Meet traditional boat builder Holly Latham

Seasalt has always been inspired by the creative people around us, shining a light on local pioneers.

This month, we talked to traditional boat builder Holly Latham about her other-worldly trips to the Isles of Scilly, the shipwright community and life on her boat on the Fal estuary.

Holly in her workshop, wearing our Oceangoing Sweatshirt, £45

How did you find boat building?

I sailed as a kid − I have pictures of me on a dinghy when I was still in nappies. I spent several years as a Marine Biologist but I was always out on boats.

I began working on my own and clients’ boats, doing more and more of that until eventually I made the jump into full-time boat building. I didn’t go to boat building school, but I undertook an informal apprenticeship at a traditional boatyard, learning as I went along.

What’s the best thing about working in Falmouth?

The number of traditional boats down here and the community spirit. People share skills, knowledge and beers down the pub! I share my workshop with another female boat builder, which is good fun because we feed off each other and help each other along.

What is a typical day like for you?

I live on my boat ‘Veracity’, a 32-foot replica of a traditional Mousehole Lugger. There are two portholes just behind my bunk so every morning I wake up and look straight out onto the water. When the weather is good I head up on deck with a coffee, which is gorgeous when the sun sets and rises; it feels good to be alive. Then I head over to my workshop or to the boat that I’m working on.

Veracity on the Fal Estuary, taken by Holly


Can you describe some of the things you might be doing today around the workshop?

There’s not actually that much time afloat during this job but there’s a lot of time in the workshop, machining up wood and getting stuff ready for projects. Then there’s a lot of time on board, fixing things in place and working on the boats themselves. Today I’ll be making some new cabinets on a 50-footer. I’m just starting on building a new Clinker Dinghy, so the moulds are up and I’m just binding together the wood for the transom.

What are some of your essential tools?

Oh, where do I start? In my workshop, I love having the big table saw and the planer thicknesser saw. They’re lovely old Watkin ones and will be going long after I’m gone. They’re solid cast iron, you need a pallet truck to move them. I have a set of Marples chisels that have been with me from the start.

There’s also the more practical stuff like my cordless set (my Skilsaw, Jigsaw). Battery tools are a nice modern invention that mean I can keep working while I’m travelling.

Tell us about sailing to and from The Isles of Scilly.

They’re one of my favourite places to sail. From Falmouth it’s about a twelve-hour sail to get over there but it’s like being in another world.

Last year, we sailed back overnight, and as we crossed into Mount’s Bay we saw dolphins in the bioluminescence. Looking back we could see a Milky Way in our wake, and the perfect outline of the dolphins underwater coming in from 30 feet away. That’s what boats are for – they’re magic.

Holly's image, taken aboard her boat Veracity

Where are some of your favourite places to anchor up in Scilly?

There are so many places to go and so many little anchorages close to the islands, like Green Bay on Bryher. It’s wild but sheltered, which is good when it’s stormy. I like Tresco, St Agnes and Teän. When it gets busy in the summer, finding a little anchorage away from it all is just lovely.

Does your dog Clipper like sailing?

She always comes with us. She’s a three-year-old whippet and doesn’t like rough weather, isn’t keen on getting cold and doesn’t like crashing noises. But she’s fairly chilled out and if she can be down below next to the stove, then she’s quite happy. She’s a fantastic sea dog.

Boat builder Holly Latham and her sea dog Clipper

Our field trip to the Isles of Scilly inspired our latest collection. Discover the heritage shapes and nautical colour palettes in our new arrivals.

HOLLY WEARS: Oceangoing Sweatshirt, £45