A 20-year old boat-building apprentice employed by Far North Holdings recently come second in a national boat-building competition. Todd Leahy from Opua was part of a team drawn from marine businesses around the Bay of Islands to compete in the annual Marine Trades Challenge in Auckland in late February.
The team, Apprentice Inc, comprised three apprentices and a qualified boat-builder from Far North Holdings-owned Bay of Islands Boatyard in Opua, Craig Partridge Yachts in Waipapa and Orakei Marina in Auckland. Despite missing out on the overall winner’s podium the team did win the Innovation and Best-built Boat categories of the challenge.
Teams had to build a catamaran from a single design. The two hulls had to be joined by a bridge deck, built in advance by the apprentices and the only part of the build where they were allowed to choose their own materials and design.
“Todd and the boys turned up with a wonderfully-made bridge deck built of plywood, cleverly designed and finished off to a very high standard indeed,” said Mike Birdsall, a field officer with NZ Marine and the Marine Trades Challenge co-ordinator.
Teams taking part in the challenge are judged on the quality of their build, the innovation they display, their health and safety practices and on the teamwork involved in the project. They also have to race their finished products and their place in the race counts towards the overall result.
Leahy said he learned new skills as a result of entering the challenge, made some useful contacts, developed teamwork skills and now has more of an understanding about building boats from scratch and to plan.
Far North Holdings, the commercial arm of the Far North District Council, and NZ Marine, the organisation responsible for promoting the growth and development of the national marine services, want local youngsters to learn about the career opportunities on offer in the areas of marine design and engineering.
“Everyone knows about the world-class sailors New Zealand produces,” Birdsall said. “What’s less well known is the fact that they and competitive sailors from many other parts of the world are all buzzing around in boats that have been designed or built, or both, right here in NZ.
“That’s no coincidence. Some really hard work has gone into building this industry and that starts with our apprentices and events like the Marine Trades Challenge.”
NZ Marine guides and assesses youngsters right across the country through their marine industry apprenticeships. Birdsall said the Bay of Islands was an important centre of marine design and engineering excellence and that Opua, in particular, had developed a good reputation both nationally and internationally.
“We all know about the sailors that have come from here but there have been some great boat builders and designers, too.
“Oracle’s head boat-builder, Mark Turner, comes from Kerikeri. And recently we helped a student from Kaitaia College land job offers from two of the finest boat-building companies in the world. This is the story we need and want young people from Northland to hear – there is tremendous opportunity in this industry for people with talent. And we’re here to help identify and grow that talent.
Leahy started his apprenticeship in 2013 after learning about the opportunity at Okaihau College, where he was at school. He hadn’t even considered the marine industry as an option but learned quickly that he had the necessary basic skills.
There are currently 360 marine trades apprenticeships in New Zealand. Far North Holdings offers one of these at Bay of Islands Boatyard in Opua.
It plans to develop three or four other apprenticeships over the next 12-18 months.
“We’ll be introducing these wherever we can across our various businesses,” said Far North Holdings chief executive Andy Nock. “Initially we’re looking at marina and property maintenance, hospitality and marina management, and in our paint-shop.
“The FNHL Board recognises that for many young people leaving school in the Far North this is an important gateway to a good career, so it is keen to offer as many trades apprenticeships as it can.”
The Marine Trades Challenge relies heavily on the industry for all the materials used in the event and is supported by power-tool manufacturer Makita, Yamaha and Southern Spars. The Makita tools used in the event become sought-after prizes or are auctioned off to raise funds to help fund the work being done by NZ Marine.