Menu
Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

In association with ISA Logo Irish Sailing

Ferry Captain Interview: Isle of Man Steam Packet's Ben-My-Chree

31st May 2014
Capt_Allan_Albiston
Capt Allan Albiston on board the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's ro-pax ferry Ben-My-Chree
Ferry Captain Interview: Isle of Man Steam Packet's Ben-My-Chree

#FerryCaptainInterview - In our first of a series of interviews with Irish Sea ferry captains, Jehan Ashmore talks to Captain Allan Albiston, master of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's ro-pax ferry Ben-My-Chree, the Manx for 'Girl of My Heart'.

Captain Albiston's career has spanned more than four decades and his current command of the 600-passenger and vehicle ferry is principally employed operating the main link to the UK between Douglas-Heysham.  In addition to running during the winter months to Birkenhead and on occasions of the seasonal-only service to Dublin Port.

Since entering service in 1998, the Dutch built ferry of 12,504 tonnes has been the workhorse of the company. She recently re-entered service fresh from an overhaul and refurbishment costing £1.6m to enhance passenger facilities and for those of her crew.

What first inspired you to thinking of having a career at sea?

My mother was born in the Isle of Man and so as a child I spent summer holidays on the island travelling by boat.

I spent my school summer holidays working on the rowing boats in Douglas and when I was old enough, as a steward on the last Ben-My-Chree between 1969 – 1971. Seven years later in 1978, I returned to the Steam Packet Company as a second officer.

Has there been an individual or seafaring background that has influenced your career?

My mother's family had fishing boats in Laxey during the early part of the 20th century so I guess it was in the blood somewhere.

What college did you attend?

I studied at the Fleetwood Nautical College.

Ben My Chree at sea

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's ro-pax ferry Ben-My-Chree

Coast to Coast Cafe Lounge

The onboard Coast to Coast Cafe

What companies have you served and trading routes or regions?

For seven years served as as cadet and third officer with Andrew Wier (Bank Line) trading Worldwide to Africa, India, North & South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands. Also had two winters with Manchester Liners trading to Montreal and to the Mediterranean Sea.

It was great fun seeing lots of the world in those years, but I wouldn't want to do it today. It's all about visiting container ports and oil terminals miles away from the city ports we used to visit.

Name the first ship that you took command?

The first vessel I took command of was the fast-craft ferry, Seacat Isle of Man.

What is your weekly routine in terms of managing crew operations of Ben-My-Chree?

The day to day running of crew operations is carried out by the heads of department, the Chief Engineer, Chief Officer and Passenger Services Officer – that look after their areas but as master, I am in overall charge of everything and everybody on board - it is all encompassing and ultimately I am responsible for all safety and crew training.

What aspects do you like serving on a multi-purpose ferry?

As Master, the vessel type is not as important as the route and schedule. The advantage of short sea routes means that regular leave periods, allows for a reasonably cohesive home life which is not enjoyed by mariners serving in deep sea trades.

What reasons make the ro-pax ferry suited to this short service on the Irish Sea?

It gives car and foot passengers an opportunity to travel from the Island twice a day 364 days a year which would not be possible with a split passenger / freight service.

Since her recent biennual overhaul, what has improved in terms of passenger facilities?

The main passenger lounge, the Coast to Coast Café, has been upgraded and is much brighter and airier giving a feeling of more space. The Legend's Bar area has also benefitted from new seating.

How many crossings does the ship make while working on the main link between the island and the UK mainland?

Apart from a routine maintenance night once a month and Christmas day, the vessel sails 28 crossings every week of the year, two in each direction daily.

Asides the Heysham-Douglas route, which seasonal operated route do you like to serve on across the Steam Packet network and why?

As senior master on Ben-my-Chree, the latest vessel to bear this famous 'steam-packet' name, I rarely do other routes apart from Birkenhead during the winter months.

People may not think there is much excitement sailing from Douglas to Heysham every day, with the occasional trip to Birkenhead, but there are lots of challenges.

Last winter we had atrocious weather, which was very challenging, and we sometimes have other problems to resolve as well as crew and customer issues to deal with on sailings, so there are plenty of challenges on a day-to-day basis.

When I was Master on the fast craft, which I commanded from 1997 until 2010, I liked the variety of operating different routes rather than having a specific favourite.

From a scenic perspective, the Belfast route was more interesting as we sometimes go south of the Isle of Man and sometimes north depending upon tidal conditions.

On leave, what are your favourite activities and pastimes?

I have a secondary occupation doing safety management for a large yacht company and this takes me to the Caribbean in winter and the Mediterranean in summer but I have also been to Australia and Brazil.

Travel abroad both for work and family holidays continues to be my favourite pastime with a couple of ski holidays thrown in.

Published in Ferry
Jehan Ashmore

About The Author

Jehan Ashmore

Email The Author

Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading Afloat.ie than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open.

Afloat.ie is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

leinster sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Car Brands

subaru sidebutton

Featured Associations

ISA sidebutton dob
ICRA
isora sidebutton

Featured Events 2021

vdlr21 sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton

quantum sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton
https://afloat.ie/resources/marine-industry-news/viking-marine

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
mansfield sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
sellingboat sidebutton

Please show your support for Afloat by donating