Top Notch
Monday, September 8, 2014
Simon Rees, sailing

Simon Rees, sailing (Photo credit: Gunboat)

Taking a huge leap of faith landed Simon Rees his dream job.

This Marine Institute Naval Architecture spring 2014 graduate is starting his career as a naval architect with Gunboat, a world leading Yacht Company in composite construction, production and design.

Getting in with the prestigious North Carolina company wasn’t an easy feat.

Rees grew up in a sailing family in Conception Bay South, NL. His passion for the ocean and boats only grew over the years through experience on his parents’ 29 foot sail boat and his involvement in the Royal Canadian Sea Cadet program and the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club.

“After doing many regattas and two offshore races I started working as a coach at the yacht club, and then was promoted to director of the sailing school. In this role I did a lot of maintenance work with engines, bilge systems, sail maintenance, and fiberglass repair, which actually inspired me to pursue naval architecture,” explained Rees.

Having been diagnosed with a hearing loss early in his childhood, Rees learned to deal with his challenge not allowing it to interfere with his vision of one day building and delivering custom Gunboats around the world.

Gunboat was the inspiration for Rees’ senior design project. Choosing to forgo a steel and aluminum ship design, Rees instead poured his time into composites and working with sail arrangements for a 30.2 metre performance sailing catamaran. This particular design required a hull geometry and sail plan that allowed for maximum efficiency. While the project was rather complicated, Rees remained motivated with a lot of inspiration coming from Gunboats’ designs.

“I believe that at the end of the day the most important thing is to follow your dreams,” said Rees. “It required a lot of extra work to learn about composite catamarans. As a class, we would write exams about steel ship construction, but I would have to learn the same level of detail in composite construction outside of class time. The project required a lot of meetings afterhours with the instructors and countless hours researching online, in text books, and at the library. In the end, it was worth it. I presented my design to Gunboat and they liked it.”

After sending Gunboat his resume, Rees offered to meet and discuss potential job opportunities with the company. In April, Rees took it upon himself to travel to North Carolina on his own dime in hopes of landing his dream job.

“During the visit to Gunboat, I received a full tour of the facilities. What they do at the North Carolina facilities is amazing. The quality of their product is very high-end and the company has a much respected reputation in the yacht industry,” said Rees.

During the tour of Gunboat’s facilities Rees experienced, first hand, the fast-paced atmosphere. After spending most of the day in a rigorous interview in the massive facilities, design rooms, and climbing around the boats under construction with pointed questions from gentlemen in suits who sell million dollar boats, Rees heard what he never expected.

“At the end, I was asked if I could handle this type of work environment, meeting strict deadlines, interfacing with clients, long hours, and no room for errors. I had to think about it. I had to make sure I could meet the expectations,” recalled Rees. “My experience managing a sailing school at the yacht club with much responsibility and many hours of overtime convinced my future boss I was up for the task. He gave me the hand shake and said ‘Welcome to Gunboat.’”

On June 23rd, a mere ten days after his MI graduation, Rees will begin working as a naval architect with Gunboat.

Rees will work primarily alongside an architect whose focus is on design aesthetics. Together they will work with production drawings. Rees will help in adding the technical aspects of the designs while effectively relaying them to the shop floor.

For his very first project, Rees has been assigned to a 78 foot sailing catamaran. “The complexity of this boat is amazing. It is made mostly of carbon fiber, which is a really expensive high end material,” explained Rees. “The boat is made to be very light weight so it can achieve optimum performance while under sail, but still have all the luxuries of a modern day yacht.”

Perhaps the biggest inspiration Rees has had was meeting Jimmy Spithill, the 2013 America’s Cup skipper of the winning team, Oracle. The team was many points behind the New Zealand team and only one race away from being defeated in the biggest sailing regatta in the world, when Spithill told his team to stay positive and focus on one race at a time. They focused on that small task and eventually it led them to one of the greatest sporting comebacks in history as they claimed the cup.

Taking the initial risk to tackle a composite sailing catamaran for his design project was a gamble for Rees. He was very motivated to start working in the yacht industry with the hopes of landing a position with Gunboat. One thing he learned through managing the sailing school and talking to MI faculty members with experience in the industry was that sometimes you have to take a risk. Fortunately his paid off.

“Making connections throughout life goes a long way. Keeping those who support you and believe in you close is very important. Then, when you have to make a huge leap of faith and have so many people behind you, it helps,” expressed Rees. “My mom always says, ‘It takes a village.’ Having incredible support from school, friends and family is the one thing I’ve found that’s always made the difference.”