Slater, Established in honour of a former general secretary of the Union, Nautilus International’s JW Slater Fund continues to make a massive contribution to seafarer training. STEVEN KENNEDY meets a member whose career is on the up thanks to the support it provides…
The JW Slater Fund has been a welcome source of support for many an ambitious seafarer since its inception in 1977 – providing around £4.5m in financial aid to more than 1,600 applicants seeking to gain their first certificates.
The numbers keep on growing and one the latest success stories are that of 28-year-old Nautilus member Richard Longster. A former carpenter, Richard swapped his chiselling knife for a life on the open waters but – as he explains – that was never his original intention.
‘As a child I remember my granddad was always very good with his hands, so I took an interest in doing little woodwork projects,’ he recalls.
‘I knew I was never going to be someone who wanted to sit behind a desk and I always wanted a hands-on job,’ he adds. ‘I spoke to my dad and he came up with the idea of an apprenticeship. I remember he sat me down in the kitchen and we discussed the pros and cons of each trade.’
After taking his GCSEs, Richard began working for a local building firm. ‘I was with them for about six years in total and whilst the pay was OK, I was never going to buy a Ferrari from my pay-packet,’ he says.
At this stage, the prospect of working at sea had not crossed Richard’s mind, but with an itch to travel the globe – as well as earn more money – he started to review his career prospects.
By chance, a close friend of his was just starting sea training and his experiences were to have a big impact on Richard. ‘I was speaking to my friend, Tom, who was about to go on a course to get all his certificates to join superyachts. At that time, I didn’t think anything of it. I thought you’d have to have a good knowledge of the sea, so didn’t think it was for me.
‘He eventually finished the course and went to the south of France and got a job on a yacht. I didn’t see him for the best part of a year, but when he came back he had a great tan, was travelled and had a load of money in his pocket -- so I thought this is something I could get into.’
Richard set off in search of work in the South of France. Things weren’t as easy as he may have expected however, and he found work a lot harder to come by than he’d ever anticipated.
Arriving in the early winter, he spent his days handing out CVs to the few yachts that were moored up, but as money ran thin he returned back to the UK after six weeks.
‘I was dock walking,’ remembers Richard. ‘I got a few bits of carpentry day work here and there, but nothing permanent. It was becoming winter and the jobs were getting fewer and fewer. In November I called it quits and went back home. I got a job for six months in a joiners’ shop and saved up my money to go back to the south of France to try one last time. I thought “this will be my last opportunity to do this or I’m going to have to find a real job”.’
His break came upon his return to the south of France -- thanks to Tom who was working on a yacht called Octopus. With a position as deckhand becoming available, Richard finally started his career at sea.
It proved to be a wonderful experience as he travelled the globe – including taking in the North West Passage in both directions – as well as being able to welcome a famous face onboard.
‘We were there when James Cameron did the Mariana Trench dive,’ Richard says. ‘That was pretty cool, although to be honest, I think we were more in the way. The documentary was filming with all these big commercial vessels and we were just there in the background of every shot. Then he came onboard after and did his post-dive interview from the music studio we had on the Octopus, which was great as I got to meet him.’
Over the next four and half years he would move up the ranks to bosun. It then became decision time once again. Never really expecting to push for his officer’s ticket, Richard started to weigh up taking the next step.
‘Money was an issue, but a friend said why don’t you try the Slater Fund?’ Richard explains. ‘It was the first time I’d heard about it, but I think it was only after the second person told me about it that I took it seriously. It sounded too good to be true. Then I applied for it just to see what happens. I saw it as a sort of golden ticket and no excuse not to study if I got it. I applied and within a couple of hours they got back to me. Within a couple of weeks, I’d got the money and got my study head on.
‘I got all my short courses booked and I started at Warsash. Luckily that’s not far from Winchester, so I ended up staying at home rather than forking out for rent. Having that money was a massive weight off my shoulders.’
With the money in the bank, Richard’s head remained focused on his studies. Despite a few minor hiccups along the way he passed his OOW training and met up with a fellow course-mate in September last year onboard his second superyacht.
‘I failed one of my SQAs the first time, but luckily the Slater Fund pays for a re-sit as well,’ says Richard. ‘Once I’d qualified, I applied for all sorts of jobs and I got a job on the Ulysses with my course-mate Alex Boulton who has just won an award from the Slater Fund for outstanding achievements (as reported in November’s Telegraph). I joined on 20 September and I’m a second officer safety officer onboard.’
Richard now finds himself being the person others are looking at as an example of how to succeed. A keen advocate of the Slater Fund, he says that he never wastes an opportunity to sing its praises. ‘I tell people all the time about the Slater Fund,’ he adds. ‘People always ask me what I did for work whilst I was studying at Warsash. I say I didn’t do anything -- I got sponsored and I tell them the amount of money you can get and how you can spend it on food, books and fuel, for example.
‘On day one of the course I spoke to a guy who’d never heard of the Slater Fund and I told him all about it. I gave him the email and by the end of that day he had pretty much sorted his application out.’
With the future looking bright, Richard is now looking to make his next move. ‘My plans are to do my chief mate’s ticket,’ he explains. ‘I say now that I won’t, but I reckon I’ll end up doing my master’s too. Each step you take up the ladder the next step gets better looking. I think I’ll stay on yachts. With the yachts I get to go to the paradise locations.
‘I wouldn’t have been able to get this far without the Slater Fund and I can’t thank everyone enough from the Fund for the help they’ve given me.’
For more information, visit www.marine-society.org/slater-scholarships.