River Dart Harbourmaster, Captain David White - 2010
Captain David White, Dartmouth Harbourmaster 2004 - 2010
When do you retire?
After 6 years in this post, I leave on 22nd November. The time has gone very quickly!
What have been the highlights looking back?
As a pilot, the big highlight was undoubtedly when ‘The World’ came in this year. Ships of that size and that length take a lot of planning; she was a big ship for the River Dart and it’s not the kind of thing you do over night – the planning stage began 18 months in advance. Although we’ve had the same basic arrangement for the moorings since I arrived, they originally weren’t being used to their maximum potential. We’ve slowly evolved ways and means of making use of what’s available allowing us to moor a ship the size of The World.
Improvements in ship manoeuvrability and handling and with modern designs being shallower and lighter has made it easier but you have to develop and get comfortable with your own experience and skills and this all takes time. Weather and tide conditions have to be right, and it involves a lot of skilful work from a lot of people. We’d had increasingly large ships over the past couple of years to test the facilities and trial the process so it’s very satisfying to have done this just before I retire – although I will still be piloting for a bit after I step down.
As for my other duties, I am proud that we’ve made solid progress over the years. When I first came here in 2004, the relationship between the harbour authority and the stake-holders was not good and I had to work very hard for the first 2 years to try and improve that – it involved a lot of PR, getting out there and talking to people, giving presentations, attending meetings to get the message across. I only said no if there was a damn good reason. If I could say yes to something, I would do so. We altered the whole ethos of the river officers’ approach... visitors are important to us and so we needed to up the ante, and that has paid dividends.
I was old to become a harbour master; I was quite happy with what I was doing previously, and had planned to pilot until I was retired. I was unsure how I’d adapt to working a 9-5 job being in an office...but this is not a 9-5 job by any means! For instance, my phone went at 4.15am this morning from Brixham Coastguard about a boat on the river. And we were in here till 6.45pm last night after a meeting that started at 4pm, so anybody that tells you that this is a 35 hour week 9-5, it’s just not true.
Presumably, you’ve learned a lot about administration...
Indeed. We have a large staff during the summer that has to be managed. A very small percentage of the stakeholders take up a large percentage of my time. The volume of regulatory paperwork etc in the last 5 years has doubled. I don’t get out onto the river anywhere near as often as I would like to but that’s the nature of the job.
What will you miss?
I won’t miss giving the emergency phone back, because any harbour staff that are out on the river report to me when they go out and when they finish, so it’s shackled to my side almost all the time in the summer including late at night.
What advice would you give your successor?
Not to go in feet-first. He needs to walk before he can run. He needs to get out, talk to people, give presentations and visit moorings.
How do you think you leave the port?
I am confident I leave the port in excellent health. We’ve had a very good year and next year will be just as good if not better - in terms of revenue and ship visits. The water quality of the river is good and is improving. We have worked hard to preserve the river for future generations to enjoy. People don’t always agree with what we do and the demand for moorings is very high but we take great pains to maintain a long-term view of our responsibilities. We’re ambitious; we’re a non-profit making organisation with no shareholders. We pay no dividends so any surplus we have is invested back into the river. You constantly have to balance our long term needs; we’re just about to embark this winter on a programme of investment at Hoodown to upgrade the facilities for our river officers. It’s constant juggling between generating revenue and spending it efficiently.
To whom would you like to pay tribute?
The board that run the authority are unpaid; they all join voluntarily to offer their expertise. Many board-members work very hard for no gain at all. They have the interests of Dartmouth at heart. I am the public face of the authority but there’s no use me being here on my own without the support of those behind me. The river staff – I look at them sometimes in winter when it’s blowing hard and they’re cold and wet and think ‘would I want to do that job?’ and yet they are always usually cheerful. You can’t operate a port like this without having great staff and the support of a good board, chairman and vice chairman.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here on the whole. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have stayed, but everybody has to retire sooner or later. We are moving on; my wife and I are off to New Zealand in January for a long trip, and I’m off to Antigua immediately I leave here. It will be a different pace of life – but we’re going to make the most of it, and I’m looking forward to it.
First Published October 2010 By The Dart