Its still dark, although the first hint of dawn is touching the clouds. We are leaning on a palette of coring tubes watching a couple of disturbed house martins flitter in and out of the ship’s lighting. We ignore the hum of the ship’s winch which accompanies our chat. Rhys is wearing his distinctive and unique version of protective clothing.
Rhys’ character has been forged from his background. He is loyal Welshman who left school at 16 to follow an apprenticeship with an engineering company that built bridges and building structures from steel. Here he qualified as a Fabrication Welder, following this Rhys took his talents to the oil refineries in Milford Haven and then the Gas Board. He proved his skills by becoming a ‘coded welder’, a status reserved for the very best. Work in the shipyards followed, where he became a Foreman Boiler Maker, again the mark of a craftsman. Working with Research Vessels involved travelling to different ports to repair NERC ships, this has involved some tough and dirty work such as crawling through narrow gaps in the hull to make welds.
Although his work is centred in Southampton, Rhys lives in Barry in South Wales, he has a son and a daughter and five grandchildren in all.
“I’m lucky I’m still able to do steelwork, I still enjoy it. Its very practical and all the jobs are different.”
Back at base he is responsible for all of the steel work for the scientific operation at SOC. He is pleased that he is trusted to get on with the job of making and modifying things at the SOC workshops. On board the ships he sees his main job as keeping the scientists happy which he clearly does.
“I like the science, some more than others. My favourite operation is trawling as you get to see all of the fish and things brought up from the deep.”
As I look around the deck as the sun is beginning to rise and Rhys points out various parts of the ship that he has added over the years; a huge platform, a raised hatch for the hold and a special launch/retrieval platform for launching cores.
“The best part of the job is making things work. The worst part … well, I’ve signed the official secrets act!”
Rhys has been all over the world, he has his favourite spots but reckons that anywhere can be nice. He has noticed that wherever you go it is always different the next time you visit.