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Displaying items by tag: Capt Victoria Bolitho

Afloat's Jehan Ashmore travelled on M.V. Scillonian III, under the command of Captain Victoria Bolitho, who has the unique honour of being the first female appointed in this ferry role in the 103 year history of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company.

Upon visiting the bridge or 'wheelhouse' given its traditional timber wheel, the Captain introduced herself as Vicky and this year is her third season on the Scillonian III, a 485 passenger capacity ferry spread across two full decks and partially using a lower deck. Whereas forward is a cargo hold with a crane for handling vehicles and above on deck small containers are immediately located ahead of the three deck superstructure.

The 1,255 gross tonnage Scillonian III has served for more than 45 years as a vital life-line for around 2,000 Islanders living on five inhabited islands out of the archipelago's total of 140 which are located 24 nautical miles offshore of Cornwall in south-west England.

In addition the passenger ship purpose built in 1977 is popular with tourists on the only sea route to the scenic Scilly Isles. This is a distance of 37 nautical miles between Penzance Harbour and Hugh Town, St. Mary's, the largest island.

The service is the longest domestic passenger route along the UK's south coast where Scilly offers a visitor experience often described as 'an outer world' given its allure of white sandy deserted beaches great for water pursuits. In addition to marine wildlife including puffins, the islands exotic plants flourish in a sub-tropical climate.

In the wheelhouse, where Captain Victoria Bolitho is at the controls when approaching St. Mary's Quay, Hugh Town on St. Mary's where also inter-island ferries congregate.  Jehan AshmoreIn the wheelhouse, where Captain Victoria Bolitho is at the controls when approaching St. Mary's Quay, Hugh Town on St. Mary's where also inter-island ferries congregate Photo: Jehan Ashmore

During the 2 hour 40 minute passage, the route takes a coastal course off Cornwall including Land's End as seen when entering the wheelhouse where the second officer was present and later joined by helmsman in approaching Hugh Town, St. Mary's. (See above photo with ship's wheel out of frame)

It was soon abundantly clear Vicky's passion for the sea, as the native of Cornwall exuded enthusiasm by recalling her childhood when taking to the water on boats in coastal waters with her father, which would ultimately lead to her career at sea.

In 2019, Scillonian III welcomed its 4.5 millionth ferry passenger aboard and in the following year the Isle of Scilly Steamship Company celebrated its centenary in March, 2020. At the end of 2021, the company announced that Victoria (33) would take over the command of Scillonian III from Captain Pete Crawford after a career spanning four decades.

At the time of her appointment she commented, “I am extremely proud to become Master of Scillonian III. It is an instantly recognisable and hugely important ship, loved by so many who travel on her". 

She added “It will be an honour and privilege to sit in the captain’s seat, but especially to be taking over from Pete, who will be a hard act to follow. He has taught me so much, and I will miss him greatly".

So in January, 2022, Captain Victoria Bolitha took to the helm of the company's third passenger/cargo ferry to bear the company's historic name of Scillonian III. The veteran vessel (to be replaced from 2026) was built in the West Country in neighbouring Devon, at Appledore Shipbuilders, (see further notes below).

Vicky along with a crew of 18 work as a close 'family' in which 8 of the crew are catering-related given the two cafe outlets among several lounge areas and a baby changing room. While other crew members are a chief engineer and second engineer and deckhands who also manage cargo-hold operations. This involves handling passenger baggage using 20ft containers stored on either side of the cargo hold rather than unnecessary clogging up of passenger areas.

Scillonian III alongside St. Mary's Quay, Hugh St. Mary's during cargo unloading operations which involve passenger baggage and equipment stored in containers for fast and efficient turnarounds in between the 2 hour 40 minute crossing from the UK mainland.  Jehan AshmoreScillonian III alongside St. Mary's Quay, Hugh St. Mary's during cargo unloading operations which involve passenger baggage and equipment stored in containers for fast and efficient turnarounds in between the 2 hour 40 minute crossing from the UK mainland Photo: Jehan Ashmore

In the above photo at St. Mary's, the hold's hatch cover is where the crane is mounted and which is also used to lift in and out vehicles of up to two that are placed in the cargo hold. Afloat noted a container unloaded at St. Mary's was bound for another inhabited island, as it was marked: 'St. Martins, Divers, Out, SCIII' indicating it's destination, contents and ship, as the company operates a freight vessel, Gry Maritha also on the same route.

To become Captain, Vicky trained at the prestigious Warsash Maritime Academy, part of Solent University, Southampton, now Warsash Maritime School (see: Trinity House story). She joins an elite group of seafarers after gaining a Master’s unlimited certificate which is the highest qualification that can be given for professional mariners.

Only just two per cent of merchant navy seafarers are women and notably an even smaller number become Master mariners. With Vicky's master certificate, she is qualified to take on the command of virtually any ship, of any size and to sail anywhere in the world.

Both Vicky and crew work to a roster of two week on/two weeks off on the route which runs on a seasonal basis from March to November. When on shore leave, Captain David Redgrave takes over the role with the ship's second crew complement.

Prior to becoming Captain, Vicky for the past two and half years was the Scillonian III’s Chief Officer and before that for half a year serving in the same role with the freight vessel Gry Maritha. The 590 gross tonnage 40m freighter provides an essential year-round service for the islanders. While in the off season months and throughout the year, passengers can also use the company's Sky-Bus services from airports in Cornwall and Devon.

Overall between sea and air links, the Isles of Steamship Company has more than 200 staff and crew, representing one of the largest employers in Cornwall.

Captain's career path included Irish Sea ferry Stena Europe

In addition Vicky's maritime career before joining the Steamship Company, involved working almost a decade ago on several ships among them Condor's freight ferry Commodore Goodwill on a UK-Channel Islands-France rotation.

But her first passenger ferry was the 24,828 tonnes Stena Europe between Rosslare-Fishguard which this year was replaced on 13 July. The 149m ferry carried 480 cars or 1,120 lane metres of freight and up to 1,400 passengers and accommodation in 452 berths.

Replacing the St. George's Channel route ferry of the past 21 years is the ropax Stena Nordica which Afloat tracked on Friday, 28 July, having returned overnight from Belfast, to resume service on the southern Ireland-Wales route, see previous coverage.

After completion of Stena Europe's farewell sailing to Rosslare, Afloat also tracked the ferry depart Wexford on 14 July, as it happened heading for Cornwall, to A&P Falmouth dockyard so to prepare for a charter across the Strait of Gibraltar on a Spain-Morocco route.

Also at the refit, ship repair facility but docked in a dry-dock is CLdN's ro-ro freight ferry Mazarine which during a Cork to Zeebrugge passage on 10 July, lost power and grounded near the Wolf Rock Lighthouse. This led to the RNLI lifeboats dispatched and also attending the scene was Scillonian III which was on standby to take crew off, but this was not required. The CldN vessel was towed to Falmouth from the port's based tugs.

Another vessel at Falmouth dry-docks is the Serco tug, SD Careful which arrived from the UK Royal Navy Base at Dartmouth beside Plymouth which along with fleetmates provide towage escort duties including foreign naval visitors.

Scillonian III built by Appledore Shipbuilders, Devon

The third Scillonian III for the Isle of Scilly Steamship Company was launched by Appledore Shipbuilders Ltd as a purpose built passenger/cargo ship which entered into service in May, 1977. The 67.70m length overall (LOA) vessel is powered by Mireless Blackstone engines, which drive twin screw propellers giving a speed of 15.5 knots.

Readers from Ireland would be more familiar with this same north Devon shipyard, as from 1999 and under different ownership's, the shipyard downriver of Bideford has built several offshore patrol vessels (OPV) for the Naval Service.

The shipyard at Bidna first built for the Irish Department of Defence a pair of Naval Service offshore patrol vessels of the OPV P50 class, otherwise known as the 'Roisin' class, each of 78.84 (LOA).

A further order was placed for the larger variant, the OPV P60 class which saw a quartet of this series completed and which are also referred as the 'Playwright' class.

The facility in recent years was acquired by Harland & Wolff Group which asides its iconic origins in Belfast, the group has facilities located in Arnish, near Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis in west Scotland and on the opposite east coast at Methil on the Firth of Forth estuary.

Published in Ferry