By Luke Powell
Luke Powell is so modest about his achievements that he will probably be slightly amazed when described as a 'national treasure'. Beginning in the early 1990s, he has pioneered a revival in the building of traditional pilot cutters in Great Britain. Happily, he also as a flair for storytelling, both when looking back over a rich if unconventional life lived to the full, and when describing the long struggle to win acceptance for the wooden boats on which he established his reputation as a boatbuilder.
Luke admits to a love for wooden boats that verges on the obsessive. It began when clambering over the rotten hulks then mudbound in the backwater creeks of his Suffolk boyhood. Aged nine, he set sail with his family for the Greek islands, where traditional boats were still being built. From then on the sea was his school. Aged 17 he was skippering a 60 foot ketch round the Aegean. After an apprenticeship as a shipwright restoring Thames barges, he returned to the Mediterranean and the nomadic life of a journeyman boatbuilder. In due course he acquired a French girlfriend - the first of many long-suffering partners in his adventures - and Charmian, a 75-year-old cutter. In 1990, with a baby son on board, he sailed Charmian up the Helford River in Cornwall, little realising that seven years later it would become the home of his boatbuilding business, Working Sail.
Luke's arrival in England coincided with the renewal of interest in traditional boats. Having stumbled on a book about Scillonian pilot cutters, he vowed there and then to build one from scratch. Risking what little money he had on buying timber, he built by Eve by himself - almost with his bare hands.Eve was followed by Lizzie May - 20 months to build, 20 to sell, and disastrously dropped by a crane after a refit. These were dark days of near bankruptcy. Success came gradually, yet to this day remains underpinned by a passionate belief in skills, craftsmanship and values that cannot be quantified in terms of money. Other boats have been launched into the Helford: Agnes, Hesper, Ezra, Tallulah, Amelie Rose, Freja - the names alone are a rollcall of some of the most admired boats to have recently been built in Britain.
A book celebrating Luke Powell's achievements has long been overdue, and Working Sail will delight all those who love boats and the sea, or for whom the spirit of adventure is not yet dead.
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