What the life of the passionate man who runs one of Plymouth’s oldest shipyards is like

For every boat on the water here in Ocean City in Britain, there is a berth in a shipyard that boat often takes, and a sailor who likely looks after his boat on a regular basis.

Plymouth has one of the richest and most diverse maritime industries in the world – with companies such as Princess Yachts and Babcock headquartered here in the city – however, there are hundreds of other small businesses in the industry that are often overlooked.

Blagdons Boatyard in Richmond Walk, Devonport, is a family business that has stood the test of time here in Plymouth, providing a safe place for boats of all kinds for almost 200 years.

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Will Blagdon, the man behind the wheel of Blagdons, is passionate about everything to do with boats and navigation – that’s obvious.

He remembers the ’70s as if it were yesterday, a time when Plymouth yachting was in full swing – something he says he is sad to see lost over the years in Plymouth.

In addition to passion, it takes a lot more to run a successful shipyard, and during the global Covid-19 pandemic some people’s habits have changed – and this has had an effect on the day-to-day operations of the shipyard. Jokes.

Will explained that sometimes for some people a boat is a bit like a potting shed. Even if it’s not out at sea to face the waves, there is always something to do – and there has to be a place to take care of a boat, maintain it, so to speak.

This is usually where shipyards come in – and for the most part, it still is at Blagdons Shipyard, but some people’s habits have changed during the pandemic.

Things tend to get a bit quieter in the shipyard during the colder months, Will told us. But things usually speed up in the spring when boat owners come out of the woodwork ready to dust off their mobile homes and set sail.

Will Blagdon, Owner and COO of Blagdons Boatyard

Will explained how the Blagdons coat came to him. He said: “We’ve been there for a long time, my dad passed away last year at age 101, and he had been doing it since he was born pretty much.

“It’s been in the family for a long time. There was kind of an assumption that I would take it on, and I try not to force it on my kids, but it’s a way of life, it’s a calling you have to be passionate about, and it’s something you have to be willing to sacrifice yourself for.

“We have a lot of it in our industry, and there has been a lot of passing down from generation to generation, not so much these days, but I’m probably one of the few with a little bit of history.”

Will told us about the day-to-day operations of the shipyard, explaining that things tend to be quite seasonal.

Memories - Will's Father, Alex Blagdon
Memories – Will’s Father, Alex Blagdon

He said: “You will have times at the end of the year and the beginning of the year that are quite calm and flat, and then in the spring, summer and fall people obviously love to be on the water – we have 50ft sailboat kayakers but they all love to be on the water.

“It’s a bit of a potting shed, people sometimes come down and do a bit of work on the boat, get out of their 9-5, escape their house for an hour or two. Some people never get down. in the water, others just like the work, making pieces. ”

We asked Will how his business has performed throughout the pandemic, with various restrictions dictating elements of our lives over the past two years.

Will said: “I think it affected people’s activities, their tendencies and what you would normally expect. Lockdown meant people couldn’t come and do their DIY, they couldn’t get off their boats. for a few months, so it was nice to destroy the patterns we were used to.

“But usually this summer when people were able to get out on the water, things got back to normal, pretty much. I think we’ve actually been affected more in the last couple of months. People seem to have had it. been affected by Covid more strongly in the past two months, there seems to be more around.

“I believe that anyone who runs a business now needs to be more adaptable, more fluid and more flexible, able to cope with the changes that this has brought about.”

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Will has spoken enthusiastically about Plymouth’s rich and diverse maritime industry and how he believes many of the small businesses that make it up are often overlooked – left in the shadow of some of the larger and more renowned companies. .

“Plymouth has been a maritime city for hundreds of years,” said Will. He added: “It has grown into a large and diverse industry that spans everything from kayaks, paddleboards, canoes and all the way to super yachts, we have everything in the area. Sometimes, however, the industry has a feeling that when the navy is mentioned there is usually a small collection of things that are discussed, things like Princess Yachts, Babcock and the university.

“Plymouth is much more diverse than that, we have everything from fishing to private fishing, kayakers, paddleboarders, we still have a few yacht clubs left, although they seem to be a dying breed.

“Plymouth has a fantastic marine history, and it’s a shame that sometimes Plymouth forgets the whole picture and what is going on, although we are probably one of the most important naval towns in the UK, if not in Europe. So yes, sometimes I have the impression that we are a little forgotten. ”

Daily life at the Blagdons shipyard

Blagdons Shipyard in Richmond Walk, Plymouth
Blagdons Shipyard in Richmond Walk, Plymouth

Will pointed out that while things looked rather calm on a cold, hazy December day in Blagdons, that’s normal for this time of year – as there is a seasonal pattern.

Speaking about his day-to-day life at the shipyard, Will said: “There are always a lot of inquiries, the boats can have general maintenance throughout the year which tends to fall into the line. particular tendency to which the customer is accustomed. People buy parts, materials, consumables.

“They paint their boats, it’s like the floating potting shed, there’s always something going on, it’s a bit like gardening in a lot of ways.

“There is always a demand for work. For us it’s about storage, boats that want to get out of the water, do a lot of work, and then come back either in the next few months or weeks, so there’s always a demand someone needs something thing be done.

“A lot of jobs can’t be done afloat, so they need a place to come to, and that’s why we’re so important.

“Unfortunately the small independent yards are a dying breed. There aren’t many of us now, a lot of them have been taken over by large multinational companies, so again Plymouth and the South West have a very a long history of good old-fashioned boat storage, but we have to evolve over time, so we’re trying to do it. “

Some of the ships at Blagdons
Some of the ships at Blagdons

“I think if our side of the industry were to disappear, locally and economically, that would be devastating.”

Taking care of our shipping businesses and the diversity of businesses in the shipping industry here in Plymouth is of the utmost importance, said Will.

He said he believed Plymouth had “unfortunately lost a lot of its strength” over the years when it came to anything water-based. But once upon a time, not too long ago, Plymouth was the place to be when it came to yachting.

PlymouthLive meets Will Blagdon, owner and COO of Blagdons Boatyard in Richmond Walk, Plymouth
PlymouthLive meets Will Blagdon, owner and COO of Blagdons Boatyard in Richmond Walk, Plymouth

“Sadly over the years I have seen Plymouth lose a lot of its strength in the national and international agenda when it comes to all things water. It can be the yacht races we are talking about. were famous in Plymouth – the transatlantic, the Great Britain round, races where we were once probably the best in the world. ”

Will also explained that he believes the skills are not imparted or learned as much as they were here in Plymouth.

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“We are losing skills. Skills in particular are getting harder and harder to come by, students who leave school are not often directed into the navy, they are directed in all other directions. It would be sad to see Plymouth. losing the small and the SME and micro business element, and what we bring to the economy, we bring people from all over the country and all over Europe.

“I think if our side of the industry were to disappear, locally and economically, that would be devastating. There is a responsibility on both sides, both business owners and those in power, to make sure that we are not lost. “

He added: “I tend to talk a bit about Plymouth and its forgotten maritime importance, but I’ve been in the industry my whole life and been involved in it a lot over the past 50 years.

“It’s really sad that my hometown doesn’t place more importance on who we are as an industry, and the stature we once had by hosting and hosting some of the best yacht races in the world. .

PlymouthLive meets Will Blagdon, owner and COO of Blagdons Boatyard in Richmond Walk
PlymouthLive meets Will Blagdon, owner and COO of Blagdons Boatyard in Richmond Walk

“It was great to see Plymouth hosting recent events such as Sail GP and the Americas Cup, but we don’t have to look much further to be in awe of the maritime events that have gripped the Plymouth Strait over the years. Last 60 years including transatlantic races (well known as OSTAR – Observer Single-handed Trans Atlantic Race) and Round Britain.

“The Royal Western Yacht Club (of England), still based at Queen Anne’s Battery, albeit on a smaller scale, was a world leader in hosting and managing large local yacht races.

“Local sailors would also run regularly between Plymouth and destinations such as Falmouth, Fowey, Salcombe, St Malo and Morlaix.”

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