pete lucas and Ripple
Pete Lucas and his sailing yacht Ripple
Pete Lucas - A Passion for Boats
Like countless mariners, a love of the sea led Pete Lucas to Dartmouth but his passage to the port was a little less conventional than simply landing upon its shores in a boat.
Pete was drawn to the riverside town not by its beauty or promise of a safe haven but because of a phone call out of the blue which totally altered the course of his life.
In 1971 Pete was living in Falmouth, working at a sailing school and doing up his first sailing boat, Ripple, built in 1902.
Following a call from the BBC that year, Pete headed to Dartmouth where he spent the next three summers working as a crew member in the popular TV series The Onedin Line.
Along with Trevor Vincett and Andrew Roberts, also extras in the nautical saga, he set up a business called Dartmouth Yacht Services based at the site now occupied by M&S Food.
Pete has been here ever since, living on a converted ‘failed’ hydrofoil houseboat in the River Dart before moving ashore to Kingswear.
The 64-year-old bearded salty sea dog, who says he hasn’t shaved since he left school, also ran the hugely successful Peter Lucas Rigging from premises in Foss Street for 18 years from 1978 to 1996.
Although now officially retired, Pete continues to indulge his passion for boats at his yard at Old Mill Creek, dubbed his ‘playpen,’ which houses a ‘silly collection of boats’ including the original Ripple, his beloved 1959 lifeboat, Duke of Cornwall, and Pete’s latest project, Cynthia – a 1910 Jackett-built 10-tonne cutter racing yacht.
The course of Pete’s life can be traced back to his childhood holidays on the Isle of Wight.
He said: ‘As a lad we always went to the Isle of Wight for holidays because my grandmother, who was somewhat eccentric, had gone there between the wars for a day trip and ended up leasing a bit of land and organising a chalet to be built on the beach.
‘I spent my holidays on the beach messing about in sailing dinghies. It was great’.
During his school days in Kent, Pete was given the chance to sail on the Tall Ship Winston Churchill, eventually joining the ship for a year as a crew member and taking part in the Tall Ships races.
After his ‘gap year’ Pete decided to embark on a teacher training course at St Luke’s College in Exeter but lasted just two terms. ‘It wasn’t for me,’ he laughed.
One Sunday he answered a newspaper advert for crew on Dutch steel ketch, Peloha, heading for the West Indies and got the job. He spent the first season travelling around the West Indies, visiting Venezuela, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Dutch and British Virgin Islands and Antigua, and the second in Greece.
‘It was great to sail across the Atlantic, I didn’t want to get to the other side,’ There were half-a-dozen crew on board and we just had a really happy time’.
When Pete returned to Falmouth on leave he spent his £1,000 savings on a little yacht called Ripple and worked at a sailing school.
Then, unexpectedly, came the BBC call. The former Winston Churchill skipper was head technical advisor on the Onedin Line and he had recommended Pete to be an extra on the show’s three-masted schooner Charlotte Rhodes.
Pete said. ‘It was wonderful, we would bob about in Start Bay, eat nice lunches and get paid’.
Pete also sailed twice around Britain on the Charlotte Rhodes as part of corporate trips run by computer company Philips Electrologica.
Later that decade, Pete was running his own rigging business in the town and got to know Sir Chay Blyth, the Kingswear sailor who became the first person to sail single-handed the wrong around the world.
It was through Sir Chay that Pete became rigger for the British Steel Challenge (later the Global Challenge).
‘I made the rigging for all 10 yachts taking part and continued to do so for four different races,’ Pete said. He travelled the world, visiting the race ports of call in Buenos Aires, Wellington, Sydney, Cape Town, Boston and La Rochelle to repair the yachts’ rigging.
The work would take Pete away from his wife Mary and children Katy and Bill for up to 10 weeks at a time and he worked with just one assistant. ‘There were nearly 200 people involved in each race and thinking back on it it’s amazing to think we were responsible for all these rigs and people bobbing about.
‘But at the time you just did it and didn’t think about it too much’.
Pete’s business expanded to Plymouth and along with the usual yacht rigging jobs, Pete and his team found themselves building assault courses for the MOD.
They also gave the multi-million pound home of Viz comic magazine owner Felix Dennis a pirate ship-themed make-over and erected the massive marquee that covered over an acre of London’s Holland Park for the annual Opera festival.
With no formal training, how did Pete manage to be so successful in his chosen field? He said: ‘There was an old Russian-Greek bosun on the ‘Churchill’ who taught me a lot of the basics. You just see how things are done. It’s observation. And if you are interested too you’re half way there.
‘It was a sort of hobby that became a way of making a living. Not a fantastic living but an interesting and varied one.
‘It’s been an interesting ride. None of it has been planned, opportunities arose and I just took them’.
These days Pete can more often than not be found messing about with boats in his yard at the head of Old Mill Creek.
Since he retired, he has owned four lifeboats including Duke of Cornwall on which his family enjoyed numerous holidays.
Pete also relishes taking part in Mediterranean classic sailing regattas and this year hopes to compete in his own 41-foot yacht Cynthia, which he is in the middle of restoring.
Sitting in his yard tool room sipping coffee and munching chocolate biscuits on a bright wintry morning in February, wearing nothing but Crocs on his bare feet, he said: ‘I’ve done my work, this is playing’.
First published March/April 2013 By The Dart