The flags were up on the Hjaltland ferry today to wish a fond farewell to Captain Dave Wheeler who will leave the helm for the last time after arriving in Aberdeen tomorrow morning.
He joined P&O, who operated the lifeline service to the islands, in 1972. Previously he had been with P&O Cruises where he met his wife Hilary.
His career has seen him spend 44 years in the Merchant Navy working his way up over the years. He has sailed on various north boats with P&O including the St Clair, St Rognavld, St Sunniva and the St Ola.
Capt Wheeler was one of the officers charged with putting together the operation of the new NorthLink vessels when Serco took over the contract.
His mentor was Captain Michael Gray who attended the lunchtime reception on board the Hjaltland, along with former colleges Kenny Grant and Gordon Robertson. The Holmsgarth booking office was temporarily closed so everyone could say their fond farewells. Customer service manager Jane Leask said that
Customer service manager Jane Leask said that Capt Wheeler had what it takes – “respect, communication and trust”. Matthew Sim, a crewman for eight years, said: “He deserves a send-off, he’s one of the good guys.”
He has been a popular captain, chief engineer Colin Golby, said. “You probably won’t find a more respected master in the fleet. He had a smile on his face whatever the situation, he will be truly missed”.
Capt Wheeler was presented with a fine table with inlay and a pair of stabilisers – allegedly due to some manoeuvrability issue when the ship was in dry dock that involved his bike and a bottle of local gin. Mrs Wheeler received a bouquet of flowers.
Capt Wheeler thanked his “motley crew” and praised the crew’s behaviour when things “don’t go to plan”. He was also impressed with the pride they have in their ship. He was obviously quite emotional at the end his speech.
Sandra Laurenson from Lerwick Port Authority gave a speech and presented Capt Wheeler with a large photo of Lerwick Harbour. As a farewell gesture the harbour tugs the Knab and the Kebister will fire a water cannon over the vessel as she leaves the harbour this evening.
The retiring captain was happy to have a chat after lunch and said the winter weather and darkness were probably the worst aspects of the job, which does put people off. One of his worst experiences was when he was a second officer on the St Clair. She found herself at the mercy of swells coming from three directions – the ship, “ending up on top of a pyramid”. It was a reminder to him to respect the power of the sea.
He thinks the Hjaltland and sister vessel the Hrossey are outstanding in their controlled movements. And that Aberdeen Harbour “is only really affected by easterlies!”
He is looking forward to retirement in Edinburgh.