Marine Superintendent Dougie Manson has worked his way up through the ranks at Orkney Harbours, starting as a cook aboard one of the tugs. Dougie will be the duty Harbour Master over Christmas week, so he’ll be on 24-hour call.
“It really depends on the shipping movements. If there’s a ship-to-ship transfer that comes in then I’ll be working. We’re there to serve our customers, and the worldwide trade in oil and gas doesn’t stop over the festive period, so we have to be ready to go at short notice. Usually, we get at least a few days' advanced warning, but that’s far from guaranteed. Sometimes you have to react with less than 24 hours till the tanker appears – that’s when it can get pretty dynamic.”
Vessel Traffic Officer Debbie Irvine says that after ten years at sea, she started looking for a job closer to home that would be both interesting and challenging. Orkney Harbours provided an opportunity to work in the sector that she loved and be able to live at home in Orkney.
“I was mate on a bulk cargo ship travelling all over the UK and beyond, but I wanted something closer to home but still involved in the marine side of things. The advantage of the VTS job is that it’s classed as ‘alternative employment’ so it counts towards keeping your professional tickets valid. No two days are ever the same here – I love it. Over the festive period, I’ll be on night shift so I won’t be celebrating in the normal way but having said that, there’s always something going on, even on Christmas Day – so I’m sure I’ll be kept well occupied.”
One of Debbie’s VTS colleagues, Jeff Temple, agrees. Jeff worked on trawlers and taught at the Nav College in Stromness before joining Orkney Harbours.
“Busy ports like we have in Orkney never sleep. I love the challenge of the job, and there’s never an occasion when you’re watching the clock. It’s a great team here at Orkney Harbours - we have a vast wealth of knowledge within the organisation, and there’s a superb working atmosphere. We’re classed as an information service, so we get vessels asking about everything from what the weather is going to be to what time the nearest chip shop opens – if we can help, we will!”
Ali Cameron, Assistant Harbour Master, started his career in the Royal Navy and, from there, joined the Merchant Marine. Ali has worked offshore as well as on cruise liners and cargo ships. He’s typical of the breadth of knowledge and experience that exists within Orkney Harbours. Ali will be working over the New Year, but he says the variety involved in the job makes up for that.
“You meet folk of all nationalities and from different companies, and they’re relying on you to help with any problems or requests that they have. Also, working with all the local boats and crews – there’s always good craic with them. That’s where local knowledge comes in really handy. After so many years working away from home, I really appreciate having a job where you’re able to get home to your family after your shift. Orkney Harbours are a good bunch to work for too, which makes all the difference.”
Pier Master Graham Campbell turned his life-long passion for boats and the sea into a career when he started with Orkney Harbours seven years ago.
“I’d been involved in various marine-based jobs over the years, working on salmon boats and with a local cargo shipping company, as well as being a crewmember on the Kirkwall lifeboat. I just wanted to do something that was more involved with boats, and working with Orkney Harbours was the obvious choice.
“The Pier Master job covers Kirkwall, Hatston and Scapa piers, and there’s never a dull moment, I can assure you. I’m on night shift on Christmas Eve, so I’ll be going around checking on the vessels that are tied up, including the inter-island ferries. If there’s snow, I’ll be salting the pier surfaces to make them safe to walk on. And finally, I always keep an eye out for any stray festive revellers who might wander down the pier and politely guide them back towards the nearby taxi rank!”
This Christmas and New Year, we’d like to wish you all the compliments of the season, and to our professional and dedicated staff, we’d like to say a huge ‘Thank You’. Here’s to a safe and prosperous 2023.