For many offshore workers, the concept of spending several weeks or months away from their homes and families can be a daunting prospect, but for shipmaster Chris Dobson, life at sea is the ideal vocation.
Aged 61, Chris has spent his entire working life on ships and plans to continue his diverse seafaring lifestyle on board his current employer, Atlantic Offshore Rescue’s vessels.
His long and varied career has spanned 40 years and includes sailing on bulk tramp ships, and a year on a foreign flag vessel, which allowed him only two weekends at home each year.
For 25 years, Chris has worked on standby boats in the North Sea and is currently master on board Atlantic Offshore Rescue’s, an Aberdeen and Norwegian-based standby vessel operator, Ocean Osprey.
In 1999, modest Chris was awarded a commendation by the Marine Society in recognition of an exceptional deed of merit at sea – but Chris insists the act, which saw them receive the honours, was something that anyone in their position would do: “I heard a mayday 12 miles south of where we were and immediately turned the ship to head towards the stricken vessel. As we approached, I realised the fishing vessel was rapidly sinking and knew we had to get her crew across to our ship as quickly as possible, which ultimately resulted in the rescue of a six person-crew.
“As captain of an ERRV, this is ultimately our job, and it’s vital to the energy and shipping industries.”
In his current role, Chris is part of the team responsible for ensuring all new vessels are ready and safe for service globally and thereafter, the safe operation of the vessel and its crew.
He said: ‘I’ve been master on the Ocean Osprey for a year now – a roll I’m privileged to have had. The ship was completed in March 2014, and I can say that, in all my experience, she has the best onboard facilities and conditions of any multi-roll ERRV I have ever sailed on.”
After spending two months in Spain for the completion of the Ocean Osprey, followed by the vessel’s first year of service in the North Sea, Chris has now returned to Spain to complete the final two months of building the company’s newest vessel, the Ocean Falcon. Once completed, Chris will bring her back to Aberdeen for a naming ceremony, before she commences her first charter.
Despite the technical and logistical challenges associated with launching and running a brand-new vessel, Chris insists that building and motivating a steady crew is vital in his role, stating a “happy ship” is absolutely necessary to ensure efficiency and focus. As with any good leader, he has an excellent relationship with his crew – all of whom have tremendous respect for Chris: “Building up a steady crew can take a year or two, and after spending so long forming connections, when I can, I promote crew members to take on to the next vessel.”
Although rotations offer the benefit of substantial time off between voyages, Chris feels that not everyone may find life as a seafarer the best choice of career path: “It can be a very challenging job and many start training but don’t finish. You must have the ability to switch off when away from home – not everyone can cope with being away from family for so long and it can be difficult. There aren’t many jobs like this.”
In the late 90s, Chris and his wife relocated to the Algarve: “One of the best parts of the job is having time off between trips, which allows you to live anywhere in the world. I was widowed in 2000 and since then have found four weeks off to be too long. I’ve started several small businesses including DVD rental stores and the inevitable bar, but so far my best success has been a health shop, which my business partner has run for the last 12 years in Praia Da Luz. The reps tell me it is the biggest and the best in the Spanish Peninsular.”
Chris has no desire to retire: “The sea is a huge part of my life, and all I’ve known for decades. I’ll be working for as long as possible – as long as I keep passing my medicals. I’ve seen some shipmasters over the age of 70 and I hope that will be me too.”