September 2019 – Justin Tyers – Phoenix from the Ashes

There are house fires and there are house fires. In Justin and Linda’s case their timber-framed, open-plan house blazed so fiercely and so quickly after they’d first smelt smoke, and noticed the red glow between the floorboards, that the fire service had had to withdraw and let it roar and collapse, as it spectacularly did. People talk of life-changing experiences; they had one.

Having (with no DIY skills to speak of, so Justin claimed) built a new house they decided to go on and build a boat. Not a modest little trailer-sailer in a garage, but a heavyweight traditional long-keel 15 tonner, constructed in a 90 foot barn. They devised ways to reliably make the scarf joints to join Douglas fir planks into the 40 foot lengths the build needed, they devised ways to laminate the frames to match the offsets provided by their designer. They developed epoxying skills. They successfully tackled the worrying job of gluing together three lengths of hollowed spruce, to make the mast. The build took nearly three years…

The aim was not just to own a boat to be proud of, but also to adopt a totally new lifestyle. And so they did. They could keep warm in winter with their wood burner (we got the impression Justin was never too far from his chainsaw), they could anchor for free in deserted creeks, sea lochs and estuaries, they could beach the boat and careen her to clean and paint the hull.

They were living and sailing in the style of Joshua Slocum, a century ago, not visiting marinas with hot showers, with power sockets and fresh water hoses, but using their wits and ingenuity (and a chainsaw!) to live “off grid”. For many of us the call of the sea is at least in part down to a desire to enjoy being self-reliant and self-sufficient – Justin and Linda took this to an extreme, and made it work.

Over seven years they lived this life, in and around Scotland, France, Cornwall and Ireland – weathering storms, picking up work on and off, and much enjoying a lifestyle they had chosen to live, enjoying it all the more from having put their own sweat (they mentioned no tears) into making it a reality.

Justin is an artist and several of us bought prints of his work, after the talk, for home, office or boat. He did a good trade in the books he has written. Another great evening.