Tom Cload holds out his right hand to reveal the ring finger that ‘interrupted’ a Father’s Day sailing race off Plymouth when he was just four years of age. Slightly truncated and boasting a scar reminiscent of a coastline, the digit has defied medical prognosis by growing back after it was severely mangled by a pulley when the spinnaker rope he was holding suddenly dragged him forwards.
As he was transferred from his dad’s yacht to the coastguard for emergency dispatch to hospital, you would have forgiven the sailor’s apprentice for deciding that hanging about on boats wasn't such a good idea. But nothing could be further from the truth. “I have known the sea since day one,” Tom says. “My first dry suit was a plastic bag, and I have never wanted to do anything else but live and work by the water.”
Perhaps it is in the genes: for 100 years the Cload family’s chandlery was a landmark on the Barbican, and for the past seven, C and C Marine Services, the boatyard run by Tom and his father Chris, has provided safe shelter, repair work and boat-building expertise to the city’s mariners.
“People come down to the boatyard in the summer and tell me what an amazing job I have,” says Tom. “I tell them to come back in January when it is freezing cold and a mooring has broken and I’ve got to jump in the water and fix it. Or when I have to remove six coats of anti-foul and then sand the entire boat! But then the other week a customer asked if I could take them out and offer some sailing tuition – it was a beautiful day and I was in my element!”
To meet Tom is to know that he is the epitome of ‘being in one’s element’ (though, surprisingly, he confesses to being somewhat uneasy in open water!). He loves his work, and takes every opportunity to sail, wakeboard and windsurf with friends. A prodigiously talented yachtsman and dinghy sailor, he trained with the national team as a teenager and regularly raced against future Olympians. Though he chose not to pursue a career in sailing, he competes every week with the Plym Yacht Club, and has plans to enter the national championships in the J24 class – and all this while the 27-year-old balances family life with wife Caroline and their two-year-old daughter Arabella.
“I don’t ever want to leave Plymouth,” Tom says as if sensing the next question. “It is part of me and who I am – I'm a Cload and our roots are in the sea.”