An appreciation

An appreciation

Born: June 8, 1942; Died August 11, 2014

Colin Herbertson, retired chief engineer of the Caledonian Isles, has died at the age of 72 after a long illness. He will have been a familiar face to many Arran residents and visitors. He retired because of ill health as a "Chief" from Caledonian MacBrayne in 1999.

On leaving school, Colin, who lived in Fairlie, Ayrshire, briefly worked in the drawing office at the Fairlie Yacht Slip, a company owned by an uncle and aunt, Archie and Annie Macmillan, who also owned the Anchorage in Lochranza. But designing yachts was not for Colin and the call of the sea meant he left the yacht yard and went to become a cadet with the New Zealand Shipping Company in 1959, where he remained until 1972 when he then returned to join Caledonian MacBrayne on the Outer Isles services.

In 1980 he became "Chief" on the Arran service on the Clansman and then stood by the Caledonian Isles in dock whilst undergoing construction in Lowestoft before she became the Arran ferry in 1993. Colin and Elspeth were guests at the official party when the vessel was launched by the Princess Royal.

Colin, who was always more comfortable in his white boiler suit rather than the full uniform white shirt and rank markings, was a quiet man but with a lovely sense of humour who enjoyed the many stories about ferries and Arran life. He loved the island so much that not only did he serve on the Arran run but on many occasions holidayed with Elspeth and their children in Blackwaterfoot.

Glasgow-born Colin first met his long-time CalMac skipper and friend, now retired Captain Ian Walker, in 1977 on the old Clansman and they sailed together as Master and Chief many times over the following 20-odd years, mainly on the Arran service.

Mr Walker recalled that on one occasion, the Clansman had broken down while berthed in Ardrossan Harbour during a very busy summer period. The car park was packed and a full complement of foot passengers anxiously awaited the departure. There was talk of "serious problems", "repair yards" and even "dry dock". Colin was on holiday at the time and was sitting in the ferry queue with Elspeth and the caravan. He wandered on to the car deck to enquire what the problem was. Donning a boiler suit he headed straight for the engine room and within 20 minutes the ship was loaded up and heading for Brodick.

Ian said of Colin that he could not have wished for a better Chief Engineer. "Not once, in all the years I knew him, did I ever see him anxious or in any way perturbed by a mechanical problem and they did, on occasions, come thick and fast. He was always calm, unflappable, professional and constantly respectful of others. He was a thoroughly nice human being. I will certainly miss the wee Chief. For Colin, the mariner's expression "finished with engines" came too soon".

Despite his worsening health, Colin retained his sense of humour and found time to support others whose condition was less advanced. He may not have fully realised the comfort this simple but valuable gesture of support brought. Finally, having suffered his illness for so long, it was typical of Colin that when, after extensive and exhausting treatment, it became clear there was to be no cure for him, he generously, with the blessing of his family, donated his remains to Glasgow University for medical research in the hope that would help others avoid what he had been through.

A short memorial service was held in Largs on August 15, led by the Ayr Hospice Chaplain and attended by family and friends, including former Cal Mac colleagues. Photographs of Colin and other Cal Mac memorabilia were on display and inevitably that led to a number of wonderful memories being shared and stories recalled and maybe just ever so slightly embellished.

Fortunately, ferry timetables and domestic duties drew these to a timely conclusion before it became a weekend-long CalMac fest. But the stories of breakdowns, practical jokes, all-night sailings when the vessel could not berth and wild crossings to Gourock were good and full of humour.

They were punctuated with names of Cal Mac skippers of Arran ferries of yesteryear John Anderson, Alex Ferrier, Hughie Campbell, Ian Walker, Jimmy Peacock, Roddy Murray, Sandy MacNab, chief engineers including Colin and Roddy MacLennan, pursers and other crew members too numerous to mention. There is no doubt Colin would have enjoyed it - it was the kind of company he loved.

He is survived by wife Elspeth, son Graham, daughter Carol and grandchildren in Norway, England and Australia.