A model everyday artist
Almost drowning and a chance rescue by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute sealed a life-long interest in boats for Everyday Artist Neil Howard-Pritchard. Surprisingly, the childhood brush with death ignited a passion for model boat-making, which he uses to raise money for the sea-based charity.
At the age of eight the retired teacher became trapped under the slipway in Fleetwood, Lancashire, when he fell into the sea trying to catch crabs. Luckily, the dramatic incident had been seen by an RNLI lifeboat rescuer who was able to save the frightened child.
He was 'scared stiff', but not because he had nearly drowned. "My mum had told me many times not to play on the lifeboat slip and I was worried what she would do to me when I got home dripping wet from head to toe," he told Get Creative.
And he says being rescued by the RNLI was one of the catalysts for starting his modelling hobby. His grandfather was also a mastercraftsman so there was an expert on hand. "I will never know the true reason why I asked my granddad if he would show me how to make a 'proper' model rather than just some bits of wood nailed together.
"He was an amazing chap, almost blind, but could feel the wood, all the lumps and bumps. He taught me all I now know," says Neil.
Growing up in Fleetwood, Lancashire, the 64-year-old loved to watch the trawlers come in to harbour in the evening and spent many hours around the RNLI boathouse. He loved the musty smell of the ropes drying mixed with the grease of the engines.
Since the incident at the slipway, he has made ‘countless’ models over the years, with each taking more than 1,000 hours to build. Each boat can be up to 52 inches long and are fully working models.
To repay the RNLI for saving his life he raises money for the charity when he shows his model boats at exhibitions. He also sells his models, donating the profits.
He has built a model of the RNLI's most famous vessel, the Mary Stanford which in 1936 took part in the Daunt Rock Lightship rescue. He took his model to Ballycotton, where the original was stationed and met the grandson of the Coxswain Patrick Sliney.
In 2011, he was part of a team that attempted to sail model lifeboats the full length of Loch Ness as a fundraiser for the RNLI. Accompanied by the Loch Ness lifeboat and Sea Scouts, rough weather hampered the attempt but it did raise nearly £4,000.
Each boat can cost around £900 in materials. The hull is made of fibreglass made using a wooden plug to mould on. The fittings are white metal or resin and there’s wood on the decks. The only bits Neil doesn’t make are the chain and propellers.
"My choice of models has changed over the years from fishing vessels, to tugs through pilot and ambulance launches to lifeboats," he said.
The first model he made with his grandfather was a three-masted sailing clipper, hand carved out of yellow pine. He says: "The smells and odours, including a pot bellied stove burning the scraps of wood and heating the animal and fish glues used in those days will always stay with me, just as the smells of the old lifeboat house will too, memories one will never forget."
He says of his hobby: "As you can tell, I am quite proud of my model building, better than being down the pub every night I suppose."