Meet the Master - Lewis MacKenzie
At CalMac, we deliver a lifeline service to islands and coastal communities all across the west coast of Scotland. We usually make an average of 180,000 sailings to and from the islands over the course of a normal year. Obviously, this year has turned out to be far different to how we all expected, so we took some time to speak to one of our Masters, Lewis MacKenzie, currently on the MV Isle of Mull who told us about how things have changed for CalMac crews.
Life on board our vessels has obviously changed a great deal. Just as life for everyone else has changed for many of us around the world - we are also experiencing a 'new normal'. To paint a picture of what life has been like on board the MV Isle of Mull, we're doing three round trips per day, with no sailings on a Sunday and transporting just a handful of key workers at a time. By comparison, during normal times we would usually be sailing 5 - 6 times per day, with sometimes 300 - 500 passengers and a busy car deck of around 60 - 65 vehicles. So, it's drastically different, but what the numbers show is that the vast majority are following the guidance and are staying away. Passenger numbers are down 95% across all our 28 routes.
It's not what any of us would want. However, our crews are committed to the fact that we have to operate in a different way for everyone's safety. Being from the islands myself, I am aware of the day to day differences for us, but also of the impact this 'new normal' is having on the communities we serve, most of whom depend heavily on tourism and the regular link we provide for them.
On board, like many of the islanders who will be busy with looking after each other or getting on with other tasks, we are also using our time differently. Not only have we obviously built in more time for frequent and deep cleans, but we've brought forward our painting schedules and other planned maintenance work. The work goes on, and we are supporting one another as we do that.
However, that doesn't replace the human interaction we all miss. That's synonymous with a trip aboard a CalMac ferry, isn't it? Whether that's offering passengers some good food as they travel, or even having the odd visit to the bridge - all that has had to stop for obvious reasons. We do miss this and so look forward to the day when we can all enjoy this again.
Even when we are eating on breaks, crew members will be socially distanced from one another. That's quite strange, but the camaraderie is still there, and like islanders, I think seafarers quickly adapt to changing situations. It's part of what a seafarer's life is all about, being resilient and adaptable.
What's also been nice to see is how much the crew are supporting their fellow key workers. They've been active in embracing the Thursday night tradition. We have some talented pipers in the CalMac team and you may have heard them when we've been docked at that time, or noticed the gestures on social media. At CalMac we really are one big family and this shows the caring side we have for others, along with one another - #WeAreCalMac
It's a unique time. But even in normal times, working as part of the CalMac crew, being the Master of the vessel is a real privilege, although it's one that carries unique responsibilities for the safety of all onboard. As a relief Master I have the pleasure of moving between five different vessels and crews. I enjoy the added challenge - no day is ever the same on board a vessel. Every route is different, the weather is often different, making every journey different and of course there's lots to remember, especially from one route to the other. Having been brought up on both Islay and Lewis, I spent a lot of my childhood on small boats - be that for fishing, picking up creel pots, or even imagining the boat I was manoeuvring was actually a CalMac ferry. These were fun days indeed, and little did I think that such imagination could become a reality!
The best part of the job, apart from welcoming our passengers on board in normal times, is supporting the younger members of the crew and passing on skills and knowledge previously passed to my own generation. Apart from a brief spell in Aberdeen, I've been here since 1995, following a period at P&O Containers. Before taking on the variety that comes with being a relief Master, I was in Germany for a spell, overseeing the build of MV Loch Seaforth and making preparations for taking her into service. This time did not come without its challenges, but we ended up with a fine ship and commanding her delivery voyage from Germany to Scotland has certainly been one of the highlights in my CalMac career thus far.
This last few weeks will live long in the memory for all of us. Our crews have been fantastic at adapting and working hard to help do their bit to protect the communities we serve, and to assist the key worker passengers who are traveling with us for essential reasons.
Whilst it's not the year we expected, as always, every decision we make - whether that's changing or cancelling sailings now or in normal times, it's never a decision that's taken lightly, and always has safety at its core.
Whilst we can't bring you to the islands for now, we are bringing the islands to you. So please do look out for new content on our website and all across social media, telling the story of the islands and their communities throughout this time.