Gold Ribbon Banner
Tuesday, September 17, 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

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Boudicca

Most Popular

  • First of Giant New Container Ships is Handed Over +

  • Alan Sinclair to Nova Star +

  • Billionaire Arthur Blank has his own Dreamboat +

  • From Fjords to Fiji +

  • Two Gulf Tankers Set on Fire in Attacks +

  • 1
  • 2

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • Admiral Bellingshausen +

    Admiral Bellingshausen A 24m YACHT carrying members of an Estonian expedition arrived at Lerwick on Aug 14 on a voyage to mark Read More
  • Two Rescued by Lifeboat +

    Two Rescued by Lifeboat TWO local fishermen were rescued after their fishing vessel caught fire off Land’s End on the afternoon of July 16. Read More
  • First Task of Shell Bunker Barge +

    Shell Bunker Barge SHELL’S first inland waterway LNG bunker barge carried out her first bunkering operation at Rotterdam in June. Read More
  • A Special Surveyor Joins the Humber Estuary Fleet +

    Special Surveyor A NEW £600,000 vessel has joined the survey fleet of Associated British Ports (ABP)’ Humber Estuary Services. Read More
  • Denmark Sails into Fifth in the World +

    Denmark Sails into Fifth in the World DENMARK has now moved into fifth position in the list of the world’s largest shipping countries. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Operation to Salvage Three Tugs +

    Tug Salvage THE US Coast Guard has launched an investigation into the sinking of three vessels in the Illinois River near Hardin, Read More
  • Terminal Being Made 'Big Ship Ready' for 2021 +

    Terminal Being Made Big Ship Ready WORK has started on the expansion of Seattle’s Terminal 5 so it can handle container ships of up to 18,000 Read More
  • Record Set by Largest US Ship for Hawaii Service +

    Lurline The largest combination container, roll-on, roll-off ship ever built in the United States was formerly named in a ceremony at Read More
  • $293mn for Port Projects +

    Long Beach port The United States is to invest $292.7mn in the country’s ports through a new Port Infrastructure Development Programme. Read More
  • Facility Exports First Cargo of Propane to Japan +

    Sumire Gas The first marine export facility for propane in Canada has been officially opened. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • First of Giant New Container Ships is Handed Over +

    MSC Gulsun THE SWISS-based Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC) has taken delivery of one of the world’s largest container ships, the MSC Gulsun, Read More
  • The Last New Magnolia Ship in Series +

    The Last New Magnolia Ship THE Singapore-based container shipping company Ocean Network Express (ONE) has taken delivery of the 14,000 teu capacity ONE Cygnus, 138,611dwt, Read More
  • Line Adds Automated Power Kite to Propulsion +

    Airseas The Japanese shipping company Kawasaki Kisen KK (K Line) aims to cut ship greenhouse gas emissions with automated power kites. Read More
  • ONE Express to North Sea and Baltic +

    ONE Apus The Japanese shipping line Ocean Network Express (ONE) was due to start an enhanced North Sea Baltic Service with Russia Read More
  • MOL Links with Russian Uni for Crew Training +

    Makarov University The Japanese shipping company Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a Russian university on co-operation Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • USS Cincinnati to be Delivered to US Navy +

    USS Cincinnati US News USS CINCINNATI is the latest member of the expanding littoral combat ship fl eet to be delivered to Read More
  • Scorpene Sub Snags +

    INS Khanderi indian News The troubled Scorpene class submarine program hit another snag in June. Read More
  • US Navy’s Frigate Program Passes Significant Hurdle +

    USS Minneapolis-St Paul US News The US Navy has unveiled its plans for the purchase of a new frigate known as FFG(X). Read More
  • Fourth Dreadnought Named HMS “King George VI” +

    Dreadnought Class UK News The fourth member of the new Dreadnought class of nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines will bear the name Read More
  • US Navy Orders Flight II Landing Platform Dock +

    LDP30 American News The contract for the construction of LPD30, the first Flight II Landing Platform Dock of the San Antonio Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Alan Sinclair to Nova Star +

    Glen Sannox Those in management positions must dread the retirement of those characters who retire from their life’s work with a wealth Read More
  • Fragile Future for Calmac +

    Isle of Arran TMore and more, I am reading reports that say the media, and the public too, are well aware of the Read More
  • Oscar Goes to Italy +

    Oscar Wilde Irish Continental Group has entered into a bareboat hire purchase agreement for the sale of its 1987-built Oscar Wilde to Read More
  • CalMac Heritage +

    Columba I include a fine poster and artist’s image of the famed Macbrayne paddler Columba. Read More
  • Russian Adventure +

    Ocean Adventurer To the North East Coast and arriving at Aberdeen for the first time for many months, I witnessed a passenger Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • From Gloucester Tall Ships to Kenyan Sailing Dhows +

    Royalist Gloucester Dock is linked to the River Severn at Sharpness by a 16 mile canal. Read More
  • The Zea Servant +

    Zea Servant The Hong Kong registered Zea Servant arrived late June from Hull. She was in Campbeltown to load wind turbines for Read More
  • The Green Band of Marstal +

    Bessie Ellen The Danish Maritime Museum had the schooner Bonavista built on the island of Aero at Marstal and this year they Read More
  • Norweigan National Day +

    Thorodd I was in Montrose on the Norwegian National Day, 17 May, when its independent constitution from Sweden was confirmed in Read More
  • Port of Aberdeen Fifty Years On +

    Aberdeen Harbour Extension Project When I first arrived in Aberdeen in 1968, I couldn’t believe my luck. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Welcome to 'Spirit Of Discovery' - Farewell to 'Oriana' +

    Spirit of Discovery WITHIN the last two months the British cruise industry has welcomed the arrival of Saga Cruises, 58,250gt, Spirit of Discovery, Read More
  • Lower Figures in the Area of Ship Losses +

    The Sincerity Ace IT WAS HEARTENING to read in a recent press release from the Allianz Global Corporate & Speciality SE’s (AGCS), in Read More
  • President Opens ‘Largest UK Ship Simulation Centre’ +

    Sir Michael Bibby With the training of seafarers being so important to safety at sea, and in particular navigation equipment and bridge procedures, Read More
  • Hands-Free Mooring at St Lawrence Seaway +

    St Lawrence Seaway I feel there are probably many readers, like me, who feel a shiver down their spine when they think of Read More
  • Flying the Flag on Merchant Navy Day +

    Red Ensign For more than 35 years, it has been my immense privilege to be a local Isle of Man committee member Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Billionaire Arthur Blank has his own Dreamboat +

    Billionaire Arthur Blank's Dreamboat ARTHUR BLANK helped create the American home improvement store chain, Home Depot, and it seems that now, his new fl Read More
  • Boudicca Pays Tribute to D-Day Veterans +

    Boudicca Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines were proud to have played its part in hosting 250 D-Day veterans. Read More
  • Captain of a Modern Passenger Carrying Sail Ship +

    Sea Cloud 2 If you have ever wondered what qualities a Captain of a cruise vessel might need to have listed on his Read More
  • Every Ash Cloud Has A Silver Lining +

    The ash cloud crisis continues to cause uncertainty as we see sporadic closures of airspace and cancelled flights, and this Read More
  • Damen Group Superyachts +

    Amels With 25 projects underway, business is booming for Amels, the Dutch luxury yacht builder. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

Cuba

An Unexpected Job in Cuba

In 1948, I joined the MV Yamaska Park as an EDH and, over the first few days aboard, I became Read More
Suez Canal

The Creation of the Suez Canal - Part Two

IAt the end of 1858, the company’s Works Committee convened for the first time. It included an impressive assembly of Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Birkenhead

Women and Children First

HMS BIRKENHEAD was one of the first iron-hulled warships built for the Royal Navy. Although laid down as the frigate, Read More
MV Scillonian

The Boatmen of Scilly

The romantically named Guiding Star, Sapphire and Sea King will be recognisable to folk all over the UK who are Read More
  • 1
  • 2