“Bristol rather chose me!” says Mark Rolt while articulating his reasons for selecting this fair city for Bristol Classic Boat Co., his jolly boat building business. “I came down for the weekend back in 1986 to see my brother, who had opened a shop in Colston Street, and he mentioned that a boat was being rebuilt on Canons Marsh – they took me on and I’ve been here ever since.”
Mark and his team of shipwrights – which comprises of two apprentices, the odd labourer and a list of ‘subbies’ he calls upon when needed – repair and maintain vessels of all shapes and sizes, as well as building new ones from scratch, from their workshop in Hanover Place marina. “Mostly it’s the odd plank, paint job or new mast,” Mark says, “but this year, already, we have re-fitted a 50-year-old 50′ cabin cruiser, and are in the middle of restoring a 120-year-old, 50′ sailing yacht, in addition to painting and varnishing a dinghy.
“Yes, there’s nothing quite like taking the responsibility for your work, upon which others are going to depend for their lives…”
“Business is good at the moment, but that can turn very quickly,” he adds. “It is very much a feast or famine occupation, which is why the people who do it are usually exceptional! In order to counteract this aspect of the work, I’ve acquired a chandlery business which sells stuff that other boatyards and boat owners use. It was established 20 years ago on the east coast, but it has now moved to Bristol. It’s not so much the stainless bling we sell as much as the tallow, and yarn, oakum and turpentine. Though we do have a magnificent line of gorgeous bronze port holes.”
We office dwellers were rather envious on the super-sunny day in April that we chose to visit Mark – loving the idea of grafting in the open air beside the water; and a good old-fashioned, rewarding trade. “Yes, there’s nothing quite like taking the responsibility for your work, upon which others are going to depend for their lives,” agrees Mark, before pondering over favourite past projects. “The Matthew was fun, and it’s great to see it still causing heads to turn. I do love my job. And all the names of the boat parts we use – futtocks, buttock lines, baggywrinkles, lubber holes…”
Happily, it seems Bristol was the right choice for this man and his boatyard. “It’s just the best here, isn’t it?” says Mark, who, we discover, also owned the boatyard on Redcliffe Wharf for 15 years previously. “There are no pretensions about the place, you get what you see. I love that my family has grown, flown and then returned to the city.” It sounds like a close-knit scene too: “Everyone who belongs to the boating community of Bristol, or has a boat near Bristol comes by the Hanover marina at some point – it’s the hub of boating life here. If you don’t know someone, you’ll have heard of them, or know someone that knows them. Living or working on and around the water, it’s inevitable that you know most people who do the same – it’s like a great big village! A microcosm of Bristol.
“We’ve even got our own anthem – adapted by the boat-builders round here from a song called Dem Bones…” laughs Marks. “It goes: ‘The deck plank’s attached to the beam planks, the beam plank’s attached to the beam shelf, the beam shelf’s attached to the futtocks, now hear the word of the Lord… The futtock’s attached to the hull planks, the hull plank’s attached to the stem board, the stem board’s attached to the keel board, now hear the word of the Lord!”
For more information: www.roltsboatyard.com