Czech man Francis RysI has been fixing and renovating boats on the Rock for decades having stayed here since 1993 despite no plans at the time to make this his home.
During these years he also took time off to explore and ply his trade in other parts of the world settling in the USA for over a year. He has been back permanently on the Rock since 2000.
When Mr Rysl arrived in 1993 he spoke very little English, he had experience with boats and other woodwork crafts but the language barrier meant it was hard for him to find work, initially. Fortune came his way when he met a South African man who offered him a place to live on his sailing boat, in turn for some cleaning, cooking and boat repairs. This helped Mr Rysl learn English.
“I had very little English and I could not speak very well with the people here, but my friend he was very patient and I learnt a lot of my English with him,” he said.
With his improved English, he got some work in restaurants and handy man jobs before he found a job working as a crew member on a tug boat and sailing yacht which led him to finding work on a dolphin boat.
Always in the marina and always working led Mr Rysl to be noticed by the captain of a sailing boat owned by an American. He was employed as a crew member and his voyage took him to the USA, which included stops in the West Indies and Mexico.
“Oh that was an interesting crossing, I will remember crossing the Atlantic forever,” he said.
There in the US, he made Alabama his home for a year and a half. During this time he worked in local boat yards repairing vessels but also working on houses fixing them up. While in the US he took the opportunity to explore as much of the vast country that he could.
Time passed and he longed for the Rock, so he returned home in 2000, getting in contact with his old South African friend when he did so.
“I wanted to come back to Gibraltar, I liked it here before and I wanted to come back,” he said.
As luck would have it his friend had become a member of the Gibraltar Royal Yacht Club, had purchased a Victory class sailing boat Calypso that needed work.
Initially it was thought that all the vessel needed was a paint job, but it turned out it needed a complete overall. Ribs had to be changed, new planks had to be placed, beam shelves needed fixing and a new deck had to be created.
He described how this work is accomplished. Firstly, he buys a log of wood as everything is made from scratch and nothing is bought. He selects the old piece that needs replacing and copies it, thereby negating the need for a tape measure. The new piece is then cut, shaved or sanded until it is the perfect fit.
“It is a very slow process, it takes time and a lot of patience and that is not something everyone has,” he said.
The long process and the satisfying results ignited Mr Rysl’s love of boats even further and under his friend’s training he learnt how to become a boat builder.
His craftsmanship garnered attention from other boat owners who were soon asking him to carry out work on their vessels. In doing so he continued to gain as much knowledge as he could via books or other craftsmen. He prides himself on his ability to locate and fix problems even if they are hidden in the cracks or under layers of paint while always complying with safety regulations
For the past 18 years every year he has had returning customers who bring him their Victory yachts to ensure they are sea worthy ahead of the start of the sailing season in May.
Outside of yachting season, Mr Rysl continues to carry out works and repairs this time on people’s homes.
He prides himself on how he came to the Rock with very little English and built up not just his language but a self-employed business and he states that he is very grateful for the people of Gibraltar who encouraged and allowed him to do that.
Mr Rysl is always accompanied by his old dog Lucy on all his jobs and states everyone loves her wherever they go.