Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Marine boss calls for more boatyards.

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As a child, Nick Nutt was scared of water. Now, he runs a successful marine business, enjoys scuba diving, and lives a stone's throw from the water at Mount Batten.

The turnaround came when someone gave him a mask to wear so that he could see the bottom. The rest, as they say, is history.

Nick is now managing director of Western Marine Power, a successful marine firm which runs a busy workshop at Mount Batten.

After overcoming his fear of water, Nick developed an interest in all things marine, and decided that he wanted to work in Devonport Dockyard.

Despite the words of a careers advisor, who told him he wouldn't make the grade, Nick left Burleigh School at 17, set on becoming a fitter and turner - a worker that uses a lathe to make various metal parts.

A first attempt at the entrance exam to the Dockyard, which was then the normal entry route, didn't go well when Nick was given the wrong date.

At this point, Nick breaks off from his story to point out that the prow of a large Princess Yacht has just appeared literally millimetres from the window of his first floor office.

It's a reminder of just how far Nick has come and he continues with the early part of his story.

"I thought to myself 'that's a shame', but several of my friends couldn't get jobs and were on the dole and I announced to my Mum that that was what I was going to do and she said 'no you're not - no-one in this family has gone on the dole and you're not going to'," he said.

So Nick returned to education and went to study for some more O-Levels at Plymouth College of Further Education. A year later, in 1979, he sat the Dockyard entrance exam again and came 137th out of several thousand candidates who were sitting the exam.

It was more than enough to gain him an apprenticeship and Nick - along with 400 or so others, joinedDevonport Dockyard as part of the last big intake of apprentices taken on.

The year after he joined, Nick remembers, the intake was 30 and the year after that, it went down to 10.

Once he was in the dockyard, Nick became an electrical fitter and spent the next four years of his apprenticeship working on everything from frigates to submarines, and cranes.

After qualifying, Nick spent a year working as a fitter before going to work for Marine Projects, now known as Princess Yachts.

Soon after he left then dockyard, the first of many several major cutbacks in workforce levels were announced by the Government.

But Nick said he understood why change was necessary at the Dockyard.

"Back then, it was a bastion of British industry and it had to change. That's one of the reasons I got out - I say I couldn't stand the pace because it was too slow," he said.

So after working for one of the largest public sector employers in the city, Nick started work for one of the largest private sector organisations where he expanded his skills base as an engineer.

After spending another five years there, he decided he wanted to be his own boss and left to become self-employed in 1989.

He based himself at Queen Anne's Battery and called his new venture Western Marine Electrical Services.

The business then teamed up with the wholesale equipment firm Atlantis Marine Power, with Western Marine supplying installation expertise.

The two companies worked well together and over the next few years, both achieved significant levels of growth.

But by 1999 it was felt that the two businesses would be better off working separately, and Nick bought out the Atlantis Marine Power arm of the business and moved to Mount Batten.

Since then, Western Marine Power has continued to grow. It now has a workforce of 16 and has doubled its floorspace.

The business operates in six key areas: boatbuilding, refurbishing, adding gadgets including bespoke and custom made systems, servicing, making wiring looms and selling goods.

At the moment, adding gadgets is a core part of the business, but Nick believes that there is there is huge potential to grow the refit side of the business.

To that end, Western Marine Power is launching the Princess Refit Centre next year, a centre which will provide a beginning-to-end service to refurbish Princess Yachts.

"We recognised that we need to be a one-stop shop where the owner brings us his boat to us and we provide a package, whether that's joinery, electrical, mechanical or upholstery," said Nick.

Western Marine Power has already refitted two Princess Yachts from Spain, one of which now resides in Wales and the other in Russia.

As well as full order books in his own business, Nick has been encouraged by the work levels of other city-based businesses.

He said: "The barometer is the big businesses like Princess Yachts. They are busy and can't make enough boats and they come into the outside world where we are and they need looking after, so it's work for us."

Nick said that Plymouth had a unique base for its growing marine sector because of the presence of large companies like DML and Princess Yachts.

"I'm proud to be in Plymouth. I feel that we have got so much to offer here for the marine sector. Plymouth has a fantastic maritime history going right back to Sir Francis Drake," he said.

"The infrastructure is there in Plymouth, especially in support of the Dockyard and Princess Yachts.

"People say that for every business that employs 1,000 people, 1,000 are employed in support roles in the infrastructure that feeds them.

"There's a tremendous resource here. For example, if you need a stainless steel contractor, there are three or four if not five of them here."

But this breadth of marine businesses is also posing a problem for Plymouth as the city develops.

Waterside land is increasingly being developed for luxury housing, meaning that marine businesses that need to be on the water sometimes find it difficult to find suitable sites that they can afford.

"The perennial problem is finding places to work on the boats. Waterside properties are at a premium. I was particularly disappointed to see that a boatyard in Sutton Harbour is going to close to make way for flats.

"They are shutting the boatyard down and I think that's bad. I hope at Millbay that there will be space for small units or for the south yard to grow. There's a big market out there and space is at a premium."

But shouldn't hearing that a competitor is closing be good news for a marine business? Not, in the long term, says Nick.

"In the short term, the work at Sutton Harbour will be done by other yards, including us. We will get extra work out of it, but I feel it makes Plymouth less of a destination for someone looking to have work done on a boat," he said.

"We would prefer to see more space and more yards in Plymouth - we feel it makes us stronger as a city."

And achieving unity and strength for Plymouth as a whole is a subject that is close to Nick's heart.

In particular, he would like to see gateway sites into the city given a clear sense of identity that shouts about Plymouth's unique maritime heritage.

"We have got fantastic traditions and history, we have got the dockyard and everything else in the marine sector and everyone should know us as a maritime city," he said.

Just as well he was given that mask as a child...

Source Citation:"Marine boss calls for more boatyards." Europe Intelligence Wire (Dec 19, 2006): NA. General OneFile. Gale. Alachua County Library District. 7 Oct. 2009
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