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A Change of Course

A Change of Course

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  • Being by the water frees up our minds and helps us to be more creative.
  • Our core belief is to help others, which we do by training them in all things nautical …
  • Driven by the inspiration of Australia and the world of opportunities it gave, they wanted to share their passion and motivate people into loving the water just as much as they do.

How many times have you sat at your desk on a Monday morning and wished you were doing something else? Wouldn’t it be great just for once to say ‘hang it all, I’m off to have some fun’ – and get paid for it too? Journalist David Walker met one couple who broke free of the rat race and did just that …

I’m sitting in a portacabin just metres away from the Sunseeker works in Poole, Dorset. In the centre of the room is a large table covered in VHF radios, charts, compasses, boating manuals and other forms of navigational aids. On the walls are certificates, photos of powerboats and an impressive image of the Twin Sails lifting bridge. At one end of the room is a large plasma TV, at the other is a small kitchen where the tea is made. This is the nerve centre for 41-year-olds Dominic Coleman and Sarah Quinn from Dorset Marine Training.

They say that in life, certain things happen for a reason, and when you see the similarities between these two individuals you know the aquatic cosmos worked its magic from a very early age. Initially, however, neither of them was born anywhere near the water as Dominic grew up in Staffordshire and Sarah was raised in Derbyshire. By the age of 10, while still in primary school, their parents had each moved to Dorset, not knowing what the future was going to hold for their offspring. However, Sarah did have the slight edge when it came to life on the water, as her father imported Jeanneau Rigiflex boats that were sold as safety vessels for dinghy racing.

Both went to the same school and had the same circle of friends, and each had a passion for being on the water. Growing up in Bournemouth and being so close to the sea, they would mess around on dinghies or other small boats whenever they could. Altogether they’ve known each other for nearly 20 years but they have been a couple for the last 12.

However, despite having a healthy relationship, things at work were getting tough. They were deep in a rut and knew as a couple there had to be something better. In a previous life, Dominic worked for seven years as a computer technician, before training others and operating in a consulting capacity. From there he became a product specialist for a different company that provided voice aids for disabled people. He was continually working up to 80 hours a week, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to drive 50,000 miles a year ‒ even wearing out the engine in one company car after just two years!

For Sarah, however, it was different, as she worked for 19 years in local government. The job had changed over time and wasn’t the same as when it first started. She was fed up and couldn’t do what she was trained up for. Therefore, when it was offered, she seized the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy.

In 2013, Dominic was also made redundant, as the country was still reeling from the great recession. GDP was lower in the first quarter of 2013 than its peak in the first quarter of 2008 and everyone was feeling the pinch. The prospect of finding new employment was a daunting one, but the redundancy came as a blessing in disguise. Boating had been a long-standing enjoyment for the pair of them, so they decided to join the ever-growing list of freelance individuals out on the water. Dominic managed to find employment as a dinghy instructor, working his way up as he went through to become an advanced powerboat and motor cruising instructor, while Sarah took some time out after her previous career and formalised her experience into further qualifications on the water.

Their lucky break came in 2016 when they ventured on a trip to Australia. However, little did they realise as they boarded the plane that this was going to turn out to be the answer they had been looking for, and their new life had just been born. It was while in Australia cruising around the Great Barrier Reef that Sarah noticed something unusual. No matter where they went, many of the deckhands on board the yachts and leisure cruisers were female. As she sat and watched others at their work, she compared how different Australia was to the UK. She says: ‘There was a stigma that needed to be shaken loose. It’s not that it’s unwelcoming to women, but the opportunities are just not translating to what’s happening on the water.’

The trip really opened their eyes to a different lifestyle. Driven by the inspiration of Australia and the world of opportunities it gave, they wanted to share their passion and motivate people into loving the water just as much as they do. Given their professional instructing qualifications and a Ribcraft 4.8 sitting on the driveway, they decided to take a gamble and set up Dorset Marine Training. Here, they were able to combine these assets, saying: ‘We’ve got to make it work.’ Failure was simply not an option!

January 2017 was the start of it all, and they set out by getting official recognition from the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) to teach the Powerboat Scheme and associated theory courses. Recognition achieved, they called upon everyone they knew. By June 2018, after running a small stand at the Poole Boat Show, they were able to talk to more contacts within the industry. Word of mouth spread, and after just 15 months of trading with a healthy order book ahead of them, they went from one boat to two, this time going a little bigger as they bought themselves a Ribcraft 585.

As the new boat was technically a ‘commercial vessel’, the couple were keen to ensure that it was of sound construction, while maintaining an air of comfort that made it ‘their boat’. Dominic says: ‘We spent many evenings tailoring it to ensure it was personal, while making sure we complied with all the specifications, rules and regulations. We don’t tick boxes just for the sake of it, as every piece of equipment has its own true place on board. You can spend an enormous amount of money on safety gear in the hope that you will never have to use it, but in some cases, you know that you’re going to have to throw it out in three years’ time.’ Now everything is in place, their new boat gives them the ability to provide offshore training at night.

The long, hot, basking summer of 2018 certainly helped things along, as more and more people wanted to spend their leisure time out on the water. It is said that Poole has the largest natural harbour in the world, second only to Sydney in Australia, which is bigger, but not entirely natural ‒ although there are some who may dispute this. This led to a boom in members of the public using their watercraft. Not ones to miss out on an opportunity, the couple also charter a 47ft Trader Motor Yacht for training up to 12 people by day in how to use this magnificent vessel, before skippering them in a more leisurely aspect over the evening around the stunningly beautiful harbour and Jurassic coastline. Here, you get double the fun as you learn by day before watching as the sun goes down across the sea ‒ or better still, taking in the famous Friday night fireworks over Bournemouth Bay.

So what’s next for the go-getting entrepreneurs? ‘Well,’ says Sarah, ‘from a business point of view naturally we want to continue growing. We often instruct couples who want to get the balance between safety and discipline on board, while making the most of boating together and having a good time. People enjoy our courses and it shows, as they always come back to us wanting more. Dom and I are the kind of people that even after a full day’s work, we might go back out again and have a swim in the sea. Being by the water frees up our minds and helps us to be more creative. Our core belief is to help others, which we do by training them in all things nautical, from first aid and day skippering through to navigation and radio. We’re starting to do a lot more with the “Try a Boat” scheme that’s being organised and run by the RYA. This is designed to get people out on the water whether they are a complete beginner or an old master, with the emphasis on both safety and fun. Work is no longer a dirty word for us, and life is good. Our USP is to train someone up from start to finish, although “it’s not really a job, more of a lifestyle”.’

For further details about the courses on offer you can visit their website at https://dorsetmarinetraining.co.uk/.


Five top tips for staying safe on the water

1) Try before you buy. If you are a newcomer to boating, what may look amazing at a boat show might not be perfect for your needs, or even easy to learn. Wherever possible, get out with friends or people with similar boats first to try out the experience.

2) Start off small and work your way up. Sometimes splashing out on the biggest boat you can afford may not be the way forward. If your new toy already has a few miles on the clock, you could be purchasing something that may not be that reliable. Concentrating on spending your hard-earned money on newer kit often makes for happier days out.

3) Stay safe. Always take the time to check what is happening with the weather before leaving the pontoon. If you are attempting a manoeuvre, use the wind and tide to help rather than hinder. Never go beyond your personal limitations ‒ seek additional training if you want to stretch yourself further.

4) Be prepared. Going out on the water is meant to be fun, but situations can change quickly, and if you haven’t done any form of preparation you could end up in trouble. Making a checklist usually helps, including reminders such as noting where the emergency kit is located and checking that everything is working correctly etc.

5) Prepare your crew by ensuring they know what to bring with them – if you are experienced or have training, you will know that you may need suncream, more layers of clothing or suitable footwear. However, friends that you invite along who are new to boating may need guidance. If they are comfortable and feel safe, the trip will be more enjoyable. Always ensure you have suitable-size safety kit for everyone on board.

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