The NorthLink Operation

Emboldened by NorthLink’s distinctive corporate branding, Hamnavoe strikes out fearlessly into a big sea en route from Stromness to Scrabster

For many a year CRSC has enticed leading representatives of the shipping industry to come and entertain our winter audiences. The latest, on 9 January, was a major player indeed — Stuart Garrett, Managing Director of Serco NorthLink Ferries, the company that runs passenger and freight services to Orkney and Shetland. It was clear from Mr Garrett’s demeanour and delivery, and the substance of his presentation, that the respect between speaker and audience was mutual. The presence of two other staff from NorthLink, and the generous quiz prizes handed out to a handful of lucky winners, helped endear him to a considerable audience. This is Stuart Craig’s take on the evening.

Hailing from a family steeped in ferry history, Stuart Garrett described his rise through Stena, Sea Containers and the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company to his present position (since 2012) at Serco NorthLink.

Serco took over the Northern Isles contract in July 2012, and it quickly became obvious that, with Stuart at the helm, the company was in good hands. He changed its branding – incorporating the giant, pointing ‘Magnus the Viking’ onto the sides of his ships – but kept the 146-year old House Flag. The striking Viking has certainly raised the profile of the passenger ships Hjaltland, Hrossey and Hamnavoe. What a stunning logo for the company!

Stuart Garrett (centre) was congratulated after his talk by longstanding CRSC members Paul Semple and Cameron Marshall, who recently took on the positions of General Manager and Chairman of Waverley Excursions Ltd. In a short speech which he had been invited to give at the start of the evening, Cameron (right) said the intention of the new WEL team was to keep the paddler “safe, solvent and ‘smiley’, paying attention to the human side as well as the technical and financial sides, and not turning everything upside down. We won’t be communicating openly about our plans just yet. The priority is to get on with the overhaul.”

In addition to the blue-and-white passenger ships, the company operates two freight vessels, Helliar and Hildasay.

The statistics from each year of the five-ship operation are fascinating: 290,000 miles sailed per annum, 30,000 tons of fuel burned, 27,000 cattle transported, 135,000 sheep carried — oh, and 320,000 human passengers too.

Along with the hard facts we were treated to some superb images, including a stunning video taken from the decks of Hamnavoe while entering Aberdeen in a turbulent, and frankly scary, sea.

“We have very few images of the ships in normal conditions,” explained Stuart, “as we usually sail in the dark.”

We were shown in considerable detail the repair of a fractured crankshaft that took Hamnavoe out of service for 28 days in 2013.

It wasn’t just the engineers in the audience who were fascinated by the pictures of the engine being surgically opened up and the damaged crank lying on the engine-room floor like an enormous snake. Stuart put a positive spin on the problem: “It gave the younger engineering staff a great opportunity to learn.”

Next came the intricacies of dry-docking, and then a demonstration on how dirty fuel tanks should be cleaned (reminding me that I must get a post-Christmas de-coking of my oven at home). Grit-blasting the hull at Rosyth Dry Dock caused issues, however, as over-enthusiasm led to several cars in the vicinity having to be re-sprayed — in NorthLink colours, I wonder?

Our guest finished by giving us meticulous details of how he thought a ferry company should be managed — even down to the comfort of the livestock that they have to transport from the islands to Aberdeen, albeit on a one-way ticket. He finished with his own personal motto: “If you don’t understand your clients then you shouldn’t be doing your job.”

Here is a man who understands them very well. It was very generous of Stuart, and his colleagues, to give of their time, and everyone present was left with a clear impression of a company under tight and skilled control. I came away with one intriguing fact – sheep do sometimes get sea-sick, but cattle don’t!

A superb vote of thanks, witty and humorous, was given by Gordon Law.

Stuart Garrett begins his presentation at Jurys Inn, after being introduced by CRSC President Roy Paterson (far left)

Magnus the Viking, the impressive NorthLink logo emblazoned on Hamnavoe’s hull

The pennant design that has served North Isles ships for 146 years

NorthLink’s Hildasay in dry dock, resplendent in a fresh coat of paint

Hamnavoe, in her ‘old’ livery, arriving in the Forth for her crankshaft repair at Rosyth in 2013. Copyright photo by Brian Donovan

Hamnavoe’s cracked crankshaft in 2013

‘Like a giant snake’

Stern view of Hamnavoe in Rosyth Dry Dock

The engine being ‘surgically opened up’ for crankshaft repair at Rosyth in 2013

Hamnavoe’s entablature, into which are inserted cylinder liners (with pistons fitted inside), surrounded by cylinder head studs

Bow view of Hrossey in dry dock

At the end of the meeting Stuart Garrett (second from right) mingled with members of the audience, including Iain and Carrie MacKinnon (left) and Captain Murray Paterson (right), one of Stuart’s former colleagues at Stranraer

Have you booked yet for CRSC’s midwinter charter cruise Round Ailsa Craig on MV Isle of Arran? Tickets are still available by clicking here.

Published on 13 January 2019