In the beginning . . .

A pre-Henshaw chapter in the Tinker story
Geoff Tompson recalls the first years of Tinker production

I just stumbled on your website and thought you might like a bit more of the history of the Tinker inflatables.

After I left school in the Summer of 1967 I needed a job to tide me over whilst I re-sat some of my A-Levels (whoops). Luckily I saw an advert placed by Fred Benyon-Tinker's Tinker Marine company looking for a trainee boatbuilder. At that time Tinker Marine was housed in The Brixham Lido building behind Uphams - the boatyard where they built the Mayflower replica in the 1950s.  I applied for the job and was taken on for the princely weekly wage of £8 - minus tax and National Insurance of course!

Fred had recently moved to Brixham from East Grinstead, where he'd been building inflatables for a few years.  When I arrived in August 1967 Fred had just completed the first Tinker Traveller, an 11 foot dinghy.  Uphams were building the Twister cruising yacht and several prospective owners were looking for a tender that was easier to row than the Avon tenders with their flat bottoms that had a tendency to skip across the surface in any wind with no hint of directional control.  The Traveller had a raised floor giving it quite good directional control and a few were sold to Uphams for new Twisters.  The problem was that the Traveller at 11 feet was a bit on the big side for the Twister.

One of Fred's unique design features in the Traveller was the use of inner tubes that stretched from just aft of the transom to where the rowlocks were mounted.  This allowed Twister owners to stow their Traveller atop the cabin with just the inner tubes inflated and the forward part of the boat folded back to reduce the stowed length to about 6 feet.  A workable compromise but inflating the main tubes before use was not easy and by early 1968 Uphams was asking for a 9 foot version of the Traveller.

In those days there were no CNC and automatic buffing machines! Instead Fred had devised a building technique that I still find hard to believe we used so successfully.  Fred would cut a quarter inch hardboard 'stencil' wherever we had to glue parts together.  Using the stencil we then used a Black & Decker router turning at 25,000 rpm to drive a tungsten carbide tipped router cutter (I think he had them made in Buckfastleigh).  To prevent the 'stencil' from being damaged we used a collar on the router.  Adjusting the depth of cut was critical as all we were doing was removing the thin white Hypalon coating without damaging the neoprene and fabric core.

As a quality check to ensure we were only removing the white Hypalon, Fred had fabric made to his own specification by a company in Manchester - sadly I've forgotten their name but it's on the tip of my tongue.  The inner and outer coatings used dark grey Neoprene, but on the outer side there were 2 more layers, a beige layer of Neoprene and a surface layer of Hypalon.  When we routed away the Hypalon we were left with the beige visible - if we saw black we'd routed too deeply.  We had to remove the Hypalon as the glue we used wouldn't stick to Hypalon.

Anyone who knew Fred will know that he always had a pipe in his mouth, which often went out.  He'd then stand by the highly inflatable glue whilst re-lighting his pipe - happily he was never too close He was a great boss - a real mad professor type - meant in the nicest possible way!

One Monday in early 1968 I went into work to find Fred had spent the weekend cutting a new 'stencil' for a 9 foot dinghy.  He said the building technique was identical to the Traveller and he left me to build what was to be the first Tinker Tramp.  In those days of course it was a yacht tender designed specifically to meet the needs of Uphams' Twister owners, with no hint of the sailing and liferaft versions to come 10 or more years later.  Tinker Marine didn't just build the Tramp and the Traveller - it had 2 other designs, a fully folding 13ft 6in speedboat that packed into the boot of a car.  With a 35hp motor it was very fast and I subsequently learnt to waterski behind one on Loch Corrib in Southern Ireland.  We also built a 14 foot sailing catamaran with a wooden deck and I suspect that was the first sailing boat Fred Benyon-Tinker designed.