From shy bairn to Queen of the Seas

University of Sunderland author and lecturer Naomi Austin

Published on 01 June 2018

A journey that began when she was a student will be relived this summer when Naomi Austin retraces the trip that changed her life forever.

 Shy and lacking in confidence, the North East girl entered a competition to win a place on the Sir Winston Churchill Tall Ship when the famous races came to Newcastle during the summer of 1993.

 To her shock, Naomi won and found herself, alongside 12 others, preparing for life on the open seas.

 Today a Senior Lecturer in Fashion at the University of Sunderland, Naomi said: “What I didn’t know at the time was just how life changing it was all going to be.

 “I was really struggling, lacking a lot of confidence. But, you know what, I came off that ship a completely different person – it changed everything.”

 Naomi was so inspired by her journey that, this year, her book, The Call of the Sea, is published ahead of the return of the Tall Ship Races, this time to Sunderland.

 Complete with foreword from architect, TV presenter and University of Sunderland honorary graduate George Clarke, the coffee-table book is a stunning 288 pages of digital images, shipbuilding testimonials and beautiful photographs.

 While the book is centred around the Tall Ships – with 55 digital drawings, all Naomi’s own work – the history of shipbuilding on the Wear and the personal accounts of shipyard workers who built these incredible vessels is also included.

 To say it has been a labour of love for Naomi could be understating what she has created. The lecturer has had very little sleep this year as she has juggled her University work with completing the book.

 Naomi said: “I never imagined that something which I thought sounded pretty interesting to get involved in would affect me in quite the way it did. Participating in the Tall Ships Races helped me to believe that I could do anything I wanted to if I put my mind to it.”

 The academic will also be displaying drawings from the book at an exhibition at Arts Centre Washington during August where 30 of her unique images will be on view.

 Naomi said: “I suppose I wanted to prove that digital drawings can be beautiful, elegant things. Whenever I’ve seen images of Tall Ships, they have always been very technical. I wanted to prove they could be created classically, but in a very modern way.”

 When Naomi began working at the University four years ago, she became fascinated with the city’s shipbuilding history, immersing herself in the maritime heritage of the Wear.

 “I think it’s important that young people are reminded of this history,” added Naomi, who also spends time going into schools talking to children about it. “The first chapter of the book is dedicated to shipbuilding in Sunderland.”

In his foreword to the book, George Clarke praises Naomi’s efforts to keep this sense of history very much in the present.

 He says: “Some say the beating heart of Sunderland was football or coal mining. Of course, these were both incredibly important to the entire North East - indeed football still is.

 “However, Wearside came into existence because of its beautiful river and the banks of this river grew into one of the most influential industrial towns in the world because of something bigger than football or coal mining - shipbuilding. This wonderful industry began in Wearmouth as far back as the 14th century, hundreds of years before the first football was kicked or the first lump of coal was mined. Shipbuilding was the beating heart of Sunderland.

 “Whilst shipbuilding has now gone from my home town and its industrial heart has stopped beating, Naomi Austin has put together the most wonderful book to keep the memories of those thriving industrial days alive.

 “Combined with her elegant drawings, she captures the stories of those ships which changed the world as well as celebrating the lives of the incredible people who built them.

 “The people of Sunderland are some of the most passionate and proud people you are ever likely to meet and they will continue to feel that pride through every single page of this book. I know I did and I can’t thank Naomi enough for writing it.”

 Naomi will continue her love affair with the Tall Ships this summer when she takes part in the first leg of the 2018 Race on board the German ship Alexander Von Humboldt II as part of this year’s event.

 Naomi said: “I’m beyond excited to get back on a Tall Ship and actually take part in the Race again. I’m a little bit nervous understandably, as I’m not sure if my sea legs are the same as they were 25 years ago but I’m determined to give everything I have and to try to assist all the young trainees on board. After all, I know exactly what they’re going through! And, you never know, the Alex II may win the race… I hope everyone will look out for the ship with the bright green sails and give me a wave.’

 The Tall Ships will be in Sunderland between Wednesday, 11 July and Saturday, 14 July.

 It is estimated around 55 ships will arrive in the city with more than a million people expected to turn out to enjoy the spectacle.

 To order The Call of the Sea, visit https://thecallofthesea.printtrail.com

 Naomi’s The Call of the Sea Exhibition will be at Arts Centre Washington between 3 August and 1 September.