MIKE ANDREWS BOAT BUILDER CUM LAUDE
By Nancy Terrell
Mike Andrews, a boat builder in the finest sense of the word and manager for Yacht Restoration, Ltd, in the BVI, is a classic yacht enthusiast. While talking in preparation for Foxys Wooden Boat Regatta he tells me about boat building. In the UK a shipwright is a general builder that is not a specialist. A boat builder is someone who specializes in the entire construction, from the keel up and is expected to have an apprenticeship of approximately 5 to 7 years during which time he learns about all aspects of boats - a recognized trade apprenticeship.
Mike served his 7-year Premium Apprenticeship with Vosper Thornycroft UK Ltd. and holds a City & Guilds Yacht and Shipbuilding Certification at Intermediate, Final and Full Technical Levels. I began in 62, finished my apprenticeship in 69 and stayed with Vosper until 76. During these years I learned traditional boat building skills on wooden boats up to 100 feet and steel vessels to 150. We built many wooden mooring tugs for oil tankers and a well-known 75 executive launch for the Ford Motor Company in London, which is still in service with them. I had the privilege of working on many famous boats to come out of the Vosper yard. During my time I would be trained in all departments including design, steel fabrication & welding, wooden boat building, yacht joinery and yacht finish paint systems on all vessels from the keel up. At the planning stage, I also made full size patterns for all ship components from the mould-loft floor for the construction of the hull and interior joinery.
My real passion is for wooden boats, both traditional and modern. When I was growing up, my father built wooden skiffs as a hobby and we would spend all of our free time camping on the Thames. As the family grew so did the boats as we progressed from skiffs to motor launches to a 32 Chris Craft design. It was only natural that I should choose to become a boat builder and follow a career that was second nature to me. During my early years I built or restored many racing dinghies including Albacores, Snipes, and Ospreys and later learned the thrills of racing these and other boats.
I later became excited by the multihulls when the Tornado hit the scene and went on to develop and build an all carbon fiber C-Class catamaran, which was successfully raced for the World Sailing Speed Record in 1977. In the 70s it seemed that everyone was looking for ways of building lighter, faster boats, mostly from wood, and the development West Epoxy Systems by the Gougeon Brothers was a major contributor to their successes. It was during this same period that Exotic materials started to appear. Exotics as in aluminium and Nomex; carbon fiber and Kevlar had been developed and controlled by the aerospace industry, but the technology to use these materials was starting to leak out into the marine market. I was one of the few individuals experimenting with these products and wanted to short cut the system so I took a job with British Aerospace in the Research and Experimental Department working on Harrier Jump Jets and Hawk Fighters involving me in the cutting edge of the technology. I only wanted to build fast boats and after a year with B.A. accepted the offer of a position setting up a new company building offshore racing powerboats from aerospace materials and technology. By 79 we had built and raced to victory a 36 asymmetrical catamaran and started marketing the powerboat in fast cruising mode. The Scarab was a huge success and orders were steady but despite a full order book the company ran into financial difficulties and closed in 81.
Mike then moved to Brunei, Borneo, where the Sultan of Bruneis Navy Patrol Boats needed engineers. He tells me, I accepted the position of heading the Laminating Department as they wanted boat builders for this job even though we were doing shipwrights duties on the patrol boats, which were there to protect the off shore oil wells. We were on 24-hour standby in the South China Sea, which was pretty interesting. This is a huge logging area also, which made high speed night patrolling rather dangerous.
In 86 the sultan inherited a 400 ft yacht, the largest yacht in the world, Nabila, through a business deal so I also worked on that. Interestingly enough, Donald Trump later purchased it and renamed her Trump Princess. This was a colourful time. I loved the culture and the indigenous tribes who were amazing boat builders. All of their boats were dug out canoes and many of the tribal men were employed at the Navy Base where they would build boats alongside the warships. We even raced those canoes and I had the honour of being captain of a racing team.
I then went to work for Singapore Shipyard & Engineering. I had 200 men working under me, with various skill sets, who would be loaned out to other departments where needed. We set up one of Asias first osmosis treatment centers, which turned out to be most successful. I then moved to Australia running International Shipyards in 92. My first boat there was the Australian Navys ship HMAS Moresby, which needed a 6-month upgrade and refit. The second refit was the Sultan of Bruneis yacht with a massive schedule of 17 hours a day 7 days a week to compete her 2 million dollar refit.
At the end of a two-year term I returned to the UK to build wooden boats. It was here that I built the hull of the replica of Jester, a participant in every single-handed transatlantic race since the first in 1960, recently written up in Cruising World. Upon finishing I went to Texas to work for Valiant Yachts as Manufacturing Manager - a real lifestyle switch. The Valiant, a Robert Perry design, is a classic blue water yacht and one of the few inducted into the American Hall of Fame Museum. The company was purchased in Seattle and moved to inland Texas on Lake Texoma. Several of the Valiants built during my tenure have since followed me to Tortola and are now based here permanently.
I was offered a position on contract in Southern Ireland for two years. Upon completion of that JC Durocher offered me the position of General Manager at Yacht Restoration in Nanny Cay Marina and the rest is history. I love the wooden boat projects here and am active in the restoration of Island Sloops. I hope there will be a new interest in sloops owned by the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. This is a valuable marine heritage that would disappear in a blink were it not for the interest and hard work of expatriates. It is to the West End Yacht Clubs credit that they sponsor this work and classic yacht races.
Mike works with the highly skilled team of Miles Muzyka, Leonardo Hererra and Tom Pawley. Their high quality work is widespread throughout the Caribbean. Future plans include an expansion of the workshop to meet the growing demand for both classic yacht services as well as super yachts.