Profile: Steam Packet loading order is not done at random

Robin Gawne

Robin Gawne

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The sixth annual National Ferry Fortnight got under way on March 15.

To mark it, we are speaking to six members of the Steam Packet team, who are integral to the company. In the last of the six articles, we meet Robin Gawne, aged 49, a dock supervisor.


Robin’s day starts just before the overnight sailing docks, usually around 5.30am. He oversees the tying up of the vessel, and is first on board once the gangway opens, checking the trailers and vehicles against the ship’s manifest. Once the passengers and their vehicles have disembarked, his team get to work, using five or six ‘tugs’ to take the trailers off the vessel. Once the vessel is empty, work starts on loading the morning’s sailing.

‘We usually have trade cars to go on, perhaps half a dozen, so we load those early,’ said Robin, who has been with the Steam Packet for 22 years.

‘When they are on, we are ready for the reload, starting with freight, and that’s usually around 7.30am. The loading officer calls and asks what we have for the sailing, and there is generally a breakdown of trailers – so many for the top deck, so many for the main deck. He’ll ask how many cars we have, how many self-propelled lorries, and then he’ll advise how he wants the vessel loaded, and the split for each deck. When the on board passenger services officer is ready upstairs, the foot passengers and the car passengers start to board. We start loading the cars, and I’m the person at the top of the linkspan taking the boarding cards and directing the cars down the span on to the ship. The breakdown of what is on each deck allows us to work out the weights to help the ship’s stability.’

Robin said: ‘This is an issue that I think some passengers don’t realise. There are occasions when a vehicle driver might ask “I was first at check-in, how come I’m not being loaded first?” The loading order isn’t chosen at random, there will be a reason why the order might be different for specific sailings – it might depend on the number of trailers, and which decks they are being allocated to.’

Everyone has a role to play, and Robin’s job is to oversee all aspects of loading and ensure his team know what is needed.

He said: ‘There’s luggage to load, courtesy bus runs to do, passengers with wheelchairs requiring assistance. It’s all about communication, to ensure that each sailing is loaded safely and efficiently.’

Robin is also on the health and safety committee for Douglas port, chaired by the Department of Infrastructure.

Robin’s background is in haulage having started driving lorries aged 21. ‘I started with the Steam Packet as a “chainer” on the deck of the Peveril and King Orry, eventually working as a tug driver,’ said Robin, who was born in Douglas and lives in Onchan.

‘Ben-my-Chree is a pleasure to work with. I remember the first day the Ben came into Douglas, passing King Orry in the bay, with both ships blasting each other with their whistles. That was the first time we saw the size of the new ship compared with the old. We forget that now, especially when the Ben is filled to capacity. It’s the variation of the job I love. The majority of new vehicles being shipped to the island come unaccompanied, so it is our job to drive them off the vessel, thus we get to drive everything from new cars to diggers.’

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