Oarsome Chance – Learning about epoxy and life

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The charity Oarsome Chance has a well-equipped workshop where disadvantaged local youngsters learn how to build and repair boats.

Oarsome Chance (OC) is a charity where young people who have been excluded from mainstream education learn to work with their hands. This practical training is also combined with learning about business and how raw materials can be turned into saleable items. The charity gets its name from one of the first things students learn to make – a set of oars from laminates of timber, bonded together with WEST SYSTEM® Epoxy.

Based within the famous naval harbour of Portsmouth Harbour on the UK’s south coast, Oarsome Chance has a shed and hard standing on the waterside at Forton Lake in Gosport and is part of St Vincent’s College.

The charity’s latest project is finishing a part-completed Secret 20 sailing boat, which was donated by Practical Boat Owner magazine in 2018. We’ll be following the process over the next few months as the boat is brought to life.

Forton Lake Boatyard used to be a major maritime centre, but only a small area of hardstanding and a pontoon hosting ‘character’ boats remains.

Forton Lake boatyard, adjoining the college site, was once an extensive maritime workshop that has now been mostly reclaimed for housing. All that remains is a small boatyard and a set of pontoons. Its last owner before resizing was Bill Puddle, who was instrumental in setting up the Greenwich Wooden Boat Show that sadly closed its doors in the early 2000s.

Forton Lake itself is one of the oldest boatbuilding sites in Portsmouth Harbour and dries completely at low tide at the college site. However, careful timing means that students readily get out on the water in boats they have repaired or built from scratch.

St Vincent’s is a Further Education college with a sixth form as well as a large contingent of special educational needs (SEN) students from all across Hampshire. Several of these SEN students have been found roles at the charity as well.

John Gillard, a former superyacht captain and blue water sailor is the principle. He runs the charity with his wife Vikki and a small team of dedicated volunteer instructors.

The Gosport site specialises in building and repairing boats using wood-epoxy techniques, with a sideline in recycling sail cloth into kit bags and other weatherproof items. There is another base in the Leigh Park Estate north of Portsmouth where the charity restores old bicycles. Many of the students split their time between the two sites.

The team at Gosport currently build OC 16s, a variation on the 18ft St Ayles rowing skiffs but have recently commissioned their own slightly larger design, the OC24.

The students often start with learning how to make simple repairs to damaged GRP hulls. Many old wrecks have been revived this way. This old mock clinker rowing boat will soon look like new.

The PBO Boat

John Gillard with the PBO project boat, an unfinished Secret 20 whose construction from a plywood kit was serialised by the magazine. His students will finish the project with materials and technical advice from West System International during 2019.

Changing lives. 17-year-old Joe has been mentored by the Charity since Year 9 and is now about to start his first year on a marine engineering course in nearby Fareham. Here he is pointing out the mass of stored timber that will eventually become part of the yacht.

When Dorset-based Practical Boat Owner magazine was relocated to outer London, the original editorial team decided to avoid ‘The Smoke’ and went their separate ways. They left behind a part-completed Secret 20 sailing boat, which had formed the backbone of a series of practical pages. Unfortunately, the incoming editorial team were unable to finish the build due to a lack of suitable premises. Instead, they wanted her to go to a worthy owner, one who would complete the painstaking work. Editor Rob Melotti decided that Oarsome Chance would be ideal and so the boat was delivered to their yard in September 2018.

West System International were happy to donate the raw materials to help the charity to finish the hull and get the boat into full commission in time for next year’s sailing season.

“We are really grateful for WSI’s generous help and hope that other marine suppliers will be encouraged to pitch in,” says PBO’s Editor Rob Melotti. “This is the first sailing vessel the charity has worked on and the Secret 20 is eminently suitable for their needs. She is a good performer under sail, so attention to detail when finishing the hull will ensure she reaches her top speed. There is a footbridge blocking access from the pond to Portsmouth Harbour, so her easily raised and lowered rig will be an asset, although a mooring will almost certainly be needed during summer months when used regularly. The small cabin will suit the young crew.”

Epoxycraft will bring you regular updates as the build progresses during 2019 and also some studies of the other projects this professionally-run charity undertakes.

To find out more about Oarsome Chance and the big difference it makes to the lives of disadvantaged youngsters, visit: www.oarsomechance.org or call 023 9250 4492.

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