20-year-old boat builder sets up shop at Pinmill

Tom Curtis, a 20-year-old shipwright has launched his own business at Pinmill

Tom Curtis, a 20-year-old shipwright has launched his own business at Pinmill - Credit: TOM CURTIS

A 20-year-old who "learned to walk on a boat" is keeping family traditions alive as he launches a boat building business on the banks of a Suffolk river.

Tom Curtis is taking his first steps as a shipwright, as he has started a business building traditional wooden sailing boats at Pinmill.

"I've been around boats pretty much my whole life," he said. "I mean, I learned to walk on a boat.

"My dad has owned a little boat yard in Pinmill for quite a long time, so I've always been interested in them."

Tom Curtis, 20, is a traditional shipwright building wooden boats based in Pinmill 

Tom Curtis, 20, is a traditional shipwright building wooden boats based in Pinmill - Credit: TOM CURTIS

Mr Curtis completed a four year apprenticeship at the Pioneer Sailing Trust in Brightlingsea before starting his own business.


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He said: "A lot of the skills used are exactly the same as were used 200-300 years ago.

"For example, at the moment I'm building a 12ft clinker dinghy for a customer and the way it's built really goes back to the Vikings and it's still one of the best ways of doing it. 

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"It hasn't really changed that much over time.

"The biggest problem we get as shipwrights is that we are running out of wood. Foresting isn't really a thing anymore and it is a struggle to find good quality wood."

Tom Curtis was an apprentice at the Pioneer Sailing Trust for four years before starting up on his own.

Tom Curtis was an apprentice at the Pioneer Sailing Trust for four years before starting up on his own. - Credit: TOM CURTIS

The work Mr Curtis undertakes includes building completely new boats and repairing older vessels.

He said: "In a lot of the really traditional stuff we try to use as little glue as possible and ideally we'd use none at all. 

"It's all held together using copper rivets and mechanical or friction joints."

These techniques were used to build vessels such as Thames barges and fishing smacks, which used to be crucial to life in Suffolk.

Now, these vessels are still being built but for leisure rather than industry.

"Thames barges where the lorries of their day," he said. "Without Thames barges, we wouldn't have been fed.

"There's a lot of racing that happens with smacks on the East Coast now, so they're mainly being built as private yachts for private owners now." 

A 12ft clinker dinghy that Tom Curtis is currently building

A 12ft clinker dinghy that Tom Curtis is currently building - Credit: TOM CURTIS

Mr Curtis said he was one of just a few shipwrights in East Anglia.

"I can count the amount of shipwrights I know on my hand," he said. "There's definitely not as many people as there should be doing it.

"There's far more work for the shipwrights than there are shipwrights to do the work at the minute.

"It is sort of dying. It's getting a bit worrying.

"Keeping the skill and passing it on is a good thing. I'd definitely like to set up a bit of my own yard at some point and maybe get some of my own apprentices."

The techniques used in boat building go back to Viking times

The techniques used in boat building go back to Viking times - Credit: TOM CURTIS


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