Plymouth skills float the Life Aquatic

DSCF9468A company based on the historic slipway in Oceansgate Enterprise Zone is a prime example of how investing in under-used infrastructure can pay off for Plymouth, for businesses and for the people they employ.

Stirling and Son Ltd has just delivered Life Aquatic to Montecarlo, following a keel up restoration of the classic motor yacht.

The 1950s wooden boat was rebuilt at the No. 1 Covered Slip – which was built in 1763 and is the oldest remaining covered slipway in the world.

Life Aquatic had been surveyed in 2014 and was found to be very tired, with rotten timbers and decayed fastenings. Sandeman Yacht Company from Poole had heard that Stirling and Son had regenerated the slipway and recommended that the restoration work be carried out in Plymouth. Life Aquatic took two years to restore with much of the timber renewed, almost every bolt changed and the original engines rebuilt to zero hours.

The restoration kept 15 traditional shipwrights employed, including three apprentices who are learning specialist skills which, although specific to traditional boat building, are transferrable within the marine industry. Will said: “75 per cent of what we are teaching is the right attitude towards work.

“For a relatively small investment in a piece of unused infrastructure, we’ve been able to attract work on traditional wooden boats to the heart of Plymouth’s waterfront. Without local government’s investment and the support of Princess Yachts, this work would not have come to Plymouth.”

Princess Yachts, who occupy part of South Yard, leased the unused slipway to Stirling and Son in 2013. Under the terms of lease, it can only be used only for the repair and construction of wooden boats.No. 1 Covered Slipway, Devonport

Following the lease, the traditional boat building firm applied for and received a £150,000 grant from Plymouth University/WMN Growth Fund, to buy a winch (that was used at the RNLI’s old Lizard Life Boat Station), to build new cradles and lay a marine railway.

“Being in Plymouth and on the slipway has enabled us to attract work. There are very few yards in the world with both the facility and the specialist workforce who can produce first class work on large wooden boats. There is a gentle demand for high quality wooden boat building and we are attracting work from overseas, as well as at home.”

Over the last few years the slipway has seen an 1894 Brixham trawler, a 1926 Bermudan yacht and a 1906 pilot cutter, as well as orders for new mahogany clinker dinghies from customers as far away as India and Chile. They are currently restoring an 80ft Norwegian search and rescue vessel built of oak, which is the company’s biggest job so far.

Stirling and Son - Life Aquatic Restoration (483)Council leader Ian Bowyer said: “Councils and government departments talk about growth and investment – but these are often dry words which mean very little.

“There are some incredible marine businesses right here in Plymouth, employing people with specialist skills, who are doing an amazing job and are also patiently training and passing on these skills.

“They are also helping to spread the message that Britain’s Ocean City has a vast array of skills on tap to suit a variety of marine companies – from the high tech research companies, to those that preserve traditional boat building skills.”

Incredibly Will Stirling has a family connection to the slip; In 1798 his great, great, great, great grandmother, Eliza Barlow, launched Nelson’s flagship, the Foudroyant (80 guns) on this very slipway. Her husband, Admiral Sir Robert Barlow, was an Admiral in Nelson’s navy and their daughter, Hilare, married Nelson’s brother, William Nelson.

A prime waterfront location, Oceansgate is at the South Yard, part of the Devonport Naval Dockyard.
The redevelopment of the site into a marine industries hub is the anchor project in the Plymouth and South West Peninsula Deal, to create thousands of jobs across the region. The Council has negotiated with the MoD for the release of 7.5ha which will be legally transferred in three phases.

A marketing campaign is now underway to promote Oceansgate to new marine technology businesses. Visit