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Working Sail the book on Luke Powell's Pilot Cutters


Working Sail by Luke Powell.


This book is written by the man who built Eve of St Mawes and seven other Pilot Cutters. As Eve was Luke’s  first pilot cutter Adam and Debbie of Classic Sailing have watched keenly the development of Working Sail ever since its foundation.  It would be true to say that both Working Sail and Classic Sailing have been successful in part due to each other’s promotion of pilot cutters, long may it continue.


Luke Powell is so modest about his achievements that he will probably be slightly amazed when described as a 'national treasure'. Beginning in the early 1990s, he has almost single-handedly pioneered a revival in the building of traditional pilot cutters in Great Britain.


Happily, he also as a flair for  storytelling, both when looking back over a rich if unconventional life lived to the full, and when describing the long struggle to win acceptance for the wooden boats on which he established his reputation as a boatbuilder.


Luke admits to a love for wooden boats that verges on the obsessive. It began when clambering over the rotten hulks then mudbound in the backwater creeks of his Suffolk boyhood. Aged nine, he set sail with his family for the Greek islands, where traditional boats were still being built. From then on the sea was his school.

Aged 17 he was skippering a 60 foot ketch round the Aegean. After an apprenticeship as a shipwright restoring Thames barges, he returned to the Mediterranean and the nomadic life of a journeyman boatbuilder.

In due course he acquired a French girlfriend – the first of many long-suffering partners in his adventures – and Charmian, a 75-year-old cutter. In 1990, with a baby son on board, he sailed Charmian up the Helford River in Cornwall, little realising that seven years later it would become the home of his boatbuilding business, Working Sail.


Luke's arrival in England coincided with the renewal of interest in traditional boats. Having stumbled on a book about Scillonian pilot cutters, he vowed there and then to build one from scratch. Risking what little money he had on buying timber, he built by Eve of St Mawes by himself – almost with his bare hands. Eve was followed by Lizzie May – 20 months to build, 20 to sell, and disastrously dropped by a crane after a refit. These were dark days of near bankruptcy. Success came gradually, yet to this day he remains underpinned by a passionate belief in skills, craftsmanship and values that cannot be quantified in terms of money.

Other boats have been launched into the Helford: Agnes, Hesper, Ezra, Tallulah, Amelie Rose, Freja – the names alone are a rollcall of some of the most admired boats to have recently been built in Britain.


A book celebrating Luke Powell's achievements has long been overdue, and Working Sail will delight all those who love boats and the sea, or for whom the spirit of adventure is not yet dead.


Eve, Adam and Debbie recommend without reserevation the book Working Sail by Luke Powell.


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