The Working Man: Cliff Grove | Living North

The Working Man: Cliff Grove


Cliff Grove
Each month, we meet a man in the North East with a fascinating job. This time, it’s vintage model yacht builder Cliff Grove

What’s your job title?
I’m a vintage model yacht builder.

What does that mean?
I specialise in building free-sailing yachts to vintage designs from the golden age of yachting – that’s the period between the two great wars.

How did you get the job?
Really, I created it myself. I trained as a jeweller and then while running a jewellery factory in Thailand I started crewing on ocean-going racing yachts. I made my first model yacht in my evenings and then got bitten by the bug. I went on to collect old books on the subject and after researching the fascinating history of pond yachting I liked the challenge of reviving one of the most popular pastimes of the 1930s which had long disappeared. Eventually, my hobby took over as my full time job.

What was your dream job?
I spent 20 years running my own jewellery factory which had been my dream, but as it grew to 150 employees I realised I had stopped being a craftsman. Now I am happy working in my workshop all on my own without even a telephone.

What’s the best part of the job?
Carving a hull. I get everything prepared the day before: the wood blocks glued up and mounted in the vice, tools sharpened and so on. Then I come in first thing in the morning, light up the wood-burner, make a coffee and then start chomping away at the big lump of wood. Sculpting wood is just so satisfying. Also, taking a newly finished boat to the lake and see it sailing for the very first time. Magical!

And the worst?
Tidying up at the end of the day – I can make a lot of mess in eight hours.

What assumptions do people wrongly make about your job? 
That the yachts I build are toys. At one time model yacht racing was one of the most popular sports in England. The yachts were miniature racing machines built for speed.

Do you remember the first boat you finished? 
It is one of my most cherished possessions. It’s a 50-inch long Marblehead class yacht built to a 1936 design called Pocahontas, plank on frame, built from teak, and for some reason I have never been able to reproduce the colours. I suppose it was that yacht that got me hooked.

How long does each boat take to make?
It depends on which yacht it is and the customer specification, but generally one to three months’ solid work. That said, special projects can take up to seven months.

What’s the fiddliest bit of the boat to get right?
Getting the varnish perfect. From experience it has to be exactly the right viscosity and temperature, and you only get three or four minutes to work with it before it starts going off. Then it’s hand-polished.

Do you prefer to see your boats displayed to their best advantage in dry dock or out on the water? 
There is nothing better than watching a beautiful vintage yacht crossing a lake on a warm summer evening but then again they do look beautiful on display at home. That’s the beauty of a handcrafted vintage racing yacht – you can have a great day out sailing them and also appreciate them on display.

Grove Pond Yachts 
The Pond, 1 Hill Street, Corbridge NE45 5AA 
01434 632713

Published in: December 2016

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