Access Challenger

Access Challenger Guernsey Boat Charter

Buz White Guernsey

The boat that Buz built

(Article reproduced courtesy of the Guernsey Press and Star.)

Guernsey boatman Buz White is planning a big celebration to mark the coming of age of the charter vessel that has provided his living for the last 25 years (in 2017). He told Martyn Tolcher the story of how he rebuilt the Access Challenger from the hulk of a burned-out wreck destined for the scrap yard

TO ALMOST everyone else it was a burned-out wreck that was not worth a second glance, let alone saving. But when he first set his eyes on it almost a generation ago, Buz White knew this was the boat for him.



That vessel was a previously sturdy-looking and very seaworthy Fairline Turbo 36 but it was totally written off in June 1990, after a flare was set off inside by an intruder, or intruders, unknown.

‘It was midsummer’s day, after the night of a rave,’ Buz remembered. ‘It was taken out of the water at Abraham’s Bosum to have some maintenance work done and someone broke into it and let a flare off.’

Built in the late 80s and named ‘Access’ by its original owners, after their scaffolding and skip hire businesses, the boat was so badly damaged it was declared by the insurers to be ‘a constructive total loss’.

It remained laid up at St Sampson’s Harbour in this sorry state for more than 12 months and all the while Buz White’s burning desire to make it rise from the ashes did not diminish.

‘It sat there for more than a year and I wanted it, I so wanted it,’ he recalled. ‘I was self-employed and wanted my own charter boat but there was no way I could afford to buy one, not a chance, so I had to recycle one.’

Even as a young man, Buz, who is now 52, had plenty of friends and acquaintances in the local marine industry. When he sought the advice of his pal Mick Le Tissier, an expert boatbuilder, he was told it would be too much work to rebuild the Access and that he would never make it pay.

The message was the same from practically everyone else with any boating knowledge: ‘Don’t touch it with a barge pole,’ they said. But in spite of all those well-meant warnings, Buz was undeterred and decided to put in an offer – although he was almost stopped in his tracks by the initial £20,000 price demanded by the insurance firm.
‘I wasn’t going to spend that sort of money,’ he said, ‘but then I found out the States were going to take the engines out and then scrap the rest because they were the same engines as the harbour workboat at the time.

‘I went back to the insurance company and offered them £7,000 for the wreck. They came back with £8,000 and then I said £7,500 as my final offer. I had to borrow the money there and then, so I even had my bank manager, Eric Legg, coming to see the boat so I could get the loan.

The date the deal was done remains etched on the buyer’s mind – 19 July 1991. From that day the project was on to make a new boat rise from the ashes of the old, and Buz knew he had the necessary skills to go with his stubborn determination, backed up by the promise of a little help from his friends.
   
‘My original trade was boatbuilding,’ he revealed. ‘I worked at Guernsey Boatbuilders and I learned my skills at Falmouth Technical College in Cornwall. The first thing we did was empty out five skips from the wreck, and Esso emptied the fuel tanks and gave me credit for the fuel.’

Once the wreck of the Access had been completely cleaned out, the next stage of the operation was to take it to his then house at Camp Code Lane, St Sampson’s, and the rebuilding operation began in earnest in what was effectively his back yard, in August 1991.

‘I didn’t have a lot of money so we recycled everything we could,’ Buz recalled, pointing to a photo of the hardwood planks he used for the decking – pieces of wood that had been plucked out of the sea by another friend.




‘I did a lot of the work myself,’ he continued, ‘but a chap called Micky Hamel who had been made redundant by Seaward Marine and now works for Boatworks + came to help me out. During the winter of ’91 Dave Etasse let me use his shed at Leale’s yard as a workshop to make the mould for the superstructure and build the cabin.’
 
Before that, though, the vessel’s two Volvo 306 engines, weighing a tonne each, had to be lifted back in: ‘Nigel Greenway painted them green and they looked like new, and that was a lot of work on its own, it really was. I’ve got different engines now but the original ones came with a little generator and that’s still running and makes the tea – 42,000 cups of tea that generator has made!’

Buz remembers vividly the day the superstructure was put onto the vessel. A number of his friends turned up to witness this landmark occasion, but instead of being a reason for a minor celebration it prompted a crisis that brought him close to abandoning the entire operation.

‘It came back to me that there was a whisper going round that Buz White’s screwed up. He’s put that superstructure on it and it looks horrible, but we can’t tell him. I came back from the pub that night and sat on the steps of the church near my house and I cried my eyes out. It looked totally wrong and I almost thought I’m not going to do any more.’

In the cold light of the following morning Buz was still pretty upset, but he was given fresh hope when a friend advised him to get an expert assessment from the renowned Guernsey boatbuilder Brian Petit.
‘He stood on my garage and started marking out the windows. He said: “I’ll tell you now, that’ll make the superstructure look half the size, it’ll bring it down” and he was so right.’

Having shed a few tears, sweated buckets and drawn his own blood on a few occasions over the nine-month building period, the time arrived for Buz to launch his baby, and there was only one name he could give to her. ‘Everybody bar none said to me you’ve got a real challenge here so it had to be the Access Challenger,’ he beamed. 

The Access Challenger was duly taken to the water on 6 May 1992, but even that final part of the operation did not go entirely smoothly. There was a heart-stopping moment during the short land journey when one of the struts securing the boat to the lorry gave way and knocked out a ‘Frenchman’ – one of the giant wooden chocks used to keep the vessel upright on the trailer.



Luckily, that problem was spotted before any damage could be done, and the launch went ahead without any further hitches on the East Arm of St Peter Port Harbour.

‘Right then it was the best day of my life – better than my wedding,’ Buz admitted. Since then he has had two children, daughter Amillie (now 19) and son Arun (16), making it the third-best day of his life, and one that he continues to remember with huge emotion.
‘The Access Challenger is unique,’ he explained. ‘Nobody else has got a boat like mine and, not being funny about it, but building something like that for yourself, doing 2,365 hours of work over eight months, is very different to going to a boatyard and telling them to build one for you.’

After the initial challenge of making a seaworthy vessel out of a burned wreck, Buz had a few smaller challenges to face. He had to take out another loan to pay for new electrics and funded this by doing trips on other boats, deliveries, tuition and surveys, and it was only then that he could begin to build up his own Access Challenger charter business.
For the next decade he established himself and his boat as a ‘do anything’ service, from Sea Fisheries patrol vessel to charity rowing race guard boat to lighthouse relief vessel, working for the States, the Royal Navy, a wide range of shipping organisations and hundreds of individual clients too numerous to mention.

In 2001 the Access Challenger underwent a major refit and Buz had two brand new Volvo engine put in. As a postscript to the story he revealed: ‘I sold the old ones to a man in Birmingham for the same amount I paid for the wreck. I got £7,500 for them so I got my money back!’  

To mark the 21st anniversary of the launch of his boat, Buz is planning to throw a big party later this year.

No doubt he will be joined by many of the people who helped him to raise the Access Challenger from the ashes and by some of the folk who gave him support and encouragement along the way.

But that will be a different story...

PHONE: 07781 147477

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Buz White Guernsey

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Skipper Buz White is a member of the YDSA, RNLI and the International Association of Marine Investigators