Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Professionals and amateurs

A couple of interesting encounters over the weekend which formed an odd contrast.

On Friday Willie Wilson, chairman of the chart and pilot book publishers Imray (full name, Imray, Laurie, Norie and Wilson - yes, he's a member of that Wilson family) gave a presentation at Haven Ports yacht club about the work that Imray does. Willie looks exactly like one of the many printers and publishers that my father worked with in the 1960s and 70s. He is endearingly vague and not switched on to technology.

Imray produces most of the best pilot books in the English language, and also most of the paper charts which we use on board Kalessin. They use official data from the UK hydrographic office and turn that into charts which are actually useful, and often include detailed insets for key harbours, unlike Admiralty charts which often require you to buy 15 charts for a single passage. (Not that I ever do). Their pilot books are expensive (usually between £35 and £45) but indispensable. All this comes from a large Georgian house in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, with a small specialist printing press at the back. Most of their employees join as youngsters and never get around to leaving again. The impression is of a small group of gentleman amateurs, somehow managing to produce excellent work.

Front pod on the small (D-class) RIB

On Sunday morning we visited the RNLI lifeboat station at Burnham-on-Crouch. All of the crew, launch officers and the rest are volunteers and the funding is exclusively charitable, with no government money. They have two RIBs at Burnham, a smaller one mostly used for going up-river, and a big Atlantic 75 (about to be replaced by an 85) which can operate 30 or 40 miles offshore if necessary. These are very impressive bits of kit, built by the RNLI itself, completely overhauled each year and fitted with the sturdiest equipment around. If a lifeboat is damaged, it is replaced from HQ at Poole within 24 hours by an identical one. The impression in this case is of a group of consummate professionals, who just happen to be volunteers.

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