Salty Weekend Happened And It Was Awesome

Salty Weekend Happened

Salty Weekend has been on the horizon since 2017. It finally happened in February 2018, and it was amazing:

  • It ran from Friday to Sunday 16-18th February 2018
  • Hosted onboard Excelsior in Lowestoft, UK
  • There were six places, at £200 per person
  • Included accommodation, breakfast, lunch & supper onboard
  • Talks and workshops from Excelsior’s crew, SaltyJobs and Lowestoft IBTC
  • Free Crew Pack including x3 t-shirts, wristbands, journal & more

We’ve been working alongside our friends onboard Excelsior for a long time now. Excelsior first came into my life at 16, when I volunteered with The Cirdan Sailing Trust. In 2015 I was lucky enough to sail onboard Excelsior as First Mate to the Paimpol 2015 festival. In 2016 our paths continued to cross, whilst I was working on Queen Galadriel as First Mate for the season. 

Harwich International Shanty Festival 2017 Excelsior Queen Galadriel SaltyJobs

Traditional sail training vessels Queen Galadriel and Excelsior alongside Ha’penny Pier, during the Harwich International Shanty Festival 2017.

And in 2017,  SaltyJobs launched and our adventures took us all round the country. So of course we hung out with Excelsior quite a lot. We kept bumping into them at maritime events all over the country, and even in France, during the 2017 season.

Will, Rachel and Vinnie with Excelsior at St Katharine Docks Coriolis Trading Sail Cargo Festival 2017

And when we finally went to visit Excelsior at their yard in Lowestoft, it snowed. It always seems to be eventful around the Excelsior lot. They certainly live up to their reputation.

We helped Excelsior advertise for a First Mate, and received some strong applications. The engagement and feedback from SaltyJobs readers was really positive, so we thought about ways we could develop our working relationship together. We soon came up with a plan.

Salty Weekend was a brilliant partnership between SaltyJobs and Excelsior Trust, and Lowestoft IBTC. 

Selling The Tickets

There were 6 places available, at £200 each – great value, keeping it accessible. Ticket sales were nice and steady, and then all of a sudden, it was Monday morning of Salty Weekend week. And there was one ticket left. Three days to go. My phone rang. 

Salty Weekend sold out! And not only did we sell out, but we filled the places with a truly diverse selection of the most interesting and passionate people you could hope to meet, let alone spend a winter’s weekend on a historic ship with, talking everything boats, ships and salty jobs. 

Hit The Road

So, I hit the road to Lowestoft for Salty Weekend along with six other intrepid sailors from all around the UK. Not before dropping my iPhone 7 in the sea the evening before I was going to leave. 

Anyway, finally, time to leave. I arrived in Lowestoft pretty late, past midnight, on the foreshore near Excelsior. Gavin showed me a great little spot to park last time I came up here in November.


The Gathering Began

We began to gather on Thursday, and there was going to be quite a crowd over the weekend. 

The amazing Rachel, with her well-deserved Mother Excelsior role, works & volunteers for The Excelsior Trust and came to help for the weekend. Jenna, 25, has also recently joined Excelsior as a volunteer for a few months so she also joined in with Salty Weekend. Gavin had invited Barbara, a potential new First Mate who has since accepted the job, for an informal interview over the weekend. Will, who is 20 and a long-term sail training volunteer, also came up from London where he is studying biomedical engineering at Imperial College. Will has grown up around sailing, and hosted a couple of AMAZING sailmaking skills workshops over Salty Weekend. Brian works onboard Royalist as relief crew and is looking to find more relief sail training work this season. Ben, 22, who joined at the last minute and Andrew, who came down from Scotland, both arrived late on Thursday as well.

On Friday the rest of the motley crew turned up. 16-year-old dinghy sailor Zoe, who we met last summer when SaltyJobs was onboard Excelsior for the Harwich International Shanty Festival. Tall Ship Zebu’s professional Bosun Chris also arrived, having driven down from Liverpool. And we were also joined by Connie, 22, a boat building student at IBTC Portsmouth. 

An Awesome Start

Salty Weekend began at 10am on Friday, and we had a full schedule packed until 4pm on Sunday. We began Friday with a brief introduction to Salty Weekend by SaltyJobs’ Eleanor and Excelsior Trust’s John Wylson.

And then we made our way, via a guided tour by John of the foreshore, to IBTC Lowestoft a few minutes’ walk away. IBTC Lowestoft’s owners Lyn & Mike Tupper have been friends of SaltyJobs since we met at the Southampton International Boat Show 2017 – our stalls were almost next to each other.

IBTC Lowestoft

In November when we came up to visit Excelsior, we also visited IBTC Lowestoft and Mike gave us a tour of their college.

Mike Tupper introducing the IBTC Lowestoft lofting space and process

I already had the idea for some kind of Salty Weekend event, and had been discussing it with Gavin, skipper of Excelsior. Lowestoft is a hidden gem, with the Excelsior Yard, Excelsior herself, City of Edinboro’ sitting in a big tent, and IBTC Lowestoft – one of the most highly regarded boatbuilding colleges in the world – just along the foreshore. A magical place. 

Mike & Lyn were onboard, and couldn’t have been any more supportive in helping organise, promote and run Salty Weekend. The event had been such a big thing on the horizon and it was great to have the support of so many people. And then all of a sudden, it was Friday, and Salty Weekend was happening. 

IBTC Lowestoft


Mike giving us a talk about different types of timber with practical examples around the college

Our Salty Weekend group arrived at IBTC for a tour. The college closes at midday on a Friday, and we wanted to fit this in whilst it was still open so people get an idea of the college and its ‘real’ working feel. Mike was an excellent host and regaled us with facts, stories and bacon sandwiches.

Bacon rolls & tea break at IBTC Lowestoft

We spent quite a bit of time at IBTC over the weekend, returning the next morning for a mast-hoop making workshop. It seems the biggest challenge when making mast hoops is in selecting the right grain of wood so it doesn’t snap when you bend them round, and not to burn yourself when working with the steam box!


Zoe steaming her own mast hoop


Taking an eerie out-of-hours tour around the composite department…


Taking time to indulge our interests


Many treats for the eye. Beautiful workmanship on show from students

The Excelsior Yard & City of Edinboro’

John Wylson, a.k.a. Mr Excelsior, also gave us a guided tour of the Excelsior Yard. There are so many hidden gems here. City of Edinboro’ is just one of them. Look at her sitting patiently awaiting restoration. Gavin keeps trying to twist my arm and get me to take her on as a restoration project. Nice try Gavin. Everybody loved the tour into this shed on Friday. She is literally huge:


City of Edinboro’ – 1884 – William McCann, Hull – patiently awaiting restoration in Lowestoft

Bringing People Together: What It’s All About

The weekend was just as much about socialising, connecting and networking as much as it was the formal talks, tours & workshops.

So after Salty Weekend Day #1, we managed to grab a spot by the wood-burning stove at the pub and ate wonderful pizza with equally  wonderful company.

It was amazing to sit there and look around our little salty collective, of about 12 lovely people, all there because of Salty Weekend. New friendships were already being formed. And I bet some of them will be life-changing. Indeed it was going to be the kind of weekend that would have a real, long-lasting impact on many of our lives.

And that is the reason why we do this. Bringing people together. Inspiring people. Whether that’s employer & jobseeker or salty weekend participants at the pub, by bringing the right people together to facilitate inspiration, the rest happens naturally. It’s awesome to see it working.

Mother Excelsior

Salty Weekend was awesome. 

Over the course of the weekend this sense of community and crew really came out. Everyone did their bit to support the weekend. One participant observed how the dynamic between Excelsior’s Gavin, Rachel and Will was so lovely to watch, and that they work so well as a team together. 

Did I mention, how phenomenal Rachel’s help was across the weekend? Even in the planning stage Rachel has done over and above expectations to help support Excelsior & SaltyJobs with Salty Weekend. She put together the awesome handout packs and was a fantastic Mother Excelsior for the weekend. 

Salty Sailor Will

Oh yes, Will’s going to hate me. His mother is going to love me (Hi Catherine!). Alongside Rachel, Will was particularly awesome.

Will on the left, teach Excelsior volunteer Jenna traditional rope-work skills

Will has been sailing on UK sail training vessels since he was 12 years old, having volunteered across much of the fleet. Will’s practical skills and sailing knowledge are excellent and have been developed over years of sailing on many different traditional vessels. We were privileged that Will came to join us for Salty Weekend and hosted two awesome workshops.

Will hosting a splicing session onboard Excelsior. The sun is out, the cover is off!

Knots, Splicing & Sail-Making Skills

One was a knots & splicing workshop, and the other gave everybody the chance to sew their own canvas tool-rolls guided by his instruction and with all resources provided. IBTC Lowestoft kindly let us use the college to host our workshops.

I walked in on Will’s sailmaking skills workshop on Saturday afternoon and couldn’t believe how quiet and meditative it was. Will had clearly inspired everyone.

Unfortunately Will’s salty weekend ended sharply (ha) when he broke his knife. We’ve actually got it on video so we’ll have to post that. He forged it himself – how cool is that – and could see the imperfection in it when it broke. He’s just going to make another one. So cool.

Just snapped – knife no more. It’s OK, Will is going to forge a new one

Talks About Our Industry

Again we all played our part – I hosted a film and did a couple of talks on Saturday & Sunday about the industry. The first was ‘Welcome To Our World’ – a look at what’s going on at interesting maritime locations around the country.

We started making our way around a chart of the British Isles, pointing out places of interest to traditional ship sailors/boat builders. We could have dedicated an entire day to this. It would be awesome to develop it into a further SaltyJobs resource to show people what’s going on around the country.

Our evening carried on late into the night, and we watched a 20-minute documentary about ‘Elizmor’, my previous big boat project, which my awesome friend Nora Bergin produced.

Welcome to our world – a talk followed by a short documentary of Eleanor’s previous boat, Elizmor

On Sunday afternoon we made the most of the glorious weather and sat around Excelsior’s aft deck for an Industry Insight talk. I went through ideas and practical tips for different ways into the industry, what training you need, how to access funding etc. Again this is something that I’d like to develop into a more permanent SaltyJobs resource.

Excelsior Refit Help

Of course, because it is winter, Excelsior is still in refit. This means there are lots of things going on around the yard which are interesting to get a look at behind-the-scenes out of season like this. 

Gavin and Will took us down into the barge which Excelsior moors alongside, herself a historic (concrete) ship. Excelsior Trust has extensive facilities onboard the barge here, with workshops set up for block maintenance, storage, woodworking, power tools, etc. 

Here are some great shots from the block session:

Nobody Wanted To Leave

The weekend was absolutely fantastic. I know that I don’t speak for just myself when I say that I didn’t want to leave! The sense of community that we managed to build in just a few short days was amazing.

Ben, who bought that last ticket, made a comment to me one evening that he really feels like we are all likeminded people, and how wonderful it is to find that and for it to build so quickly.

Ben on the left with Andrew (centre) and Will (right)

In addition, Salty Weekend has led me to come to a separate realisation. It has reminded my why I got into into boats. Living amongst the sense of community onboard a ship together – whether refit or sailing, summer or winter – is a very special thing. 

I remember the first ever sail training voyage I went on. I was 16 years old, and the trip was for 4 days. I FELT ALIVE. I was amongst people, lovely people, all living and working communally for a shared cause: the ship. I went home and cried every day for a week afterwards. That was it. I was addicted.

That Sense of Community

I thought I was just addicted to boats. But what I realise now, is that actually I was also addicted to community and shared purpose in running the ship. 

I guess that nothing harbours (so many puns) a sense of community more than living in a small, communal space together. A traditional ship like Excelsior, seemingly when under way sailing or when just moored alongside, is a magical platform for facilitating this sense of community.

So, Salty Weekend was a massive success. Everybody felt like we had really created something, and we all learned a lot about traditional ships, boat building and sail training. I can’t help feel it is the brilliant friends we made which will be of longest lasting value. 

What’s Next?

We are currently planning what’s next, and it looks very exciting.

Traditional Skills Week

Excelsior are running a week-long traditional skills week later in the season. There will be limited places and the cost will include food & accommodation onboard. Let us know if you’d be interested.

Mental Health Retreat Ship

The sense of community at Salty Weekend has inspired us to set up a permanent community. We’re also passionate about mental health, and have ideas for a mental health retreat ship. Get in touch if you want to get involved. 

New Volunteers

Connie, one of Salty Weekend’s participants, has arranged with Gavin to come back and volunteer onboard Excelsior shortly. Also keen to volunteer? Get in touch.

Job for Will?

Will is looking for something salty to do this summer – if anybody needs an enthusiastic wealth of traditional & practical sailing knowledge, get in touch. Otherwise I might take him up on his offer of re-rigging our 1935 25ft gaff cutter Deirdre…

Your comments: join the conversation

Blog, Events, Inspiration, Success Story

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