Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Pole Star

 

This month we get a chance to hear from Captain Sean Rathbone, one of the Masters of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s two ships. Currently Captain of NLV Pole Star, Sean Rathbone has been with the Board for 24 years and has seen three ships brought into its service. We get a unique insight into the working of the Board’s ships, crew life and developments in the capabilities of the ships that go where most would choose not to.

How did your career at sea begin and what brought you to serve with the NLB?

I started my sea career with Blue Star Ship Management of Liverpool in 1978. I went away as a Deck cadet, gaining my Second Mates Certificate in 1982, Mates in 1987 and finally Master’s in 1990. I served on a variety of vessels from general cargo, reefer, container and for one trip, a troop ship. I attained the rank of Chief Officer with Blue Star by which time I was married and had a young son. I found that I was missing too much of my family growing up as I was doing 4-5 month trips with only 2 -2½ months leave. I didn’t fancy the North Sea where you could get month on/month off, then saw an advert for Junior Second Officer in Northern Lighthouse Board and knew someone already working for the Board. I phoned him up and asked what it was like. His words were “Get in here, it’s like what going to sea used to be like”, I applied for the post and was appointed to the Board in July 1992. Although I took a step back in rank and a pay cut, I was now getting month on/month off and a much better work-life balance.

You currently serve on NLV Pole Star, which is predominately a buoy tender – what does a typical day on Pole Star look like?

There really isn’t a typical day for either of the Board’s ships that’s what makes the job so interesting. Pole Star is predominately a Buoy Tender, but has other roles to carry out. If we are carrying out buoy work, we will either have been steaming overnight to get to the area, anchored nearby or been alongside loading or discharging buoys. We will typically work away servicing, replacing or repairing the buoys in the area during daylight hours and anchor nearby overnight. The area of responsibility for Northern Lighthouse Board is from Berwick upon Tweed around the Scottish coast to the Solway Firth including the Northern Isles, Outer and Inner Hebrides and peculiarly the Isle of Man. This area is split up into seven smaller areas, each having a similar number of buoys. The time of year that these areas are covered has been decided over many years of experience and is broadly down to the weather, for instance Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland are serviced in the mid-summer months as generally the weather and sea conditions are best in these months.

What is the best thing about being Master of Pole Star?

That has to be the fact that, as Master, we generally decide what the ship is doing on a day to day basis. We have a Marine Manager in Oban who coordinates our work and informs us of any extra duties to be taken on, but as explained, the servicing areas are decided a year in advance. I don’t think there is another job at sea where the Master would get the freedom to carry out their job as I do with the NLB.

How manoeuvrable is Pole Star?

Pole Star was the first Northern Lighthouse Board vessel to be fitted with a Dynamic Positioning System, DP, the ship has Diesel Electric propulsion. We have 3 x 750 Kw diesel alternators producing 415v ac to power 2 x Rolls Royce azipods. The azipods have 360º rotation and have variable speed motors. We also have 2 x variable pitch tunnel thrusters forward. This makes for a highly manoeuvrable vessel. She can pivot around a single point and stop from full speed in 1-2 ship lengths. This level of manoeuvrability greatly enhances our ability to service navigational buoys in more adverse weather and tidal conditions than we could with our older vessels. We also service many contract buoys often in small harbours on the west coast of Scotland; we could not have taken this work on without a vessel with this level of manoeuvrability.

Where is Pole Stars’ home base?

Home base for both NLB vessels is Oban. We have an excellent stores and maintenance facility which was greatly modernised a few years ago. The berth itself is the most sheltered in Oban, our forefathers must have known the weather was going to get worse over time, and Oban is positioned practically in the middle of our area.

Can you describe the type of environment the ship operates in?

The ship operates in a, sometimes, extremely hostile environment, especially in the winter. We have to deal with high seas and gale force winds at times. These are some of the most challenging times for the ship and its crew as these are when we get most of our buoy casualties. Although we cannot always fix the casualty when the weather is at its worst we have to get to the station to see if there anything that can be achieved. Pole Star being a relatively small vessel can be very lively in a seaway.

What has been your most challenging time with the Board?

There are many challenging times when you are in command, whether it be dealing with personnel problems, weather, equipment failures or difficult jobs. I have always found my job not as a challenge, but as a new experience to cope and deal with. One of the busiest times I have had with the Board is as Chief Officer when I joined the current NLV Pharos at the shipyard in Gdansk, Poland before she was brought into service. Having been transferred from Pole Star I had to help prepare Pharos for the handover to NLB and sail her back to Oban to begin service with us. This, for me, was both challenging and a very proud moment in my career.

How often are the buoys visited and maintained?

The buoys are now on station for up to eight years due mainly to a new paint system being used. They are visited either annually or bi-annually, this is all down to location. The main factor in determining how often a buoy is visited is due to the wear on the mooring chain. A buoy’s mooring chain is typically three times the depth of the sea in that location. The wear occurs as the chain is first in contact with the sea bed, this is called the working part. The mooring chain starts out from new measuring 38mm and as it drags across the seabed, depending on the nature of the bottom, wears down. At each service this is measured and recorded. A sandy bottom is the worst material for wearing a chain down. It is allowed to reduce to 28mm when a portion is cut out and a new piece of chain is shackled in. The sinker, a solid clump of steel ranging from two tonnes to eight tonnes, is inspected for damage and this completes the work done on the mooring. Meanwhile the body of the buoy is scraped clean of marine growth and high pressure washed. The Second Officer will open up the superstructure panels and check the electrics. The buoys now have LED lanterns, solar panel and batteries, these can now all last for up to 10 years, a far cry from my first years with the Board. Having made sure that the ship is in the exact position of the buoy, this being far easier with DP, the sinker is lowered to the seabed along with the mooring and finally the buoy is placed back in the water for another two years.

What happen when a buoy fails?

If a buoy fails, our monitoring centre will be informed by Coast Guard or other shipping passing or in a good number of stations the buoy now has monitoring on it and it will inform the monitor centre of a problem. Some of our buoys have AIS broadcasting their position to vessels in the area. Other monitored buoys transmit the state of the batteries and times that the light comes on and off. If we get a failure we will be dispatched to fix it as soon as possible. We have a range of spares on board to enable us to deal with, not only our own buoyage, but that of our contract customers as well.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - November 2016 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic
Stad Amsterdam

Most Popular

  • 1
  • 2

Top Ten Books and DVDs of 2018

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • RNLI Help Save Historic Boat from Sinking +

    Cervia The Ramsgate harbourmaster Rob Brown had to call the Ramsgate RNLI Lifeboat Station for help to prevent the historic tug Read More
  • Conservation of World's Oldest Lifeboat +

    Zetland For only the third time since she arrived in 1802, the famous lifeboat Zetland has left her home town of Read More
  • Liverpool Praised Over Handling of Special Metals Cargo +

    Port of Liverpool The Port of Liverpool, part of Peel Ports, has been praised for the efficient way it handled a new primary Read More
  • Rolls-Royce in Fully Autonomous Ferry Trials +

    Falco Control Room The world's first fully automated ferry has been demonstrated by the UK technology giant Rolls-Royce and the Finnish state-owned ferry Read More
  • New Teeside Port Handles Fertiliser +

    Teeside Port The contract for the design and build of the port handling facilities on Teesside for Sirius Minerals Plc, owners of Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Switching On at Vancouver Terminal +

    Vancouver Power Large ships berthed at Vancouver, Canada, can now switch off their diesel engines and connect to an electrical grid ashore Read More
  • First of Four New Ships for Hawaii Service +

    Daniel K Inouye The first of four new ships for the US container line Matson Inc arrived at Hawaii on her maiden voyage Read More
  • Special Anniversary Of Wartime Victory Ships +

    American Victory This month marks the 75th anniversary of the completion of the first of the famous Victory type standard ships built Read More
  • All Crew Rescued as Liftboat Takes on Water +

    RAM XV111 All fifteen people were rescued from a listing self-propelled self-elevating jackup platform, known in the US offshore industry as a Read More
  • Imports Up but Exports Fall in China Trade War +

    Port of Long Beach For the second year running, the Port of Long Beach, California, has broken its record for the volume of cargo Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • "Intelligent Bulk Carrier" Enters Service +

    Pacific Vision What is claimed to be the world’s first ‘intelligent very large ore carrier’ has been delivered to the China Merchants Read More
  • Port Expansion Given the Federal Go-Ahead +

    Port of Cairns The Australian Federal Government has given the final environmental approval to the Cairns Shipping Development Project which aims to attract Read More
  • Five Year Contract for Harbour Towage Services +

    Smit Lamnalco Tugs The Rotterdam-based marine services provider Smit Lamnalco has won an exclusive licence from the Gladstone Ports Corporation in Australia to Read More
  • Tabletop Drill Checks Staff's Response +

    MOL Emergency Control Headquarters A simulated collision - known as a tabletop drill - involving a LNG carrier and a fishing boat in Japanese waters has Read More
  • The Future of Ships to Come +

    NYK Ship The major Japanese shipping group Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) has come up with a new concept of how a ship Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • Brazil to Take Over HMS Clyde +

    HMS Clyde British News It has been announced by the Brazilian Government in early December that the Falklands Patrol ship HMS Clyde Read More
  • Navy And NASA Complete Recovery Test +

    USS Anchorage American News In what might be seen as a return to the heady days of NASA’s Apollo moon program, the Read More
  • F-35s Touch Down on HMS Queen Elizabeth +

    HMS Queen Elizabeth British News Many people never thought they’d see it happen, but F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters have finally flown Read More
  • Sea Trials Recall for Zumwalt-Class Destroyer +

    USS Michael Monsoor American News The Zumult class destroyer USS Michael Monsoor was in dockyard hands at Bath in Maine for the removal Read More
  • HMS Albion Proves Big in Japan +

    HMS Albion British News The assault ship HMS Albion, at time of writing, had just completed a five day visit to Tokyo Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Ferguson's Woes +

    Glen Sannox It is depressing to follow the sad story of ferry building in the UK, especially involving Ferguson at Port Glasgow Read More
  • Irish Moves to Beat Brexit +

    WB Yeats The major new vessel for Irish Ferries, delayed at the Flensburg builders, is at Dublin and very impressive she looks Read More
  • Appledore's Legacy +

    Clansman The impending closure of the Appledore Yard is another loss of merchant ship-building capacity even though its bread and butter, Read More
  • New Builds for Stena +

    E-Flexer RoPax The first three of the large ro-ros on order by Stena, from the Avic Co’s Weihai yard in China, are Read More
  • Tragedy in Tanzania +

    Nyerere A country well used to tragedy, saw another, on Lake Victoria in September. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Gravesend Tankers +

    Forth Fisher On a recent visit to Gravesend just before Christmas, I witnessed a parade of tankers of various shapes and sizes. Read More
  • All Change at Sea-Change +

    Cambria Since she was rebuilt in 2011, the mulie barge Cambria has been based in Kent, but in September, after her Read More
  • Kaskelot Becomes Le Francais +

    Kaskelot At the end of the Southampton Boat Show in September, the barque Kaskelot, which had been on display, was sold Read More
  • Brexit Impact on Ports and Cars +

    CIty of Amsterdam I am amazed the port industry has not made more thorough and timely comments about the potentially negative impact of Read More
  • Barge Race Review +

    Edme Apart from the Whitstable Harbour Barge Race, all the other barge races have a yearly points system that counts up Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Griffon Hoverwork Launch Latest Model +

    995ED The world's leading hovercraft builder Southampton, UK-based Griffon Hoverwork staged the official global launch of its new 995ED model, at Read More
  • Cammell Laird Shortlisted for Fleet Support Contract +

    Cammell Laird Merseyside shipyard Cammell Laird says it is delighted to have been shortlisted, as part of a syndicate of British firms, Read More
  • Stena Line and its Customers "Round Up for Charity" +

    Africa Mercy As a great admirer of the work carried out by the charity Mercy Ships, I was delighted to hear that Read More
  • A New Era for Norwegian Shipping +

    Harald Solberg I was impressed by the positivity and optimism of a recent press release from the Norwegian Shipping Association which I Read More
  • The Fjords Targets Oslo With New Zero Emission Vessel +

    Future of the Fjords The Fjords DA has announced it plans to add another all electric passenger vessel to its award winning fleet, with Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • "Splicing the Mainbrace" +

    Drink! It appears that the phrase ‘One for the road’ needs an update, particularly where travelling on the ocean wave is Read More
  • Balmoral Voyage Report +

    Balmoral Most readers will be aware of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and many, in fact, would have travelled on one of Read More
  • New Turquoise Yachts 77m Unveiled +

    Project Quantum Turquoise Yachts, the Turkish based shipyard under the same ownership as the Dutch Oceanco shipyard, has commissioned Ken Freivokh Design Read More
  • Steady as a Rock +

    Rock When Ali Sayakci, the Turkish businessman, set out to build his new yacht Rock, his primary concern was how to Read More
  • Le Ponant on the Move +

    Ponant Icebreaker Following the example of the Lindblad Cruise Line and National Graphic in the USA, Ponant, the French cruise line which Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

Cadiz

Captains in Cadiz

The very name Cádiz has always held a special place in my imagination from schoolboy days, when I learned that, Read More
Kelvinbank

To The Bürgenstock by Bürgenstock

Although the Vierwaldstättersee in central Switzerland is now surrounded by roads and railways, there are still journeys for which the Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Falklands medal

Twenty-First Century Press Gang

In 1932, the popular comedian and ukulele player George Formby released the song “Chinese Laundry Blues” Read More
Steuben

The Sinking of the "Steuben"

There was an ominous feeling in the air as the old liner Steuben slipped her moorings under dark clouds and Read More
  • 1
  • 2