How do you become a fleet manager with one of the UK’s biggest shipping companies? Meet Captain Simon Merritt of Carisbrooke Shipping
Carisbrooke Shipping is a privately owned shipping company based in Cowes. As one of the largest British owned shipping companies, Carisbrooke Shipping owns and operates 31 modern dry cargo and multi-purpose vessels. Its ships carry all kinds of dry cargo (grain, stone, cement, coal) and project cargo (windfarm towers and blades, and leisure yachts) and operate across globally. The Carisbrooke fleet is young, technologically advanced and boasts an excellent safety record. Its newbuild, innovative vessels are designed to protect the natural environment in which they operate.
Capt. Simon Merritt recalls some of the more exciting episodes of a 30 year career in shipping – and all with Carisbrooke Shipping
“At just 24 years old (in 1997), I was captain of the newest and biggest ship in our fleet. We sailed from the UK across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal to Seattle on the US West Coast. From there we crossed the Pacific Ocean to call at Singapore and Japan. We came home through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. In seven months, I’d captained a ship around world seeing places I could only ever have dreamt of.”
Having grown up living aboard a former Royal Navy launch and with a family background in fishing and boating, it was inevitable that Simon would choose the sea as a career. But his entry into the company that would employ him for the next 30 years was far from conventional.
“We didn’t have washing machine aboard our boat so, at 15 years old, my job was to take the family laundry to the local launderette in Cowes. Opposite were the offices of Carisbrooke Shipping and so I took a chance, knocked on the door and asked for a job. I became the company’s first cadet. They sponsored me throughout nautical college and when I qualified, gave me my first job at sea in one of their ships – as second mate.”
At just 24 years old I was captain of the newest and biggest ship in our fleet
Simon spent 15 years at sea with Carisbrooke Shipping and was rapidly promoted to captain. Marriage and starting a family didn’t hold him up either – his wife was a qualified marine engineer and they served onboard together. When their son came along, they took a nanny onboard to care for him so the family could stay together. But in this career, you make your own luck:
“I made sure I was fully qualified in every aspect of seafaring. I also made sure I was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the great opportunities a life at sea can offer. When Carisbrooke was building its new, bigger ships, I was right there, ready to take the first one to sea. At the time, I was the only captain with a qualification to sail these ships to America, we took the ship past the icebergs of the North Atlantic and then deep into the Great Lakes to Detroit and then Thunder Bay in Canada.”
Simon came ashore when it was time to put his son into school. But that didn’t quench his thirst for travel. He and his family lived in China for two years as he supervised the building of a fleet of new ships; and later in Germany when he was asked to run a fleet of 18 ships for the company.
Now back in Cowes, Simon is the Senior Fleet Manager responsible for the technical wellbeing of all Carisbrooke’s 31 ships, including maintenance, repairs, crewing, safety and compliance. He leads a team of more than 20 people to ensure the ships are fully operational in all four corners of the globe. Work is busy but rewarding, particularly when a seemingly impossible problem arises:
“We were asked to take one of our ships loaded with turbine blades for offshore windfarms into a very small port – Kyle of Lochalsh – near Skye on the west coast of Scotland. There was eight knots of tide running, there was no pilot and there were no tugs. I was told it would be impossible. As an experienced master mariner and a qualified maritime pilot, I thought otherwise. I flew up to Scotland, took command of the ship and brought her alongside safely. Ours was the largest ship ever to use the port and the whole town turned out to see us. We’ve made this trip a couple more times since then and I’m delighted, not to say relieved, that we’ve managed to pull it off each time”
Simon’s career in shipping has been extremely varied and rewarding and included some incredible responsibility at a very young age. He’s seen some amazing sights and had some great experiences, but would he recommend a career in shipping?
“Take off your rose-tinted glasses, do your research and understand exactly what you are getting into. Shipping can take you all over the world and offers a great career for those who are willing to learn and work hard.”
Click here to download details about a career in the UK maritime sector.