I’m one of more than 80 skilled carpenters in the bench carpentry section at Princess’s Coypool complex, and we produce just about every piece of timber aboard your Princess. From structural bulkheads to wardrobe doors, and from bunks and bathrooms to superyacht dining tables, they are all put together with the same obsessive quest for perfection.
I have always liked working with wood. I did it at home, enjoyed it at school, and studied it at college. I then spent ten years with a local manufacturer producing architectural joinery, windows, doors and staircases, during which time I served a four-year apprenticeship to earn my professional qualifications.
In the 20 years I’ve been at Princess, I have seen how our traditional woodworking and joinery skills have been augmented by high-tech machinery and computer modelling. It’s about efficiency and cost, of course, but it’s also about quality. Computer numerical control means precision, but timber is a natural element with inherent variations, so a lot of traditional skills are needed to bring even a straightforward assembly up to the level of quality we require. The smallest jobs contain only a few components, but the largest may number nearer 400. And everything has to fit and function as perfectly as possible.
Our designers are demanding more curves than they used to, in both bulkheads and furniture. So we use vacuum presses which can produce complex curves in material thicknesses which would have been impossible only a few years ago. Microwave radio frequency presses form the multi-layered veneer cappings that grace almost every bunk.
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The popular cherry finishes of a few years ago have now mostly given way to oak and walnut. But we still use cherry on many of the ebony feature pieces like coffee tables and dining tables, because its density and close grain allow it to be colour-matched perfectly.
In 2015 I was presented with the John Helmore Award for Excellence. John was a great friend of mine. We studied at the same college in Plymouth, little imagining that years later we’d both be working at Princess Yachts. He was an absolutely fantastic craftsman, and his work was an inspiration to the whole team. Sadly, he died of cancer last year, aged 44, and it’s a great honour to be the first recipient of this new award in his memory.
In my spare time I like to raise money for St Luke’s Hospice, which looked after John, so this year I entered the Lions Club New Years’ Day fancy dress swim in Cawsand Bay. I went as a Minion. The outfit was only made of cardboard, but even if I say so myself, it was pretty good. Like John, I’m not just a carpenter, I’m a perfectionist.