, worked abroad for several years and ran an internet business. He joined the Boat Building Academy to get back into working ‘hands-on’.  Immediately after the course he joined a boat builder in Exeter where, among other jobs, they made the masts and spars for Warner Brothers film ‘In the Heart of the Sea’, to be released December 2015.  Alex was offered a job at Fairlie but, because of his wife’s job, was unable to take it and relocated to Wells, Somerset. Alex joined Bridger & Buss making bespoke furniture and also turned his hand to design work.  He says ‘I’ve learnt a great deal there and just about gained enough experience to get through the door at Longpré. They are considered the best cabinet makers in the country, if not the world, so it’s going to be challenging! They do a lot of interesting projects all over the world for people from royalty to the rich and famous’.

Luke Browne – Class of September 2012

Best boat photographer Lyme regis boat building academy launch

After leaving school in Launceston, Cornwall, Luke spent time travelling in Australia and New Zealand.  On returning home he worked in a variety of jobs; as an architectural technician, in property renovation and as a production operator.  But Luke felt that none of these jobs were leading anywhere.  He wanted a career.  Luke chose the long course because he wanted to build boats and he also wanted to gain skills in woodworking.  He was offered a job by Spirit Yachts before the course ended and is now working for them in Suffolk.  He loves it.

Dominik Gschwind – Class of March 2012

Dom GschwindWhen we asked Dominik whether we could include him in the ‘Graduate Case Studies’ he said ‘Imagine, I myself was really inspired by those case studies on your website before starting my own boat building education at the Academy’.  After graduating Dominik started to build up his own small boatbuilding workshop and business ‘Classic Holzbootbau’.   But, in Switzerland where Dom is based, it is necessary to combine boat building with his previous work as an Architect and furniture designer.  Dom now works in the office in the morning and, as he puts it ‘I try to change my pants in the afternoon and go down to the shop for the rest of the day.  It fills my working days with a lot of variety and there is an excellent synergy with the office work when it comes to building architectural models’.

In the summer of 2014 Dom moved his workshop to a beautiful old framework house in the old centre of the village where he and his family live.  His latest project is a 15′ Rangeley Boat, a double ended traditional clinker in western red cedar on oak frames.  His Gartside gaff cutter ‘Gloey’, built as part of Dom’s training at the Academy and shortlisted in the Classic Boat Awards 2014, is with him.  In Dom’s words ‘Well, that’s what happened since the amazing time in Lyme Regis…’

Jim Higginson – Class of March 2012

Jim Higginson Nielsen adJim completed an art foundation course and started a Degree but realised he wanted to follow a more vocational path. Jim knew he wanted to be a craftsman of some sort but it wasn’t until he built a skin-on-frame canoe in his spare time that he realised boat building was the craft.  Since graduating the Academy in December 2012 Jim has worked for T. Nielsen & Company, on boats ranging from canal boats to tall ships.  A few of the larger projects Jim has been involved with are:
• Kaskelot – 153’ Three Masted Barque (formerly of Square Sail, Cornwall), hull repair, deck repair and a new section of deck
• HMS Victory – Re- fasten and re-caulk quarter deck (oakum and pitch), including some repair to the deck planking. Repairs to beak deck caulking (cotton and sikaflex)
• Regular maintenance of pilot cutters Olga and Mascotte – anything from planking to painting
• Block making and rigging for the film sets of ‘Pan’ and ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ – splicing rope, making ash blocks, installation on set and operation of rig during filming
• Charmian – Brixham sailing trawler, restoration of deck hatches, rebuild deck structure (beams/ carlins)
• Building of two 12’ glued clinker pilot punts
• Restoration of 17’ daysailer – total replacement of carvel planking and timbers, repair of floors, replacement of stem (lamination)
• Other work including various wood working projects, GRP, basic rigging work (parcelling and serving wires, stitching leather, splicing rope, instillation of wires, blocks and rope)
The photograph shows Jim (left) featured in a Nielsen’s advert.

Matt Cowdery – Class of September 2011


Matt, after working as a commercial diver, a dive instructor in the Caymans and crew on private yachts, married and wanted a more settled existence with his wife.  After finishing the course he worked for the master craftsman at H & H Coach Building in Oxfordshire restoring classic cars. He has now set up his own business, M C Coach Building, next door to H & H.  His boat building skills were easily transferred to cars.

AnnA Rausmüller – Class of September 2011

AnnA ran her own graphic design company in Switzerland, in her spare time she restored a fifty year old wooden Stämpfli single scull racing boat (she has rowed for many years).  Being in the workshop was so enjoyable it prompted her to enrol on the Academy’s 38 week course. As part of the course AnnA built an Iain Oughtred gunter rigged sailing dinghy.  She now works at Stämpfli Racing Boats (established in 1896), restoring and repairing wooden rowing boats in Stämpfli’s workshops near Lake Zurich.

Ben Dixon – Class of March 2011

Ben left school at 16 with ‘no useful qualifications’ and drifted through a variety of jobs. Visiting friends in Weymouth, walking along the harbour, Ben heard himself say ‘I want to live on a boat.’  After falling in love with wooden boats on a sailing trip in Scotland, Ben joined the Academy.  Straight after the course Ben worked in Sunseeker’s small moulds department, but when the opportunity arose to work at Spirit Yachts in Ipswich he jumped at the chance.  He says the speed and accuracy required at Spirit was challenging at first, but he’s improving and enjoying every minute, currently working on a 42′ gaff yawl. He says ‘I may not be living on a boat yet, but when people ask me what I do, Ican now confidently say; I am a boat builder.’

Chelsea - Davine - Ian Davidson with Kisuli Sean Quail

Ian Davidson, Class of March 2010 and Sean Quail – Class of September 2010

Ian joined the Academy after serving 27 years with the Army.  Boats and the sea had always been a big part of his life and he has a ‘thing’ for wood and fixing things.  Sean joined the Academy on his return from post A-Level travels and working on graphic design and photography projects.  He wanted to train to make a living out of his hobbies and creative interests.  After the course Ian and Sean worked as volunteers on ‘The Boat Project’ – part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.  They built a modern high performance yacht which is also a ‘living archive’ of donated wooden items (including a piece of a Jimi Hendrix guitar).  Arbor Yachts was born of the Boat Project, employing Ian and Sean as boat builders.  They are now building a 27′ strip plank cruising yacht.

The skills learnt at the Academy have served Ian and Sean well, but they say they are learning more every day about working in a commercial environment.  Boat building may not be as romantic as some people think, but Sean points out that it beats working in an office. 

Gary Thompson – Class of September 2010

Haven 12.5 -3- Gary Thompson - LMGary comes from County Down and initially trained as a graphic designer, but worked in various sales and marketing roles at the same time as running his own property development business.  A Daily Telegraph article on the Academy sparked Gary’s interest in boat building as an entrance to working in the marine sector.  Two weeks after graduating the 38 week course he started work with Wessex Resins and Adhesives as a Technical Marketing Assistant, providing technical advice and training to customers on West Systems and Pro-Set epoxies and helping create advertising and technical literature.  Gary visits yards all over the country and travels regularly (the Netherlands, France, Sweden and Finland to name a few of his destinations) meeting ‘great people restoring and building beautiful boats.’  Gary says the job is perfect for him because ‘it marries my past roles in technical sales and marketing to the time I spent learning at the BBA and building my foam/epoxy Herreshoff Haven.’  Gary says ‘attending the BBA was one of the best decisions I have ever made.’

Tim Price – Class of September 2009

Originally from South Africa, Tim joined the Academy from Alderney, where he was working on water taxis.  Tim is an MCA licensed Master of Yachts and his experience includes yacht delivery, crewing and sailing instructor.  After graduating in June 2010 Tim immediately started work with Elephant Boatyard in Southampton, who offer services in new builds, restoration and repairs for boats ranging from classic wooden to GRP yachts and motor-boats.  Tim’s first job was to re-caulk a teak deck and he’s since replaced the floors on an old gaffer and put planks on a 50ft carvel motor yacht.  He is currently fitting out a new teak deck on a ‘lovely classic sail yacht.’  He also worked on ‘Overlord’, a Windfall yacht captured from Germany in 1945.  Tim’s thoughts on his new life as a boat builder ‘It’s brilliant!  Not only am I doing the kind of work I want to do, working on classic wooden yachts, but it’s opened doors to get out on the water on them too.’

b343f26c3a7b2c8da91e0378c842ceceJim Walsh – Class of September 2009

At 27, while working in an architectural practice in southern Ireland, Jim realised he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life at a desk and joined the Academy.  He had visited boat yards in his area and found there were few offering a full range of services; new build, repair and restoration.  He also saw that many yards only worked on specific boats or construction types.  After the course Jim began trading as Walsh Boat Works Ltd carrying out major repairs on fibreglass racing boats, sailing dinghies and lasers, restoring clinker, cold moulded and strip planked wooden boats.  Jim’s latest project is the fit out and internal repair of  ‘Spirit of Oysterhaven’ a 70ft schooner tall ship.  He is now busy enough to occasionally employ someone to help him.

Rob Murphy – Class of March 2008

Rob had been working as a carpenter who also made and played his own guitars when he began the long course.  After graduation Rob worked on narrow boats; fit-out, line-out (insulation), ballasting, engineering, and painting and finishing.  In January 2010 he changed jobs and went to work for T. Nielsen and Co Ltd in Gloucester on boats of up to 170ft.  Rob started by doing a bit of everything, including making a mast and bowsprit for a 60ft Pilot Cutter.  When Nielsen, with BAE Systems, won the contract for the extensive renovation of HMS Victory, Rob was made Foreman of that work  and now spends the majority of his time on Victory in Portsmouth.    Rob can be seen in this news report recaulking using traditional oakum.  Our graduates don’t work on boats like Victory, they work on Victory.


Jamie Poynton – Class of March 2008

Jamie grew up near Lyme Regis in Axmouth, Devon. Before joining us at the BBA he commuted weekly to Eel Pie Island in London to work with his Grandad renovating a 1950s tug. City & Guilds awarded Jamie a full bursary which enabled him to fund the course, as part of which he built a 14ft V hull stitch and glue, marine ply and epoxy outboard runabout, based on a V-shaped ski boat. After the course Jamie returned to his Grandad’s boatyard in London and finished the restoration of the tug boat among other projects. He now puts his hand to a wide range of tasks; from fitting wooden floors and interior work, to making engine boxes and, more recently, re-planking a 50ft fishing boat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMike Lowson – Class of March 2008

Mike, born and raised in the fishing community of Arbroath, had a wide-ranging career in PR and journalism. His sailing interests led to various boat restoration projects. His aim on joining the course was to set up his own boatbuilding/restoration business.  Northboats, the company Mike set up after the course, is in the heart of north-east Scotland’s countryside. Mike’s first new build commission was an 18‟ Shetland-style skiff (which has competed in the Raid Caledonia twice) and his most recent is an Iain Oughtred ‘Elf’ faering. Mike‟s current restoration commissions include a 1963 Anstruther 24‟ lobster-fishing boat and a unique line-fishing dinghy built at Pennan in 1947.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIan Thomson – Class of September 2007

Ian was Head of Marketing for mail order boat accessories company Nauticalia.  He sailed extensively and joined the course because he had an idea for an alternative to inflatable tenders – something quicker to assemble, better to row, sailable, prettier to look at and fun to use.  The 38 week course was a way of gaining the skills he needed with the added bonus that he could build the prototype as part of his training.  The first ‘Nestaway’, a two section nesting 8ft pram dinghy, was launched in June 2008 at the end of his course.  The latest Nestaway model, ‘Trio 16’, is a family dayboat that breaks down into three nesting sections for storage and transportation measuring just 7ft.  Most of the woodwork on Nestaways is now completed by other BBA graduates – Ian is too busy running the company to build.  His design and craftsmanship have attracted a great deal of attention from the general press, specialist magazines and boating internet sites and ‘Nestaway’ exhibits at most UK boat shows.  Ian had sold over 200 boats by the end of 2012 and ‘Nestaway’ goes from strength to strength.

DSC06360(1)Simon Shard – Class of September 2007

Simon was an aircraft mechanic (radio and radar) in the Royal Navy before a serious motorbike accident immobilised him for five years and forced his medical discharge.  He joined the Academy as soon as he was fit.  While on the course he decided that he loved workingwith wood but did not want to build boats.  On graduation Simon set up a workshop in Somerset and sold, through award-winning wood centre Yandles, workbenches and chess sets that he designs and makes.  He has also undertaken commissions for bespoke wooden furniture and panelling.  See his website for more examples of his work.

Bob JenningsBob Jennings – Class of March 2007

Bob worked for the same laboratory supplies company for 32 years – in laboratories, human resources, IT management and European marketing. When he took early retirement he home-built a Swallow Boat stitch and glue ‘Storm 15’.  He enjoyed the build and wanted to learn more about traditional boat building techniques so joined the Academy, where he built a 10′ traditional clinker rowing/sailing boat as part of the course.  On graduation Bob worked for Paragon Training and completed teacher training qualifications.  He then, despite a long commute from his home in Swanage to Lyme Regis, rejoined the Academy as an Assistant Instructor.  In 2012 Bob said farewell to the commute and is now managing the development and delivery of marine skills training at Bournemouth and Poole College.  He delivers training to, among others, Sunseeker staff and apprentices.

ice marine olympicsPeter Heselgrave – Class of March 2007

Peter worked at ‘random’ jobs for two years before joining the long course in 2007.  Since leaving the Academy he has worked as a laminator and boat builder for Ice Marine.  Ice specialise in building high speed offshore powerboats.  Peter’s work for Ice has included waxing moulds, fitting out, repairs, plug manufacture and finishing.   He worked on ‘Ares’, a prototype hydrofoil system designed to reduce the impact of a harsh ride.  The three units Peter helped produce are now being tested by the US Navy in Hawaii.  Peter is currently building prototype catamarans, manufacturing moulds from CNC cut frames and moulded resin infused hydrofoil units.  Peter is proud that at Ice he worked on the modificationof the boat that took David Beckham and the Olympic flame up the Thames to the Olympic Opening ceremony.

Gail McGarva – Class of September 2004

gail mcgarva with gigAfter 11 years as a British Sign Language Interpreter Gail turned her mind and hands to boat building.  She received a full City & Guilds bursary to fund the course, as part of which she built a replica ‘Gardie Boat’ (the last of which is exhibited on Unst in the Shetland Isles).  In 2005 Gail was named British Marine Federation Trainee of the Year.  Immediately after the course she worked in Ireland on a 38’Atlantic Challenge gig build.  On her return to England she built a 12′ clinker sailing dinghy while working part-time as an Instructor at the Academy.  When newly-formed Lyme Regis Gig Club asked the Boat Building Academy to tender to build their first gig Gail was central to our decision to proceed.  She project managed the build of ‘Rebel’, involving students and the local community.  Gail has built two further gigs for Lyme Regis as an independent.  She was awarded a Queen Elizabeth Scholarship to build a Lerret (traditional Dorset fishing boat) ‘by eye’, mentored by Lyme Regis boat builder Roy Gollop.  In 2012 Gail was one of two people highly commended for the Prince Philip medal, awarded at Buckingham Palace by The Princess Royal.  Gail has raised the profile of the craft of traditional wooden boat building.  She has spoken about her craft at the Victoria and Albert Museum and on the BBC among other places.

Gail’s work was recognised in 2014 with the award of a British Empire Medal for services to Heritage Crafts and Clinker Boat Building.  Gail still lives and works in Lyme Regis and is chair of the Atlantic Challenge England committee whose Bantry Bay gig, Intégrité, is now based in Lyme.

8 Week ‘Woodworking Skills’ (forerunner of 12 week ‘Woodworking Skills’ course)

Josh RoseJosh Rose – Class of August 2010

Josh always wanted to be an artist and work for himself.  A year after completing the 8 week (now 12 week) Woodworking Skills course at the Academy Josh and a business partner started ‘This Way Up Studios‘ in Bristol.  ‘This Way Up’ specialises in functional artworks including bespoke flat-pack furniture, chairs, wall-mountable tables and light boxes, combining art with utility.  The table and chair Josh designed and built as part of the course was a preview of his future creative direction.  ‘This Way Up Studios’ have grown, their tables grace the waterside in Bristol and the pavement in London.  They collaborate with a range of people from architects to graffiti artists.  Josh has now opened a shop and gallery ‘Love Your Plane‘ and is working on his first public art commission in Oxford, read an interview with Josh.

Jack Pammenter – Class of August 2010

After spending seven years working his way up the management ladder at a large retail company Jack realised that the hours he was working were too long and his quality of life  ‘rubbish’.  Jack had always been very practical, restoring classic cars and creating objects from random pieces of wood.  He joined the Academy in 2010 having decided he wanted a career in carpentry. The skills Jack gained on the course enabled him to start a new career in construction, working for a local heritage timber frame builder, where he laid wooden floors and replaced wooden windows and floor joists.  Jack then moved to Australia, where he is now Project Manager and Head Carpenter on a residential construction company’s million dollar project.  One of his proudest moments was successfully hand-pitching a multiple angled roof.  Jack’s ambition, once he has further developed his skills, is to start his own business renovating timber frame buildings.  Jack continues to make furniture in his spare time.

bba 144Richard James – Class of October 2009

Richard joined the Academy in 2009.  He was part-funded by his employer, Dart Pleasure Craft Ltd, enabling him to sharpen his existing woodworking abilities.  Richard works mainly as Master on wooden and steel vessels of up to 120 tons, but uses his woodworking skills to maintain the boats and make wooden furniture. Lately he has refitted the bar area of a boat, made numerous pieces of furniture, and made repairs to all of the company vessels as well as laying a new deck.

Ross Friend – Class of May 2009

Before joining the 8 week Woodworking Skills course, looking for a career change, Ross worked as a Consultant Lighting Systems Engineer specialising in aircraft external lighting.  Ross had little idea how he would go on to use the skills, but shortly after the end of the course secured a job at a secondary school as a Design and Technology Technician.  Ross assists teachers by preparing materials for lessons, providing general maintenance and repair for classroom machines and giving one to one tuition to students with their projects and wood lathe work.  Ross really enjoys his job, and says that without the confidence and knowledge gained from his training at the BBA it would have been impossible to secure.  Ross still turns his hand to furniture making in his spare time and is currently in the process of designing a corner cabinet.

table by Reuben O'ConnellReuben O’Connell – Class of February 2009

Born and raised in Cumbria, after a spell of overseas travel, Reuben worked in Scotland managing cottages on an estate, a role which included many practical jobs and repair work.  With no woodworking experience Reuben wanted to properly learn woodworking skills.  He says ‘The BBA appealed to me as a place to go and learn because of what I saw the students on the boat making course achieve.  I knew it would be a great environment to learn in.’  Reuben now lives on the Isle of Mull off the West coast of Scotland, designing and making bespoke furniture.  He has undertaken further training, including a spell at the Edward Barnsley workshops, and is a member of the Scottish Furniture Makers Association. “When I reflect back on my training at the Boat Building Academy the thing which really stands out is how well structured and organised the training was. The level and breadth of knowledge I gained over the course and have since been able to build upon went well beyond my expectations.”


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