Tectona and the Plymouth School of Navigation

Kindly wiritten and contributed by Andrew Eccleston


Tectona has been on a long and interesting voyage since she was built in India in 1929. Some years before that, the Plymouth School of Navigation was created to provide education and training for Merchant Navy seafarers. In the 1964 when they needed a vessel to give the students some experience of hands-on seamanship, the City of Plymouth purchased Tectona. For the next 16 years she gave hundreds of young cadet officers their first taste of life at sea and the chance to acquire some important professional skills.


When the Plymouth School of Navigation was first formed there was a lot of focus on learning astronomy and the mathematics needed for celestial navigation in the days before GPS, but there was also a requirement for the traditional skills - such as tying knots, understanding weather and simply coming to terms with life at sea. There is no better way to do this than actually going to sea and living it for real – and Tectona proved to be the ideal platform.


Various online forms reflect some of the memories of what life was like on board: “I sailed on the Tectona in 1977 I think. I was sick as a dog on her. While on her we did the old liferaft survival thing where I was the 'casualty' as I couldn't swim.” “There were 12 deck cadets aboard and we had to do an hour's anchor watch each between 6pm and 6am.” “Always nice to manage to tie up again in dear old Mutton Cove, and have a quick fag in the old green corrugated boat house there.”



Tectona in her days as the Plymouth School of Navigation training vessel


When Prince Philip visited Plymouth in 1968, Tectona was dressed overall and anchored off Fisher’s Nose in the Barbican. Shortly after this the School of Navigation became part of the new Plymouth Polytechnic and its students were able to embark on Higher Education courses. The BSc (Hons) Nautical Studies was actually the first degree course offered by what is now the University of Plymouth. Some of the early undergraduates had enjoyed their first taste of life at sea on Tectona before going on to a professional career and often ending up in senior positions around the world in the shipping industry.


However, by the 1980’s the British merchant fleet had shrunk so much that there was not enough demand to fill the professional courses in Plymouth and Tectona was sold. That was the end of her first connection with Plymouth and she went off to continue her adventures, which included some time with a Swiss charity devoted to helping disadvantaged young people,


Then in 2008 Dr Roger Crabtree discovered her laid up in the Mediterranean and sailed her back to Plymouth to be reunited with her old sailing grounds – and some of the people who had sailed on her many years before. Thus began a new adventure. She is now the flagship of Sailing Tectona CIC.


The University of Plymouth is now one of the largest in the UK and recognises the School of Navigation as its foundations stone. Over the last 10 years the links between Tectona and the University have been developed through Roger Crabtree’s interest in the education of medical students and support for those in recovery. This has given Tectona a new purpose and in 2002 the University also resumed courses for professional seafarers. So, rather surprisingly, she has once again become available to give Merchant Navy officer cadets the opportunity to experience life at sea and develop traditional skills.


The BSc (Hons) Nautical Studies of the 1960’s has now become BSc (Hons) Navigation and Maritime Science and is accredited by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Instead of the Plymouth School of Navigation, it is now part of the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics within the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Many of the topics now at leading edge of Plymouth’s contribution to education and research were in their early stages when Tectona was first in these waters.


There are also some amazing connections with the past. Prince Philip visited again in 2012 – the year that the University of Plymouth celebrated the 150th anniversary since its origins as the School of Navigation. One of the highlights was the opening of a new Marine Building and Tectona was again in the Barbican, moored up next to other vessels in the University fleet


Another remarkable milestone is that Ben Williams, current Tectona skipper and one of the founders of ‘Sailing Tectona’, is a graduate from the Navigation and Maritime Science course.



An experienced crew: (Left to Right) The late Dr Roger Crabtree, Captain Roger Motte and current Skipper and Director of Sailing Tectona, Ben Williams


Back in the 1970’s and 80’s as the University was broadening its reach into science and technology, a former skipper of Tectona, Roger Motte, became the Head of Maritime Studies and also supervised the first PhD awarded to a professional seafarer who had graduated from Plymouth. Roger still lives in Wembury and came back on board Tectona after a gap of 50 years.


We close with some words from Captain Motte: “I joined the then School of Navigation in 1964 with a brand new Extra Masters ticket. Coincidently Tectona was purchased as a training vessel for pre-sea and mid apprentice release cadets. I was then appointed Sailing Master of this lovely vessel, where I spent a couple of happy years aged 27/28. It was obvious to me throughout this period that the cadets derived much knowledge and experience as well as benefitting from the character building that a sailing ship engenders. I was lucky enough to be invited back on board at the tender age of 80 and I took the helm again. In spite of the passage of time it was as if I had never left her. I was privileged to be invited back after 50 years or so had elapsed. She is a great vessel and nicely suited for her present occupation.”


Andrew Eccleston - April 2020


This is an abridged version of the original. The complete article is available here

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This article has been written exclusively for Sailing Tectona CIC by Andrew Eccleston. We are hugely grateful to him for finding the time to put Tectona's links to Plymouth to paper. We also wish to thank Captain Roger Motte for his support and fascinating insights into life onboard Tectona from days gone by.


Lastly we are pleased to say that the connection between Sailing Tectona CIC and Plymouth University continues to grow, with cadets from Navigation and Maritime Science course joining us annually for a challenging 5-day training voyage.


For more information and to book a voyage for your own school, college or group, please see our programme and booking section above or contact ben@saillingtectona.co.uk

Sailing Tectona CIC

March House, Cliff Road

PL9 0HN, Plymouth

+44 7581 565 272

ben@sailingtectona.co.uk

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