In the realm of boatbuilding, where tradition meets craftsmanship, Holly Latham has carved out her own unique path. Her journey began with an affinity for the sea, even though she had never truly been on it. Dinghy sailing, diving, and windsurfing were her early passions, and her father's practical engineering skills inspired her to tinker in the workshop alongside him. In school, she excelled in design and technology, but the allure of university beckoned her, leading her to pursue marine biology.
For a decade, Holly embraced a career in marine biology, spending ample time at sea, diving, and conducting practical surveys. However, as the paperwork engulfed her job, she found herself yearning for the hands-on work she had once loved. When she met a partner who ran a small boatyard, she found her calling. Assisting him reignited her passion for creating, working with wood, and restoring boats. It wasn't long before she plunged headfirst into the yard, and her evenings and weekends quickly transformed into a full-time boatbuilding endeavour. Her path was unconventional, lacking formal paperwork or qualifications, but she dived into it with determination.
As fate would have it, her partnership ended, and with it her job at the boatyard. Faced with uncertainty, she contemplated returning to college to obtain the qualifications she lacked. However, wise counsel from friends made her realise that her experience and skills spoke for themselves. They encouraged her to set forth on her own and see where her passion would lead her. And so, in 2018, she took the plunge and became self-employed in the boatbuilding industry.
The boatbuilding community welcomed her warmly, and word of mouth ensured she always found new projects. Her confidence sometimes wavered as she felt like an imposter with her informal apprenticeship background. But soon, her expertise and understanding of working with wood shone through, dispelling any doubts. One project led to another, and her journey as a boatbuilder blossomed.
For Holly, boatbuilding was more than just a job; it was an art form. The pleasure of working with natural materials, witnessing the transformation of stacks of timber into boats, held a special magic for her.
However, the boatbuilding industry remained predominantly male-dominated, and Holly faced challenges as a female boatbuilder. While she received compliments for her work, gaining trust and opportunities within established boatyards proved arduous. The barriers she encountered resonated with other female boatbuilders, and this shared experience prompted Holly to become part of Women in Boatbuilding—a support network that empowers women in the industry, fostering a sense of camaraderie and offering guidance to newcomers.
As her future plans take shape, Holly's wanderlust remains alive. Opportunities beckon with the chance to sail as ship’s carpenter—a potential avenue to combine her love for boatbuilding with sailing. Though she cherishes her work in the workshop, the sea calls her to experience the boats she builds in their natural element.
Holly Latham's journey from marine biology to self-taught boatbuilder exemplifies the power of passion and the pursuit of one's true calling. With each boat she crafts and repairs, she weaves a story of artistry and dedication. In an industry slowly evolving, she stands as an inspiration to other women, proving that the world of boatbuilding is not exclusively male—it is open to all who dare to embrace the beauty of creation and the allure of the sea.
Written by Carly Fields
© Emilie Sandy Photography, 2023