With the America’s Cup set to return to our shores and New Zealand sailors and boat builders revelling in a triumphant campaign, one former NZMACITO apprentice has given us his take on why New Zealand boat builders are considered some of the best in the world.
Nathan Kerry has forged a successful career for himself in Europe following his NZMACITO apprenticeship at Gulf Harbour’s Brin Wilson Boats. Now based in the UK and owner of NK Marine Services, he’s worked on the two biggest superyachts in existence, built the first wings for team Landrover BAR, and worked for the Red Bull Flying Without Wings offshore foiling cat project.
Having just signed his first new build in Italy, we asked him for his reflections on the value of completing an apprenticeship, why New Zealand-qualified boat builders are considered so highly and the key factors that helped him complete his apprenticeship.
NZMACITO: Tell us about when and where you completed your apprenticeship?
NK: I started at Brin Wilson Boats in 2007 and worked there for two years before going on to be an apprentice with them.
The support from the NZMACITO was great, with night school and visits from the assessors every six weeks or so. Field officer Mike Birdsall really helped me towards the end. I was struggling with dyslexia and he got support for me with my book work, as I could of finished sooner but the paperwork aspect was holding me back. He gave me some really good advice that I still use today – never stop learning.
Boat building isn’t something you can teach in the class room alone, so you need both the practical side and the theory side of it.
NZMACITO: If you could tell people considering a boat building apprenticeship one thing, what would it be?
NK: Don’t expect it to be easy – it will be long and hard but it will all be worth it! In my career now I have people calling me up at 2am and sending a driver to collect me and take me to the airport to fly to exotic locations to work on amazing projects, and I get paid well for it too.
NZMACITO: What are some of the most exciting projects you’ve worked on?
NK: It’s been almost five years since I finished and I have worked on the two biggest superyachts in the world with leadership roles on both projects. I worked on S/Y A’s rigs through Magma Structures, and built the dino rigs for S/Y Black Pearl, which has just been launched by Oceanco in Holland.
Then I went on to work on the Red Bull Flying Without Wings offshore foiling cat project and worked for BAR building the first wings for it’s T4 America’s Cup Boat. I now have my own company and have just signed my first boat to build in Italy.
NZMACITO: Why do you think New Zealand-trained boat builders are regarded so highly overseas?
NK: A proper apprenticeship doesn’t exist in Europe – you are either a laminator or a contract boat builder, with many of those people sourced from New Zealand or Australia.
The UK no longer has an apprenticeship scheme so while there are older English boat builders, there is a gap in people between the ages of 20 to 40. The difference I see with people who do apprenticeships and those who don’t is that qualified tradesmen have more well-rounded abilities, are able to adapt to situations quickly, and perform at a high standard straight out of the gate on a new project, or at a new work place.
NZMACITO: What are some of the key benefits of doing an apprenticeship?
NK: When you’ve completed an apprenticeship, it gives prospective employers a good understanding of your skill level straight away. It also really allows you opportunities to better yourself and learn more as you move forward in your career because you have the foundation there to work with, and companies are happy to invest in your continued future growth.
NZMACITO: What were some of your favourite aspects of your apprenticeship?
NK: I feel that for me the things I liked doing aren’t necessarily the things that have helped in my career in Europe. My favourite thing was timber work frames, sheathing and teak decks.
The most important things I learnt for my career was an all-round understanding of boats and laminating, installing systems and fittings, pricing and terminology.
The team at Brin Wilson Boats in Gulf Harbour Auckland never gave up on me and I will never forget the teachings of Bruce Dicky, Larn, Jonny, Bryan, and last but not least, the late Nick Saul. They all taught me, and helped me understand why things were important – now it all makes sense and I’m very grateful; I can’t thank them enough.