All aboard: The pioneering maritime ministry that began with a boat sold for £1

Ownership of a luxury 34ft-boat has been transferred for just one pound sterling.

Roger Helyar had just two provisos when he handed the boat over to equip the pioneering ministry of Lee Higson. Roger wanted Lee to use the boat for Christian ministry and to keep its name, Rockhaven.

Master Mariner Lee Higson is starting a pioneering men's ministry.

In October 2017 both men were studying for a certificate in Men's Ministry at Cliff College near Sheffield and had a chance conversation over coffee. Roger is a senior accredited counsellor and psychotherapist based in Exeter. He unpacked something about his work in adventure therapy, taking men's groups out on the water in his motor cruiser, doing some counselling and sharing a meal together. Lee explained to Roger that he'd worked at sea for 21 years, loved boats, loved the sea and would love to do something like that.

As the conversation unfolded Roger became convicted that he should help Lee, and offered him another motor cruiser which he owned. Lee said: 'I was really excited. I went straight back to my room and called my wife and said, "You're not going to believe what's just happened!" Roger and I exchanged emails and it became clear that he was making a genuine offer. He is such a humble man and is really committed to blessing us here in the north west.'

Rockhaven undergoing restoration.

Astonishingly, three months before Lee's encounter with Roger at Cliff College, he had taken part in a retreat at Hinsley Hall in Leeds. He was being licensed as a lay reader with the Church of England diocese of Manchester and one of the exercises involved reflecting about how God would use his ministry. Lee wrote down four things on a bit of paper. One said 'Get boat for ministry and discipleship.' He forgot all about it and got goose bumps when he found that paper later. He said: 'Everything came together in a really powerful way and I could see God's hand upon it. Roger may be the only person in England who is doing this sort of ministry, and for him to offer me his other boat was amazing.'

Lee, who has served in the Merchant Navy for 21 years, recently as a ship's captain, said: 'I've always wanted my own boat, but mainly for selfish reasons, to go out with my family and explore the coast. But I've really learned through all this that if you align your own will with God's will, he'll give you the desires of your heart, and I think that's what's happened here. I don't really see myself as being the owner of the boat but as a caretaker of it.'

After some cosmetic damage, the exterior of Rockhaven is currently being refurbished by master boat builders in a boatyard in Topsham, Exeter. When that work is completed Rockhaven will be transferred to Preston Marina by road, where internal refurbishments will commence. In the meantime a steering committee, consisting of members with a variety of skills and gifting, are working towards becoming a charitable trust and setting up a basis for operation.

Rockhaven's interior.

When Rockhaven is fully refurbished, excursions will be planned in line with tidal currents. They will vary in length, route and destination. They may last for three hours, 12 hours or may include an overnight stay on the boat in a marina or port, or in accommodation on land. The work of the ministry will range from offering a simple meal on the boat in the marina to a journey on the open sea with a speaker followed by a discussion. Lee is also keen to offer training in seafaring skills as a way of ministering to those who have had few opportunities in life.

The boat is insured to carry 14 passengers and will sleep six comfortably, eight at a push. Lee aims to make the boat available and accessible to everyone and is planning to host excursions for men's groups, women's groups, families, church groups and youth groups.

Bob Fraser, Christian Vision for Men regional director in the north west, is a member of the Rockhaven steering committee. He said: 'Lee and I were both on the Men's Ministry course at Cliff College; in fact I drove him down there as he was still recovering from a long spell in hospital with a ruptured appendix and was seriously considering backing out. I was amazed by Roger's offer of a boat and how things came together. I'm really looking forward to working with Lee on this project.'

Roger Helyar (left) with Lee Higson.

Lee said: 'Being on a boat puts you in touch with nature. For me, as a mariner, if I see the night sky at sea, away from light pollution, I've no doubts at all that there's a God. And I can see it so obviously. Getting out and away from mobile phone signals will really open people up to exploring things beyond the normal hustle and bustle. My favourite bible verse is Psalm 107: 23-24: "They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep." That says so much for me because I get it and I want others to get that as well.'

Lee Higson can be contacted at lee.higson@cvm.org.uk. Rockhaven has a Facebook page.

Val Fraser is an author and journalist. Follow her on Twitter @ValFraserAuthor.

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