Captain Nigel Barnes was treated to a surprise presentation and lunch on Wednesday on board the Hrossey, the ship he has commanded since NorthLink took over the run in 2002.
The crew and invited guests gathered in the cafeteria to see Lerwick Port Authority chief executive Sandra Laurenson and deputy harbourmaster Alistair Simpson give the gift of an aerial photo of Lerwick Harbour, which will find pride of place in Capt Barnes’s home, a converted barn in Chester.
Ms Laurenson thanked a “very popular” captain who had given “great service”, saying he had the second oldest pilotage exemption certificate in Lerwick entitling him to navigate the harbour without a pilot, and was known as BBC 102.
Chief engineer Fraser Cumming presented “gadget-loving” Capt Barnes with a camera, a gift from the 41-strong crew, who had all signed a farewell card.
Mr Cumming paid a glowing tribute to Capt Barnes, whose Merchant Navy career started in 1969. Most of his 45-year career has been spent on ferries, with his first command on the P&O ship St Rognvald, and, when he lived in Dover, on the Panther, later named the St Sunniva.
Now it was time to hand the captain back to his family, but he would be greatly missed.
Mr Cumming added that the position of master could be “quite lonely sometimes”, having to make the decision whether or not to sail – but the role had been carried out with “integrity and professionalism”, with “respect being the buzzword”.
For his part Capt Barnes said he was “overcome” at the generosity of the gifts, and it would be “weird” not be at sea.
He said that after sailing with foreign crews on cargo ships it had been good to work with “real seafarers” when he joined P&O Scottish Ferries.
Capt Barnes said: “The Scottish have a feel for the water, it was so reassuring to sail with people so competent.” He praised the catering staff: “I couldn’t do your job for all the tea in China”, and added: “It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with you all and I’m going to miss it.”
He loved ship-handling, he said, but disliked the “turmoil” of disrupting people’s travel plans, leaving NorthLink staff to make 200 or 300 phone calls.
NorthLink’s manager Jane Leask recalled taking Capt Barnes out in the car to various locations to assess the sea state, to make sure of the correct decision.
Capt Barnes mentioned some memorable moments, including the end of a “superb weekend” with bands and dances at Lerwick’s twin town Måløy, when the St Clair was treated to a firework display on departure.
A similar farewell took place on Wednesday, when, in another surprise gesture, the harbour boat Knab accompanied the Hrossey on Capt Barnes’s very last trip, firing a water cannon from the North Ness to Twageos.
Being at sea had become easier since Capt Barnes’s early days in Lerwick, when the harbour had been full of klondykers, largely thanks to electronic charts. These enable the master to know the ship’s exact location, even in fog.
He has faced every situation with equanimity. On one occasion, a passenger phoned her relatives in Liverpool to say the ship was sinking. Liverpool Coastguard alerted Shetland Coastguard, who contacted Capt Barnes – only to be told everything was normal.
There would be no such worries on his final trip which was destined to be on time, taking place in glorious autumnal conditions, in contrast to the “vicious” weather of the previous two days.
• Capt Barnes spoke to The Shetland Times during his last northward voyage. See this week’s paper for the full feature.