The passage of time
The end of one year and the welcoming in of a new year is almost always a trigger for reminiscence and often some melancholy about the passage of time and the passing of colleagues and friends no longer with us.
Robert Straughton’s wonderful round up of ferry news in the December issue of Sea Breezes put some of my end-of-year thoughts into even sharper focus due to its references to companies and vessels with strong connections to my past.
Robert covered the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s plans for the future, including the potential replacement of the MV Ben-my-Chree as mainstay of the fleet. The Ben has already notched up over 18 years service and I can scarcely believe it is almost 20 years since the order was placed in 1997 for the vessel during my time at the helm of the Steam Packet. Thoughts back to the introduction of The Ben are, however, always poignant: only a few weeks after commanding it on its delivery voyage, Captain Vernon Kinley – a veritable legend within Manx shipping circles – died suddenly. At that point in time, the Steam Packet Company was owned by Sea Containers and 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of Sea Containers’ introduction of the SeaCat fast ferry on the Stranraer-Belfast route which heralded a new era in ferry services across the Irish Sea. In introducing that new service, I was full of admiration for the leadership and inspiration provided by its three initial Masters: Captains David Bark, Graham Maclean and Ian Thomson. As we approached the end of 2016, I was deeply saddened to learn that Ian – the youngest of the three – had passed away. I can picture him so clearly on the bridge of the SeaCat and will never forget his pioneering spirit.
Robert Straughton’s round-up also mentioned Le Rif, another multi purpose ferry with a link to my past. I knew it best as the MV Galloway Princess and again, can scarcely believe the passage of time – almost 37 years – since it came off the blocks of the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, nor the fact that it is still in existence. It was the first of four ‘Saint Class’ vessels which formed the last major order by the Sealink ferry company in its guise as a nationalised company under the aegis of British Rail. I still have the photo of visiting the shipyard with Tony Rogan, one half of Sealink’s dynamic naval architect pairing (Don Ripley was the other half) and Fergus Gibson, my then boss. Fergus had a very distinguished railway career but at that point was Manager of Sealink Scotland and I was very thankful for the support and encouragement he gave me. Fergus also passed away in 2016. I remember him fondly.
Another workhorse of the Sealink fleet from that era was the MV Hengist which ended up its life as the MV Panagia Tinou. One of the most striking but sad images from the past year was the vessel in a partially sunk state in the harbour at Piraeus. The Hengist had a close association with the Folkestone-Boulogne route and I have very happy memories of travelling on it during a family holiday to France in the summer of 1981. For many of my Sealink colleagues it carries less happy memories. 2017 will be the 30th anniversary of the dramatic incident when it was left ‘high and dry’ on the beach near Folkestone – forming one of the iconic images of the Great Storm which wrought havoc in the UK in October 1987. The passage of time is truly frightening but like many others who have sought a career in shipping, I am grateful to have these memories and associations with these ships and shipping companies and the characters within them, and I hope that throughout 2017, Sea Breezes continues to engage our readers with some wonderful memories and stories from the past as well as providing you with plenty of updates and insight about the current maritime world.
We send our very best wishes for the new year to all our readers.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR