Tim Reynolds is cross with himself. ‘I’m sorry, I forgot to bring my adze. It would have been good for the picture. You don’t see many solicitors with an adze.’
He is an unusual and unconventional lawyer. This is borne out by the profile of him in his firm’s glossy brochure.
There’s none of the usual banal jargon and lawyer-speak which so often fills these handouts. I suspect it was written by him because it is shot through with his humour.
It says: ‘As a child Tim was taught how to build boats and walk across deep mud. He has two children who are receiving a similar education.
‘Their attempts at boatbuilding are interesting, but they are instinctive about the mud.’
Tim Reynolds left Portsmouth Grammar School at 16. I’ll run that sentence past you again. Tim Reynolds quit Portsmouth Grammar School before starting his A-levels.
He says: ‘When I said I would leave at 16 I was told I really couldn’t do that because I’d be letting the side down. It wasn’t the done thing.
‘Before I made that decision I had no idea what I wanted to be, but they told me that if I worked really hard I could become a legal executive. I remember thinking, why on earth would I want to become a legal executive?’
Tim laughs heartily at the memory. He laughs constantly. He’s had the last one.
For Tim is now recognised among his peers as one of Britain’s leading marine lawyers.
The 54-year-old is the marine law director of the firm Verisona based at 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Portsmouth, and with offices at Havant and Waterlooville.
He buys and sells yachts for clients, sorting out the contracts, handling the negotiations. And we’re not talking dinghies here, but enormous ocean-going yachts, whether propelled by sail or motor.
He also ‘sorts out the shambles arising from bad construction and bad survey work’ and conducts salvage work.
Most of his work is abroad. He does it on the phone or the internet.
I put it to him that he is a boat nut. He roars with laughter. ‘My wife would use a slightly stronger word – obsessive, compulsive – something like that.’
It all started when he was about five. His father, a pilot who ended up flying Concorde, was besotted with boats. ‘I was about four or five when he started building an enormous boat in the garden of our home in Chichester. All I can remember of my childhood is of boats being built.
‘When we moved to Bosham [where he still lives and sails] we always had three boats at the bottom of the garden and an old steel radiator.
‘I was the smallest and I was invariably the one who was lying on the mud banging in a rivet while lying on the radiator. From the age of 11 or 12 I was probably making quite good money fixing up old boats for people.
‘When the wind blew across the creek at the end of the garden, dinghies would drift across the harbour from Itchenor and we lads would get a fiver each for taking them back to their owners. It was my first experience of salvage.’
His maternal grandfather designed boats in Portsmouth Dockyard and his father’s father emigrated to New Zealand to work as a boat engineer.
‘When we were kids and went to New Zealand we were always surrounded by boatbuilding, so it’s no surprise that I grew to love it.’
After his ignominious exit from PGS he went to Chichester College to study engineering. ‘It was fine until someone pointed out that you need maths for engineering, my weakest point.
‘Luckily the chap who ran engineering was a great mate of my dad’s and a keen yachtsman. Even though he gave me a hard time about my inability at maths I was dead good at making turbines. I loved that side of things.
‘Hydraulics and aerodynamics wasn’t a problem, but triple differentiation was. It was a bit like lifting the bonnet of a modern car: you look at it, think it’s interesting then put it down. Quickly. That was my attitude to trigonometry.’
He failed the course ‘miserably’, but by this time he was working in boatyards around Chichester Harbour ‘being paid peanuts to put on copper tingles, teaching at the sea school and chasing German girls around. That was the perfect job for me,’ he adds.
‘Then I began to get this dreadful sense that there would be women I’d never meet if I didn’t go to university.’
So, spurred on by the lure and work ethic of ‘a couple of attractive girls’ he sat and passed three A-levels in a year. ‘It’s amazing how much you can achieve when there’s an incentive.’
He began an apprenticeship in a boatyard just as fibre glass boats were beginning to replace traditional wooden ones. ‘People laughed when I turned up with this bag of clapped-out tools. They wondered what this 17-year-old knew about boatbuilding, but they rapidly learned that I did because I’d been doing it since I was five.
‘But the emergence of fibre glass and a huge hike in VAT saw the keel drop out of the traditional boatbuilding market. The foreman said to me ‘‘go to college, get some learning and pay someone else to build you a boat’’. It was the best bit of advice I ever had.’
So he got his degree at Cardiff reading Admiralty Law (the law of the sea), but at the end the lure of sailing proved too great.
He’d been flying to Hong Kong regularly to race in big yachts and the Admiral’s Cup and was given the opportunity to crew on a friend’s 43ft yacht to sail her home to Britain.
‘There’s nothing like deep ocean sailing. For me, being on a small boat thousands of miles out is as close as you can get to God.’
When that ended Tim realised he needed some decent money if he was to continue building the boat he had started in the family garden back at Bosham and went to the College of Law in Guildford.
‘For the first two weeks all I did was draw bottlenose dolphins. I’d seen the world and I had to sit in this room with all these awful students who had just come straight from university. All they could talk about was becoming a lawyer. I thought they were mad.’
He met his Swedish wife at Bosham when she moored her boat at the jetty ‘while I was doing some anti-fouling’. Her mother is from an old boatbuilding family in the village.
Then he joined solicitors Dyer Burdett in West Street, Havant, which eventually merged with Gray Purdue to form Verisona.
‘I loved it. Watching Michael Dyer at Havant Magistrates’ Court defend drug addicts, pimps and prostitutes and going down to the cells to take statements from low life. It was a different world but great fun.’
But it meant he could still build that boat and spend all his spare time sailing when not raising his family.
‘When I became a lawyer my dad said I didn’t know how lucky I was to be paid to sit in a boatyard looking at a boat. He was absolutely right.’
At university Tim specialised in the branch of marine law which related to unregistered vessels.
‘I wrote my dissertation on it and I remember arguing with my professors that it did not just apply to coasters and tankers but to all boats from dinghies up.’
He argued, and still does, that there are several ways in which the law could be tightened.
‘I wrote to the then Board of Trade asking why it was not compulsory insurance for boats like we do with cars.
‘Now, 25 years on, not only is there still no compulsory insurance, there’s no compulsory registration and no compulsory standards,’ he adds.
‘We’ve done our usual English thing by putting out advisory notes, but I see the other side of it all.
‘If somebody is going to spend all this money buying this powerful thing there should be some element of compulsion to learn how to use it before they go and do themselves or somebody else an injury.’