July 30, 2015
One of Berthon’s longest serving shipwrights, Mike Prince tells us that from a very early age he was encouraged by his father to establish himself within a trade if he were to always be engaged in work. This was a very typical approach of this generation, but most certainly an approach that delivered sustainability for Mike over his 31 years of service. Mike’s father was a shipwright and thus followed a seamless transition for this young man into what would become a career path in a highly skilled profession.
The wheels started turning back in 1968 when the late David May was the driving force behind what is still a thriving and forward thinking company at the top of its game. Seen through the eyes of a young man as an ideal opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps, it made reasonable sense for Mike to fall into an apprenticeship program to secure a footing within a desirable trade. It is without any doubt that Mike’s most memorable days revert back to his time as an apprentice so he is keen to ensure that history repeats itself, especially as his own son has now followed in his father’s footsteps but as a marine engineer and at Berthon!
As with any industry the development cycle is continual and the boat building sector is no exception to this rule. With new techniques and materials being introduced frequently the need to be reactive to change becomes imperative to performance and delivery. As an experienced and well-seasoned shipwright, Mike understands the importance of natural progression but expresses his concerns in the need to educate young people to appreciate apprenticeships and for boat building companies to not lose sight of the need for traditional as well as modern skills. Berthon often utilises modern technology to solve a traditional problem.
With his well-worked hands, it is visibly apparent that there is more to Mike than being just a shipwright! Admirably, Mike is empathetic to the importance of imparting this archive of knowledge onto his young apprentices; after all, he once filled those shoes. At Berthon the apprentices are able to experience a diversity of skills thanks to the variety of projects that come through the big blue sheds making the program an almost unparalleled entry into the industry.
Being a shipwright is not for the faint hearted. You need to have flair, passion, the desire to work hard and a meticulous eye for detail. Overcoming obstacles and challenges is nothing short of an everyday occurrence and clearly this aspect of the job floats Mike’s boat, which is the key objective in the current project to rebuild RIPPLE, a Western Solent One Design built by Berthon in 1925. For most shipwrights this opportunity alone would reaffirm, why they ever became a shipwright in the first place. For Mike, he considers it a privilege to be an active leader of the restoration team and an inspirational mentor as part of his everyday challenge is to guide his young apprentices through each stage of this complex build.
There are of course other critical factors associated with being a shipwright, one of which is having the right tool for the right job and knowing how to use it! Safety is paramount especially when it comes to using tools and there is plentiful safety training at Berthon to make sure that risks are measured & managed accurately. Most of Mike’s tools were handed down from his father and indeed, will inevitably get passed on to in due course, although Mike’s plans are to build a clinker dinghy during his retirement years…. So the jury is out on when that hand over might just be!
What is so remarkable about Mike is his continuity and focus on attention to detail. There is nothing more pleasing than walking away from a job, knowing you gave it everything; just looking at the work Mike has completed on RIPPLE alone proves this is a craftsman in his own right!
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