How did you get started in the maritime industry?
It started in Bristol UK where I was a schoolboy. A very generous Captain Bill Somers let me ride on the bridge of his suction dredger ‘Steep Holm’ which sailed out of Bristol on one tide and back on the next. I steered his ship, made his tea, polished his brass and loved every minute of it. On finishing secondary school, my father arranged a deck officer apprenticeship with Alfred Holt’s Blue Funnel Line of Liverpool UK where I went direct from school with no pre-sea training.
What are some career highlights?
The very first bridge watch alone on a MacAndrews ship called ‘Vives’ as Third Officer. Watch keeping later became very routine! My first command and ship handling experience on the now defunct Howard Smith ships and the subsequent move to Newcastle Pilot Service. I was vice-president of the Newcastle Maritime Museum for some years and much enjoyed organising and running the onwater annual regatta, experience that later helped in the construction of our manned model ship handling centre at Port Ash when I ‘retired’ in 2000.
The AM award for services to industry was a pinnacle and was a tribute to both the Merchant Navy generally and the team of retired pilots who provide the manned model training to both the RAN and merchant mariners from world-wide.
What brought you to Newcastle?
In equal proportions, the lure of life at home, four children and the opportunity to pilot ships of all types and sizes.
How did you get into the business of manned model training centres?
In my later years as a senior pilot in Newcastle, I was helping to train newcomers both on the job and on the AMC simulator which was a wonderful port-specific training tool. However, there were aspects that you dare not demonstrate with full-size ships and could not demonstrate on a simulator because it is digital; however good it is, it is still a simulator and there is no depth of field. Scale ship-models on the other hand demonstrate all that happens in the three-dimensional real world and is able to provide practice, practice and more practice in the accelerated time scale. This aspect is very cost and time efficient and leads to fast learning – what is a crisis on day one of a course becomes routine reaction by day three or so. I’m very aware however that both mediums have their place.
What aspects of running Port Ash do you most enjoy? Is there anything that gets tiresome?
Working with my wonderful and supportive wife Cath who did all the housekeeping and meals until she retired for health reasons in 2010, and with the family in general. The perennial and most enjoyable aspect is watching beginners blunder around the lake on day one, learning through the week until they get it right and becoming passable ship handlers by the end of the week. Our experienced facilitators – all retired pilots – get a real kick out of seeing
that. The only tiresome thing is encroaching old age, but – what can you do…?
What was your first-ever job?
Joining Blue Funnel Line ship ‘Ajax’ as an indentured apprentice known in ‘Blu Flu’ as a Midshipman. I joined her on a cold, grey and dirty day in Birkenhead UK dock in 1959 from which we sailed on a three month’s voyage to the far east terminating in Japan. There was lots of manual labour and a fair bit of bridge watchkeeping learning the art of navigation.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A mariner; it’s difficult to tell why as none of my family were seafarers. I suspect it was a virus caught at a very early stage as I never seriously considered anything else.
What is your favourite meal or cuisine?
Simple plain wholesome food – terribly dull I’m afraid.
What is your favourite book or film?
I read a lot and have an extensive accumulated library which badly needs thinning out. Favourite books are history related and not always to do with things nautical – I have a view that if we don’t know our history we lose track of where we are going. Films I hardly watch and wonder sometimes whether fictional movies will take over the world, but I confess to being a grumpy old bugger in that department…
Do you listen to music? What have you been listening to lately?
‘If music be the food of love, play on!’ Oh yes, most certainly. We keep Classic FM Radio on permanently in our house and have been introduced to many composers and much wonderful music previously unknown to us. Taste is wide but preference is for the late romantics such as Debussy, Ravel, Elgar and many others.
What are the stories behind the vessel names at Port Ash?
We have been privileged to name all our vessels for various reasons. Triton was inspired by the fact that family Andrew, Ian and I built it with a Triton work bench, Mentor because she mentors ship handlers, Centurion was built for Navy and has a military ring to it, Lake Teacher because it teaches novices so well. Headmark and Assault were Navy orientated and named at Port Ash by Cath and the Chief of Navy in a 2013 ceremony. Our new destroyer model, due here shortly, is unnamed so far.
What is the best or most memorable holiday you’ve been on?
Being away at sea and having a young family rather precluded holidays as both leave and money were in short supply. Most memorable was three months in UK in 1983 visiting family with our younger daughter.
What advice would you give young seafarers?
Few berths seem to be available for those who have the ship virus and ‘must go down to the sea’. There is of course the RAN but I think the Australian Maritime College is the only contact for budding merchant seafarers. My advice would be that it is a wonderful experience but be prepared to have to work overseas.
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From the print edition February 2, 2017