About Us

Based at Harkers Yard, Essex, the Pioneer Sailing Trust provide learning opportunities for young people to equip them with skills for life, both at sea and on land. 

The Trust was initially founded in 1999, with an ambition to restore a 70ft Essex Smack Pioneer, which fell into decay after a life spent dredging oysters in the North Sea. Restored in 2005, Pioneer’s new purpose is to offer young people the challenge of sailing, which often proves to be a life changing experience.  Pioneer has accommodation for three qualified crew and twelve trainees.  As a powerful and strong sea going vessel, she is ideally suited for day sailing or passage work in the Thames estuary, across the North Sea or the English Channel.  Being a crew member  highlights and emphasises many vital qualities essential in life and the Trust believes these practical and new experiences helps develop young people. 

In 2009, the Trust also opened Harker’s Yard to further its work with training and education in the marine industry and provided opportunities for work experience and apprenticeships in marine engineering and boat building and repair.

Pioneer Sailing Trust works closely with life development trusts, training agencies, councils, social services and other organisations devoted to improving the life prospects of young people, many of whom deal with difficult circumstances. Young people often find time at the trust opens new windows of opportunity.

Pioneer restoration

In the dying days of 1998, in a bitter December wind, the Pioneer was raised from the mud and floated to Wyatt’s Hard, West Mersea, from there transported temporarily by low loader to Goldhanger.  There she was carefully cleaned, blocked up, shored and plumbed.  A three dimensional digital survey by laser assured the accuracy of her recorded lines.  Finally laid up in a barn at Great Totham her restoration began.

In 2003, she emerged, restored, drawn across the waterlogged fields by five tractors, on her low loader artic, to the hard Colchester road.  Manoeuvred overnight by the narrowest of margins past Colchester Castle she eventually arrived at Brightlingsea.  On May the 17th 2003, she was re-launched bearing her original Colchester registration CK18.  She was, and is, the very pride of Essex and our county’s great maritime tradition.

Sailing experiences 

Sailing out of Brightlingsea, Essex at the entrance to the River Colne, Pioneer is always prepared for a busy season.  From April - October each year she is crewed by three professional crew and up to 12 willing helpers whether that be a group of young people from a local community group or school, a corporate group on a team building day, or hired privately by groups wanting an extended experience aboard our expertly restored Smack. 

As an RYA training venue, the Trust also offers three day courses on Pioneer as well as the opportunity to race her in annual Regattas in and around the Blackwater Estuaries.


Pioneer apprenticeships

Since the restoration and launch of Pioneer, The Pioneer Sailing Trust has developed ‘Harker’s Yard’ on the Shipyard Estate, Brightlingsea, with the aim of benefiting and developing the local area’s marine industry through training. 

Harker’s Yard is a purpose built training facility that provides work experience and apprenticeships for young people wishing to enter the marine industry.  Along with a base for Pioneer during the winter months, it also provides a quay and fuel barge facility for working vessels.  The yard specialises in training apprentices in the restoration of historic vessels and the manufacture of the East Coast Rowing Gig, as part of the expansion of coastal rowing. 

Recent projects include major restoration on the nineteenth century yacht, Volante.  It was designed and built in Wivenhoe in 1870 by John Harvey.  The 1897 gentlesman’s yacht Rainbow was also recently restored as well as John Constable’s vessel. 

Additionally, the East Coast Rowing Gigs are at various stages of production.  These cold moulded rowing gigs are designed to be rowed by four oarsmen and a cox in coastal waters.  The Trust hopes coastal community rowing using such gigs to allow people of all ages and backgrounds to get on the water. 

The Trinity House Launch and Priscilla are part of a wider three year project and are funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  The apprentices work alongside shipwrights to learn and develop woodwork skills.  The hope is the traditional skills will be transferred and conserved for the future. Whilst most of the projects in the yard are centred on traditional wooden boats, apprentices are also given the opportunity to work using modern techniques, which equip them with relevant stills needed for modern marine industries. 

The apprentices work towards the Apprenticeship in Marine Engineering, comprising of a NVQ level 3 qualification in Marine Engineering and City and Guilds 2451 course in yacht building and repairs.  The apprenticeship programme lasts approximately 24 months and provides apprentices with the valuable knowledge they need to carry out safe practice at work, understand the marine industry and ultimately make them more employable. 

The apprentices are also encouraged to sail aboard Pioneer in the summer. Sailing is a valuable experience for them and the hope is to ignite their passion for boats and the water. Through the combined experience of boat work, theory and sailing, Pioneer gives the apprentices an enriched and unique experience, which they can take with them into their next steps in life. 

Find out more about the Pioneer Sailing Trust