Ship to Shore
I recently travelled back to the Isle of Man by ferry on Good Friday of Easter weekend, and reflected on one of the blessings of my retirement nine years ago from the ferry industry: the ability to relax and enjoy bank holiday periods free from the worry of some operational mishap occurring at the most inopportune moment. In the 31 years during which I occupied various shoreside roles in the ferry industry, fortune often decreed that if something was to go wrong it would go wrong at the busiest time of the sailing calendar.
It got me thinking that it was 40 years since I had made the ‘leap‘ from ship to shore, bringing to an end a seagoing career that had started deep sea and continued on the ferries which crossed the Irish Sea from Scotland (Stranraer) to Northern Ireland (Larne). It was fascinating to contrast the way of life at sea with life ashore, as I am sure many others have done when making such a career change.
For example, being ashore avoided the extreme pressures which those onboard would endure during the worst instances of weather or mechanical problems, but by and large a ship’s crew could ‘switch off’ when their turn of duty was over and their responsibilities handed over to the oncoming crew, until their next turn of duty. Those in senior shore-based roles have an almost constant pressure (at least in the back of their minds) of overseeing the shipping 24/7, trying to ensure it operates safely, efficiently and to time.
In ‘days of old‘, and particularly when deep sea, communication was very limited – which on a very positive note meant relatively little interference from Head Office in the matters of running the ship, but on the downside meant virtually no opportunity to stay in touch with loved ones ‘back home‘. Modern technology has flipped that situation around. But, back then, ‘disappearing off the face of the earth‘ for months at a time was often the driving force in deep sea seafarers seeking shore-based positions or at least onboard positions closer to home.
Over the long period when I worked ashore, I noticed at times the expansion in shore-based operations to meet the greater regulatory, safety and commercial pressures; and at other times the contraction due to some of these functions being ‘outsourced‘ to ship management companies or centralised at ‘head office’. In the ferry industry, I always saw merit in the value of locally based senior marine management. When I moved ashore in 1976 as Shipping & Port Manager for Sealink’s Stranraer - Larne route, I also took up the responsibilities of Marine Superintendent and firmly believed that local knowledge – of vessels, operating conditions and personnel – enabled appropriate decisions to be made. On my desk, I always kept a copy of the inquiry into the loss of the Princess Victoria on the route in January 1953. This was a constant reminder as to the safety aspects of the Marine Superintendent’s job and it was never far from my mind; in fact my predecessor in the role had been Captain LJ (Joe) Unsworth, MBE who had served on the Victoria and by a fortunate quirk of fate had been transferred to another route to cover staff shortage a day before Victoria’s final tragic voyage.
I guess the relative attractions of ship and shore positions are a matter of individual circumstances and views, but my trip down memory lane to 40 years ago did lead me to conclude that I was very glad to have made the career change, before containerisation and other factors changed forever the way of life deep sea that I had known and so much enjoyed. Equally, however, I valued the substantial time I had spent at sea before coming ashore. And who knows – maybe all the grey hairs I gained ashore during all the operational mishaps, weather and engineering disruptions and occasional near disasters – particularly during bank holiday weekends and peak holiday periods – would still have turned grey (or fallen out completely had I remained afloat).
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR