Sunseeker International proudly marks a significant milestone as Dennis ‘Digger’ Barnes, Sunseeker’s first apprentice and longest-serving employee, celebrates an extraordinary 45 years of commitment and contribution to the iconic boatbuilding brand.

On his inaugural day at Sunseeker in 1978, Dennis received clock card number 16, signalling the beginning of a remarkable journey. Joining as a Trainee Engineer under the guidance of the then-28-year-old John Braithwaite, Dennis’s early impact was evident as he quickly impressed the Braithwaite family with his engineering acumen. This was at a time when marine apprenticeships only existed for larger commercial ships in East Yorkshire. Therefore, Dennis was encouraged to pursue a ‘Heavy Vehicle Engineering’ course. Dennis’s journey reflects a unique era when marine apprenticeships were a rarity.

With a current workforce of 2,200 people, Dennis now serves as a Lifecycle Manager, overseeing quality assurance. Over the course of his 45-year tenure, he has generously shared his wealth of boat building knowledge with hundreds of apprentices and colleagues.

Dennis’s journey began when Sunseeker produced just one boat per week at the West Quay Road workshop. Today, the original shipyard has expanded sixfold since the late 1960s, evolving into a critical site for testing and finishing yachts before they embark on a global journey to owners.

Dennis’s career trajectory, from a Trainee Engineer to a Foreman in 1988 and subsequently a Manager at Willis Way, is a testament to his dedication and leadership. In 1987, the site produced up to 28 boats per month. By 1999, Dennis was appointed Site Manager. Today, Willis Way is a dedicated 55-foot build facility for Superhawk, Predator, and Sport Yacht models.

One of the standout moments in Dennis’s career occurred at Willis Way when he and his team successfully delivered one 60-foot yacht every five days to meet unprecedented demand for the Manhattan 60. This ambitious project resulted in the construction of 69 boats in just 18 months, a feat Dennis considers the pinnacle of his career.

“The Manhattan 60 project is my proudest achievement in my 45-year career,” says Dennis.

In early 2000, Dennis established the first formal marine apprenticeship scheme alongside two former Sunseeker employees and a local college. The award-winning Sunseeker apprenticeship programme known today is the result of Dennis’ blueprint in training, ensuring a legacy of skilled boat builders

Commenting on the programme, Dennis said: “Teaching people and passing the knowledge that I’ve learned over the years to other people so that they can carry on what we’ve got at Sunseeker, has inspired me to stay at Sunseeker for 45 years.”

In 2021, Dennis’s role evolved to Lifecycle Manager, reflecting his expertise in planning, people management, production engineering, and build processes. Throughout his journey, Dennis has been instrumental in establishing production practices and departments focused on product quality.

Dennis recalls that Robert had a dream to build a boat business that is known worldwide and brings wealth to Poole. In the 45 years that Dennis has worked at Sunseeker, the business has grown exponentially. Dennis acknowledges the visionary dream of founder Robert Braithwaite, stating, “I wouldn’t be where I am today and with the knowledge I have without the two Braithwaite brothers.”

As Dennis Barnes reaches this significant 45-year milestone, Sunseeker celebrates not just an individual career but a legacy of excellence and commitment that has shaped the success of the renowned boatbuilding brand.