16′ Salcombe Yawl – Rob Hitchen

Rob sailed from an early age and started a shipwrights course in Plymouth on leaving school, but the course closed due to lack of funding.  At 19 he worked for his Father, a Salcombe fisherman, and by 21 was skipper.  He then bought a 27 tonne steel crab trawler and, with 650 pots, caught crab and lobster out of Salcombe.

Five years later Rob had a wife and two sons and wanted to spend more time with them.  He renovated and then sold his boat to finance retraining as a boatbuilder, planning to set up a small boatyard next to their family home in Strete where he would build and restore boats and spend more time with his children after finishing his training.  He hankered to build Salcombe Yawls, having raced them from the age of 15 and bought a Y61 at 16 (replacing two planks and four ribs to get her to racing standard).  The course at the Academy had two vital benefits with regard to his long term plan – he would learn solid, practical boat building skills and he could possibly build a Salcombe Yawl as part of the course.

Rob wanted to undertake a complex and difficult build in terms of class rules and tolerances.  The Academy does not normally encourage students in this type of project, but because Rob had a clear career strategy, the yawl build was central to his plans and Justin Adkin, one of the Academy Instructors, had specialised in Salcombe Yawl builds, we agreed he should go ahead, making sure Rob understood he would not finish the boat by the end of the course.

While on the course Rob earned 3 distinctions, 2 credits and a pass in the City & Guild examinations in addition to completing the majority of the 16’ Salcombe Yawl build.  His diligence and determination to achieve his goals were admirable.  Since leaving the course he has built a small workshop next to his house which holds two boats, and has applied for planning permission to build another workshop three times the size.  He has set up his company with the same imagination, tenacity and high standards that he employed on the course.

To our delight, Rob was named British Marine Federation Trainee of the Year on Thursday 6th March 2008, a prestigious title he more than deserves.

Below is a photographic diary of ‘Blackback’, the boat that Rob built.