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Meet the team on the tidal island of St Michael's Mount

24 July 2018

Living and working on the island is an adventure that not many people get to experience - one that is truly unique. Meet island resident and boatman, James, who moved to the island with his family last year. Find out what life has been like learning to navigate boats to and from the harbour and living life around the tides.

Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up in Penwith, spending lots of time on the beach, surfing and sailing. I have a love of music and throughout college I played the drums in a rock band with mates. My career path has taken me in a few different directions! Initially, I trained as a chef and worked in restaurants in St Ives and Mousehole. I also lived and worked in the French Alps as Head Chef in a hotel and ran a chalet with Jacqui – who I am now married to! After working as a chef, I trained as a primary school teacher, working in Cornwall and inner London. Teaching was a challenging and rewarding job, but after ten years I craved a change. The pull of the sea and working on boats was an exciting proposition and an opportunity arose on St Michael’s Mount.

What is your job role on the island?

I am a Boatman. My primary role is to ferry island residents, staff, contractors and visitors to and from the island. During the summer months I drive a small ferry boat, carrying twelve passengers and in the winter we run the St Michael – our amphibious vehicle. When the tide is out, we bring stores for the restaurant, café and retail outlets. We also maintain the St Michael and six ferry boats. These vessels are given a complete service, ensuring they are safe and seaworthy. Additionally we undertake varied tasks from clearing seaweed, collecting the post and driving luggage up to the castle in a buggy! 

Previous to joining the team on St Michael’s Mount, you were a teacher, what sort of training did you have to do to become one of our boatmen?

I gained some preliminary experience driving a ferry boat during the summer prior to joining the island in November. The first winter was spent learning how to drive the St Michael and carrying out ongoing maintenance and checks. Making the change from a primary classroom to a boat shed environment, was a challenge. There is a whole new language of terms to get to know, tools to learn how to use and tasks are all practical and hands-on in nature. The rest of the team were very patient and on hand to answer my many questions. Last summer was mainly spent learning how to drive a ferry boat and gaining an understanding of the location of rocks, how to approach the landings and experiencing the wide range of sea and wind conditions that we encounter. I recommend anyone to have a close look at The Gwelva landing when the tide goes out to observe the challenging environment that we have to get to know. In all it took me a year of actual training on the boats to acquire my licence. 

You also live on the island with your family, how has that been for you all?

I live on the island with my wife Jacqui and our two young children Ivy (aged three) and Roddy (aged nine months). Choosing to live on the island certainly wasn’t the straight forward option! The main challenge is getting used to the tides and changes in the weather. If we ever want to plan something or want to meet up with friends or family we have to check the tide times or any poor weather in the forecast. We have to be very organised in the way we live our lives. We try to bring groceries in when the causeway is open and we can use a van and we make sure we have a loaf of bread and four pints of milk in the freezer for emergencies! Whenever friends or family come over we have to inform them which landing to get to, when the causeway opens and closes and crucially, what time the last boat is! My parents are very helpful meeting Jacqui and the children at the landings and carrying bags. It is quite a walk from Top Tieb landing to the car park!

We have some really special times on the island, messing around in the harbour, swimming, jumping in and fishing. The outdoor, seaside environment suits us and we love the experiences our children get living over here. My favourite moment so far was going out fishing with Ivy on a warm summer’s evening and catching her first mackerel. Another unique experience was when it snowed last winter. Luckily the boats were still running. It was very surreal getting onto a snowy boat and seeing the island with a completely different complexion.

Outside of the Boating Department, do you have any further duties as an islander?

As staff island residents we share duties to be on call for emergencies and to ferry residents to and from the mainland. We have three specific roles which run throughout the evening and overnight. There is always a duty Boatman, a Fire Officer and Coordinator – someone to watch the boat trips for safety, establish contact with the emergency services if needed and be on hand to answer any calls to the island office. Aside from these main roles, we all help each other out on a daily basis.

What are the best parts about working and living on St Michael’s Mount?

I enjoy working outdoors in all weather conditions! Some of the days when I am running the boat and the sea is rough are the best! I enjoy having the knowledge and skills to safely navigate the short trip to and from Marazion. There is a strong heritage of boating on The Mount and it is great to be a part of it.

We also love it when we have to batten down the hatches for a storm. It’s spectacular seeing the huge waves bashing the island and Marazion. Even though we live on a small island, it feels surprisingly safe when a storm is raging all around. In contrast I love spending time with family and friends on the island in the evenings when everyone has gone home and it feels like we’ve got the place to ourselves.

Could you sum up living on the mount in one word?

Unique

Where would you say is your favourite part of the island, and why?

The harbour because it is a great playground!