In 2020 Matt Robinson was awarded funding through the Endangered Craft Fund to train as a traditional sail maker with Ratsey & Lapthorn.
Matt had originally trained as a watersports instructor and grew up around boats – as he puts it, “you don’t really have much of a choice about that if you live on the Isle of Wight” – but felt that his passion was becoming a chore. He wanted to stay around boats and when the opportunity to be a sail maker came up, he realised that this could be the career for him; “the classic boats are amazing and so it ticked every box for me in what I wanted from a job. Working with my hands, being practical and keeping my brain busy”.
Matt started with some basic knowledge of leatherwork and hand sewn rings but, with the help of the Endangered Craft Fund, he was able to spend time shadowing master sail maker Gary and honing his skills. They have worked together on the classic yacht, Cynara and on a local boat Boojum, both with full classic sails. He is now working independently and feels confident enough to tackle classic sails.
Ratsey & Lapthorn owner Jim Hartley said that the financial assistance was invaluable, in that it enabled the business the time to train Matt properly. It allowed him to have some unproductive time where he wasn’t earning money and could focus on learning the skills. Matt says: “It has been very successful. There is always something that I am learning. That’s what I like about it. Every day is interesting, every sail is different”.
Jim is very positive about the future of traditional sail making at Ratsey & Lapthorn but he is also keen to stress how important it is that businesses invest in skills and the next generation of craftspeople. Their main competitor has recently retired and, with no succession plan or anyone to pass the skills on to, the business has simply closed. The loss of those skills are a loss to the craft.
Matt and Jim are already looking to the future and they hope to take on more trainees who will benefit from Matt’s expertise, thus ensuring the continuity of these otherwise disappearing skills and help in future proofing a business that is part of our maritime history. Matt says:
“I can’t think of any better way to learn than the way that I have done it. Lots of people like practical work. For the next people coming through it’s going to be even better because they will have both me and Gary to learn from. We all have our own ways of doing things and that makes our skills even better as a team.”
- Project funding: £2,000 from the Heritage Crafts Endangered Craft Fund
- Project aim: To create a project that will enable apprentice Matt to develop the hand skills required to move from a basic sailmaker to being a classic craftsman in sail making, thus ensuring the continuity of these otherwise disappearing skills and help in future proofing a business that is part of our maritime history.