January 18, 2023
by Evan Gatehouse, P.Eng.
“How long have you worked at Robert Allan Ltd.?” is a question I’m sometimes asked. “It’s complicated” I usually reply.
I was hired in 1989, fresh from university. An early assignment was onsite at a shipyard doing production piping design. The first of four vessels were well underway; we were happy with progress. But the piping on the second vessel wasn’t fitting. The pipefitters were a creative bunch and had “improved” my drawings on the second sistership, ignoring the other piping still to come. This was a great hands-on experience in learning how a ship is built in the real world.
My wife and I purchased a sailboat, and I left Robert Allan Ltd. in 1995 for a four-year voyage through Mexico, Central America, the Panama Canal and the Western Caribbean. We ended up in Annapolis, Maryland, USA where I worked a year for a local naval architecture firm, and then three years of designing sailing yachts at a famous yacht designer’s firm. But my wife grew tired of living there, and when I enquired if there was any chance of a return, Rob Allan’s only question was “When can you start?” Arriving back in 2002 with a new daughter I found a lot of faces hadn’t changed; there were just lots more of them!
My time maintaining my own boat gave me a much greater appreciation for access for ease of maintenance — and how hard it is to do anything when the seas are rough.
Another boat, now a 40’ catamaran, arrived in the family. After a re-building project on it, I left Robert Allan Ltd. again in 2009 and we spent eight years circumnavigating. I worked for 21/2 years at Riverside Marine in Australia. I was put in charge of a major extension/refit of a company landing barge. Again, the hands-on experience of supervising the work of the trades in the yard was invaluable. Lessons on how to remove an old engine and get a new one in where there was no room, qualifying welders on class approved weld procedures, and not letting anybody throw old EPIRBs in the garbage (someone set it off).
We returned to Canada in 2017 and I’ve been back at Robert Allan Ltd. since then with yet more new staff. This time I promised not to leave on any extended trips! Working for other companies and in a more hands-on role, both with my own boats, and in shipyards, has given me a wealth of real-life experience that greatly influences how I design vessels.
And the answer to the question – about 18 of the past 33 years.