Roz Whistance meets Tim Griffin, who is living his dream – and wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else. If the Isle of Wight could have its own Prime Minister, Tim Griffin would be the man for the job. He is passionate about the Island, its beauty, the unruffled attitude of its residents, and the fact it allows him to live as he wishes. Actually, Prime Minister might be a little too political a post for a man who lives on and by the water, instructing fellow enthusiasts in driving ribs, jet-skis and the like. Ambassador for the Island, then. Oh, let’s just settle for King.
Not that he will thank me for the suggestion. When we meet, outside the Lifeboat Inn in East Cowes which overlooks the marina on which his ribs are moored, he is very anxious that I do not portray him as the font of all knowledge. “I’m not, there are other people doing the same thing who know just as much as me,” he insists – before talking Sense (and the capital S is intended) for the next hour. Sense about safety, and sense about the benefits, not to say privilege, of living on the Island.
“Where else could you do this, sit in the sun and chat surrounded by all this beauty, without it costing you a fortune? You walk down a lovely country lane, you wander to the beach – costs you nothing but you’re a millionaire!”
Tim is an Islander, but not one blinkered by the Island’s parameters. He has lived elsewhere, Cyprus even, but has always returned: “Where would you rather be?” he asks. He met his wife Jane when he was a beach lifeguard, though to pay the bills when his son Jamie was born he spent 14 years as a prison officer – which must have been purgatory for one so addicted to the outdoors. Now Jamie works with him, and Jane “supports me in everything I do. I’m lucky.”
Tim is living his dream. With his partner, Scot Gardener, he runs Griffin Marine Services, which teaches skills, techniques and safety to do with every aspect of water, from motorboats and jet-skis to safety on sailing boats. They run diver boat handling courses, and have set up a beach lifeguard academy.
Clients can develop their skills from a basic level upwards, Tim explains: “We have training syllabuses for people who’ve bought a motorboat but who have absolutely no knowledge, right up to instructor courses. And you can go through all the stages of that knowledge. We are recognised by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), the governing body for all boat users.”
If being obsessive about safety sits awkwardly with someone who loves playing on the water, Tim doesn’t see there is a circle to be squared: “The more you know about the boat you own, the more fun you’ll have. I see people who plainly haven’t done a course: the man trying to bring his boat in, yelling at the wife to grab this and pull that. If they’d both done a course, they could end the day still liking each other.”
Safety and enjoyment go hand in hand in Tim’s eyes. He talks of seeing families go out when the children are in lifejackets and the parents aren’t, and they haven’t attached their kill cord (which cuts off the engine if it comes in contact with water). “If the adult driving the boat falls in, the boat will keep going.”
Indeed, any sailing boat owner taking friends out should brief them on how to contact the coastguard, where the fire extinguishers are, etc. If the boom comes over and knocks the only skilled person into the water, the rest are in trouble.
For all his Island-induced calm, some things needle Tim. He was keen to run courses for teachers, developed by the Royal Lifesaving Society, in basic first aid, emergencies and rescue techniques, and has been frustrated at the poor take-up by the local authority. “We’re surrounded by water, teachers will feel happier going on field trips with such knowledge. But the LEA didn’t want to pay.”
For all his passion for safety, Tim is delighted that, in this country the mantra is “education not legislation.” “I think one volunteer is worth ten pressed men,” he says. “If you want to learn you’re more likely to take your learning to the next level and the next.” He acknowledges though that it’s not always possible to rely on someone taking the trouble to seek out the local bylaws about where it is permissible to jet ski or water ski. “But anyone can pick up a booklet produced by the RNLI called “Sea Safety” which includes a CD Rom. It’s full of great stuff and is completely free.”
Diving is a case in point. People might don their wetsuits after a winter of eating and drinking, but are they dive fit? Accidents happen when people overstretch themselves, Tim says. “’I’m doing a wreck dive’ isn’t what you want to hear on their first day out.” And don’t get him started on divers who come back with souvenirs. “I’ve seen people with nice living rooms cluttered up with a dozen portholes. I saw a toilet in someone’s lounge, that they’d taken from a wreck! Much funnier to have your picture taken sitting on the loo under water – and leave the stuff for the next person to find.”
Committed as he is to his work, he is not so hungry for the lucrative returns he could get if he set up elsewhere. “The majority of our clients come from the mainland. They think it’s great when, on day two of a powerboat course I say ‘right, today we’re going to drive to England!’”
He’s back where he started, extolling the life here on the Island. “When you drove over here from Freshwater this morning,” he says to me, “your route took you through gorgeous countryside and fantastic coastal scenes. What could be better?” And the stress of being late to meet Tim due to the car in front doing a steady 28mph is suddenly put in perspective. Hey, what’s the rush?
Griffin Marine Services,
4 Hampshire Way, Newport, Isle of Wight. Tel: 826026.