Obituary: Hamish Ross, seaman and leading light of the ferry industry in the Irish Sea

Hamish Ross has died at the age of 75
Hamish Ross has died at the age of 75
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Hamish Ross, ferry industry managing director, Born: 17, July 1943 in Lhanbryde, Morayshire. Died: 4 April, 2019, in Douglas, Isle of Man, aged 75.

Hamish Ross, who died in early April in the Hospice Isle of Man, was a prominent ­figure in the world of Irish Sea shipping over four decades, enjoying leadership roles with Sealink, one of the UK’s major ferry companies of the 1970s and 80s, Sea Containers (who introduced SeaCat fast ferries to the Irish Sea in the 1990s) and latterly with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.

However, two of his finest achievements were delivered after his formal retirement in 2007 – as publisher and ­editor of the famous Sea Breezes shipping magazine, he steered the publication safely through to its centennial in 2019, and he also he spearheaded a successful campaign to erect a ­permanent memorial in ­tribute to the heroic ­sacrifice made by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company ships and crews during the evacuation of ­Dunkirk in 1940.

Starting his secondary schooling at Keith Grammar School, Hamish then won a scholarship to Gordonstoun in 1958 through the shipping company Alfred Holt & Co. (Blue Funnel Line). Thus began a 60-year association with the sea.

The first chapter in ­Hamish’s career, serving on Blue ­Funnel’s renowned vessels between 1960-71, encompassed the last great era of British merchant shipping. Having joined as a midshipman, Hamish acquired all the necessary ‘tickets’, eventually gaining his Master’s (Foreign Going) Certificate.

Putting down roots back in Scotland, he joined the ­historic North Channel ­ferry service between Stranraer and Larne. Receiving his first promotion ashore in 1976, by 1982 he was general manager of Sealink Scotland, guiding the business through a ­period of great expansion, initially under nationalised ownership in the days when Sealink was the shipping arm of ­British Railways and then, following privatisation in 1984, under the auspices of the Sea Containers business led by the American entrepreneur James Sherwood.

Leaving Sealink (by then owned by Swedish company Stena Line) in 1991 for a ­senior role with the Clyde Port Authority based in Glasgow, Hamish was then ­headhunted back into the Sea Containers fold to introduce the revolutionary SeaCat fast ferry between Stranraer and ­Belfast.

SeaCats – wave piercing ­catamarans developed by InCat shipbuilders in Tasmania – travelled at twice the speed of conventional ferries and offered new standards of style and service.

New facilities were created in Stranraer, and the service reinvigorated Belfast as a ­passenger ­ferry port, with Stena Line later moving their operation from Larne to ­Belfast in response.

The introduction of the ­SeaCat service also served to grow the overall market, at a time when Northern Ireland tourism was still deeply affected by The Troubles.

When Sea Containers expanded its Irish Sea interests by acquiring the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company in 1996, Hamish and his wife Gill moved to the island and Hamish, the first ­master ­mariner to be managing director in the company’s long ­history, presided over a decade of huge growth, introducing a new flagship, the MV Ben-my-Chree, and deploying fast ­ferries to stimulate day trip and short break business in what had previously been a declining market.

Acquiring the Sea Breezes magazine in 2008, Hamish then stepped into the editor’s role following the untimely death of his great friend and colleague Captain Andrew Douglas.

Together they had instigated a campaign to bring back the anchor of the TSS Mona’s Queen III from the seabed at Dunkirk. The role of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company in Operation Dynamo is often described as both the finest and saddest episode in the history of a company that was established in 1830: almost 25,000 troops left ­Dunkirk on Steam Packet vessels, but three of the fleet (including the Mona’s Queen III) were lost within hours of each other on 29 May, 1940.

On the 70th anniversary of the sinking, and in the presence of UK, Manx and French dignitaries, the anchor was raised from the seabed, and now forms a wonderful memorial at Kallow Point in Port St Mary in the Isle of Man, with the anchor pointing in the direction of Dunkirk.

The anchor project was one of many ways in which Hamish’s commitment to his local community was illustrated. Throughout his corporate life, sponsorships abounded for sporting and other good causes throughout the ­communities of Northern Ireland, South West Scotland and the Isle of Man.

In his retirement, he continued to be a driving force, in organisations such as Junior Achievement Isle of Man, the Douglas Development Partnership and Manx BirdLife.

Having been a keen sportsman all his life, his final project was to lead the efforts to save Rowany Golf Club in Port Erin, which had fallen into a financially perilous state.

Hamish is survived by his wife of 51 years, Gill (nee Enfield) and two sons. Their relationship began at a village dance in Craigellachie in 1962, Hamish having travelled from Keith and Gill from Aberlour.

Married at Advie on the banks of the River Spey in 1967, and living initially in ­Dufftown, they spent a ­quarter of a century in Stranraer before the last few decades in the Isle of Man.

Unsurprisingly, Hamish’s funeral at Rushen Parish Church was a packed affair, with representation from business, political and sporting sectors, as well as friends and family, and with the ­content influenced heavily by his Scottish, Manx and ­maritime connections.

It was a fitting celebration of an accomplished, meaningful and fulfilled life.

JIM DALE