ENGINEERING A BETTER FUTURE FOR SHIPPING

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An introduction to Chris Gascoigne, Solis Marine’s new Head of Marine Engineering Services

Growing up as an air force child, I lived in many different places, moving around every three or so years, meeting different people and engaging with different cultures. It was clear that I was destined for a nomadic life and when combined with my family’s long seafaring and marine surveying heritage, the die was cast for me to go to sea.

Well, that’s the story that would make sense for a book or for the ideal piece of PR.

The truth is I never thought about going to sea and the closest link I had to it was a great uncle who was a ships’ agent – well, I think he was. The most I knew about the merchant navy was Uncle Albert from TV’s Only Fools and Horses and what I assumed were bearded, drunken, tattooed, pipe-smoking and/or dubious sailors in Popeye outfits.

So how come I’ve been in the marine industry since I was 18, and learned that only most of what I previously thought was accurate, really was?

Well, the first part of the parable is completely true.

My father and grandfathers were all in the RAF and my ambition was – and in part still is, don’t tell Solis Marine– to fly fast jets. I studied, aiming for a flying scholarship, but I was devastated to be held back by my eyesight, something which is now much improved. I spoke to the RAF recruitment team about my other passion which was engineering. They had options but those that were available didn’t float my boat. So away I went from the careers team, dejected.

That day, back at college and in a state of doom and gloom, I looked at the notice board and my mood was uplifted.  The poster must have said something like ‘Engineering Officer Cadetships.  Travel the world, get paid to further your education.  Unless you want to buy a stereo or car, you won’t need a student loan as you get a salary.  If it all works out, there will be no need for a Popeye outfit and no hirsute eccentricities are required or allowed.  Drinking, smoking and tattoos above the sleeve are all optional.  Get it right and a tax-free job, prospects and all sorts of other benefits that sailing around the world offer will await you’.

Chris Gascoigne: Blue Sky Thinking

The elixir of whatever the text was music to my ears. I was sold.

It sounded great but remember part of me believed I was at a dead end, having banked on going to university courtesy of Her Majesty’s armed forces. Anyway, I applied, accepted the cadetship and here I am today, nearly 30 years later in the throes of a varied and exciting career, all set in motion by my being short-sighted (no pun) and equal measures of good and bad luck. The cadetship I was fortunate enough to be offered would prove to be the foundation of my career, and the cadet program itself is something I still strongly endorse and support.

I would sail on several vessel types, although mainly cruise ships – old and new – and eventually qualify as chief engineer. As time moved on, I would become a Chartered Engineer and Chartered Marine Engineer.

I tried to break the bond I had made with the sea and the tax-free pay a few times. On those occasions, my sea-going experience led me ashore to work in commissioning gas turbine and dual fuel engine control systems (technology much more in fashion now than it was in 1998), ship systems design for the UK’s latest aircraft carriers and into the world of environmentally acceptable marine lubricants. The environmental aspects of shipping would form a thread through my future career.

All these positions were superb, working with great people and gaining unbelievable experiences. They made me a more rounded engineer and more importantly a better person. But you ask, if those jobs were all so good, how come you left them? The answer was really that there are aspects of being at sea that I missed massively and where I truly believed I could still contribute.

At times it was a challenge being at sea, dealing with difficult events and dare I say it, some pretty stereotypical shipmates. I was directly and indirectly involved in several stressful and traumatic situations, as are many seafarers. This included fatalities, injuries, collision, machinery failures, pollution and, equally demanding, the investigations that can come with them.

I loved it when I was technically challenged at sea. Investigating why something had failed, dealing with the aftermath, then correcting and preventing it from happening again, quickly became much more interesting to me than routine maintenance and operation. Having an inquisitive mind, I had an interest in investigations and had seen how, if these were carried out inadequately, they could have adverse influences and impacts. I wanted to make a difference and felt that my accumulated experiences, good and bad, would help me do this.

And so, I entered marine consultancy in 2008, focusing on incidents and investigation. I loved it and worked with and against several, well-respected experts. I was travelling what felt like weekly, seeing incidents that many only learn about at college or in books and never wish to experience themselves. I attended casualties and incidents globally. I saw the best and worst in people and situations. I was challenged, I learnt, I developed brilliant relationships with many of those involved and the clients who had instructed me.

It’s 14 years this month since I started in this business, and I still get excited when a new enquiry or instruction comes in. I thoroughly enjoy assisting others through my knowledge and experience and still thrive on learning. If I don’t know something (it happens) I’m the first person to say so. I’ve learned that only a fool professes to know everything about everything, or strays from their expertise.

The majority of my consultancy to date was with another leading firm of marine consultants where many of you will know me from. As with many long-term relationships, my path there ran its course and in 2020 I decided it was the right time to move on to fresh pastures.

Solis Marine Consultants was established by Ros and John 10 years ago. Prior to them branching out, I had worked with them both during my time based in Asia. I had since seen how the firm had grown in stature and reputation, and how it had ambitions to grow even further. Solis was small enough to listen, care and respond to clients’ needs, and yet still had the skills and experience to offer a cost-effective, quality product. I liked that.

It was with all this in mind, that I was delighted to accept the role as Head of Marine Engineering Services. My remit is to grow Solis Marine’s global marine engineering services presence and I was finally able to join the team in July 2021. My aim is to complement our other in-house disciplines and offer clients a high quality, bespoke and responsive alternative to the other marine engineering market offerings.

I still specialise in the same marine engineering work I always have and continue to enjoy, including the investigation of machinery failures and incidents, pollution and compliance, and fires. So, whilst my business card may have changed, I am still the same personable, professional and committed engineer, excited by the future.

I look forward to assisting clients old and new at Solis Marine alongside my marine engineer colleagues, Scott Lennon and John Boyd, and the rest of the team. Please do get in touch for an introduction, some advice or a catch-up.

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