Saturday 17th Nov, 2018

THE GRILL: Captain Dick Francis

Photo: David Sexton
Photo: David Sexton

How did you get started in shipping?
I went to sea aged 15 as a tech cadet in 1955. I was living in Colombo, Sri Lanka at the time, where my father was working for the port.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I was born in Portsmouth which is the main naval base in the UK. When World War II was heating up we were moved to the north of Scotland. But the sea was always a big part of my life. My father and my eldest brother were both mariners.

What have been some career highlights?
My second-mate’s certificate in 1960 which I did in Hong Kong. I carried on and got the rest of my certificates. Migrating to Australia in 1969 was another highlight. I wanted to get away from the cold weather in England. I was working with Strick Line at the time. Then I worked for a short while with gas and fuel and a shipping agency and then got into ports and harbours for the Victorian state government. When ports and harbours folded I joined P&O offshore.

What’s one thing about the industry you would like to change?
There’s far too much paperwork. All ship masters these days are getting bogged down in it. There’s too much control from the office and masses of paperwork and you just don’t have time to do it all. That was the main reason I retired.

How did you get involved with Bay Steamers?
I was home on leave and somebody rang up and said ‘would you like to drive the Wattle (an old steam tug) for us?’ I went down and had a go and despite all my years at sea and the ships I’ve been in command of, the Wattle was a very steep learning curb to drive. She was very awkward but I got the hang of it. A bit like a comfortable coat – it grows on you. I’m still heavily involved.

What are your hobbies?
I build model boats. It is quite relaxing. I build them from scratch most of the time. I also like gardening at our home in Vermont. I do what my wife tells me to do in the garden. A bit of weeding, a bit of digging, moving the heavy stuff around. I quite enjoy it. But in March we’re moving to Kilsyth and a smaller house with a smaller garden.

What’s your favourite cuisine/meal?
Curry mainly, especially Sri Lankan. I grew up with it and really developed a taste. There are a few Indian restaurants around and I’m quite happy to eat Indian curries as well.

What’s your favourite journey?
In my working career I saw some of China in the early days of the communist regime. One of the trips I really enjoyed after I retired was from Moscow to St Petersburg on a river cruise. That took nine days. A highlight was when we were invited to go on the bridge and I immediately felt at home because I’d been on a vessel with an identical bridge which also happened to be ex-Russian. St Petersburg and Moscow are wonderful cities and we particularly enjoyed our time in Moscow.

Three famous people you would invite for dinner?
It definitely wouldn’t be Donald Trump. I’d invite Barak Obama and Peter Cosgrove who is quite a character I believe. Finally, Serena Williams. I’d like to see for myself just how muscular she is.

What’s one thing you wish you were better at?
I wish I was a better fisherman. We never seem to catch many when I go. I go fishing when my younger daughter comes out from England. We fish from a pier usually. She catches one or two but I rarely catch anything. I just want to catch anything – I’d even be glad to catch a toadfish occasionally.

What’s your favourite season?
The months when it is not too hot – say spring or autumn. Take your pick.

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From the print edition February 23, 2017

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