The Boat Building Academy

The Boat Building Academy in Lyme Regis can teach you how to build your own vessel in just 40 weeks

Wood is everything and everywhere at the Boat Building Academy (BBA) in Dorset. It’s steamed or bent, dovetailed or bridled, rivetted or drilled, curved into keels, spliced into oars, sounded into instruments, rocked into chairs. Here you can see wood doing things you didn’t know it could do: draped like wet spaghetti or corkscrewed round bends.

On Monmouth Beach in Lyme Regis, the BBA teaches people how to make boats or furniture using both ancient and modern techniques. Its centrepiece is the 40-week boat-building course during which students learn to build their own vessel from lofting to launch, starting with a chisel, progressing through carbon fibre or CNC (computer-numerical-control) machining, and ending with sails, engines or oars. In the big workshop, speedboats like the Donzi Deep-V 18 (pictured, below) are framed out beside canoes, old-school racers next to Shetland yawls. Next door the furniture-making students glide from basics to professional qualification in 12 wild weeks.

Alasdair Grant is the son of a fisherman from Cromarty. “I grew up on boats,” he says. “I went to school by dinghy every morning, down on the beach with my lifejacket on.” By 14 he knew he wanted to be a boatbuilder, by 15 he’d decided on the BBA, and by 18 he had joined the long course. His fellow students were a mixture of ages and backgrounds: school-leavers, a 40-something NHS consultant on sabbatical, a navy veteran on resettlement training. People come to the BBA for many reasons: to fulfil a dream, or because they want to be held to high standards, or because they need to make an object which really means something. It’s now a charity, and is hoping through fundraising to offer bursaries, widening that social mix still further.

“Boat design isn’t just about the maths,” says Alasdair. “It’s about what looks and feels right.” As always, his course was capped off with a launch day down by Lyme’s famous Cobb: total immersion, in every sense. “Boats are awkward on land but, when they hit the water and they’re weightless, they become what they’re meant to be.” Alasdair is now 28 and runs his own boatyard but considers the BBA the best possible start: “I can’t speak highly enough of it – it just couldn’t have been any better.”