Maritime & Marine

"I was like a duck to water" says new PHC chairman on his 40-plus year seagoing career

By Staff Reporter [email protected]

Published: December 3, 2021 | Updated: 18th September 2023

“I was like a duck to water from day one – and I’ve never looked back since.”

David Norman, the new Chairman of Poole Harbour Commissioners (PHC), may not have had a history of seafaring in his family but it didn’t stop him choosing a life on the ocean wave.

A 40+ year career at sea that began when he flew out to New York as a “very wet behind the ears” 16-year-old to join his first ship, SS Venassa, pictured right, as a deck officer cadet in the Merchant Navy.

Then a rapid ascent up the promotion ladder at Shell Tankers (UK) Ltd, where he started his career, followed by Master on several training sailing ships.

In 1993 he took command of the 112 metre four masted Barquentine ‘Star Clipper’, a new sailing passenger ship operating Caribbean voyages, pictured left with her sister, Star Flyer.

It was something of an eye-opener.

David said: “I was only the second Master.

“We had 185 passengers, 72 crew and 26 nationalities but they had virtually no experience in actually sailing a ship.

“I had to virtually go back to the drawing board with the training but it was the best job I’ve ever had and I loved it.”

After a short spell with Wightlink, David joined Condor Ferries, pictured right, where he was to spend the next 17 years, initially as Training Master followed by Operations Manager and, latterly, Operations Director.

Ten years ago he became an independent marine consultant and, to this day, is a Director of Ansty Consultants.

Married to Jenny for 44 years and with two sons and three grandchildren, David, 65, looks back on his seagoing career with affection.

“It’s the total variety. No two days are ever the same,” he said.

In 2013, David became a Poole Harbour Commissioner, followed by Vice Chairman three years ago and, now, Chairman of the 12-person body.

The operator of Poole’s commercial port-– and guardian of the 10,000 acres making up Europe’s largest natural harbour – Poole Harbour Commissioners successfully juggles the needs of the harbour’s many stakeholders and users.

They include commercial, recreational, military and environmental.

Most of the foreshore is designated a SPA (Special Protection Area) under the European Habitats Directive.

Sites around the harbour are also designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty while the southern shores have Heritage Coast status.

As a Trust Port, PHC has no shareholders.

All profits are reinvested back into Poole Harbour and the port for the benefit of stakeholders.

As with every other business and organisation, the past 18 months have been tough.

David said: “We’ve been through a pretty traumatic time and a period of turmoil.

“We’re now in the recovery phase.

“Don’t expect to see any big changes on my watch.

“It’s really a continuation of what we’ve planned over several years.

“We’re all the time planting acorns which will one day become oak trees.

“We’re often dealing with projects which have been planned up to ten years ago.”

David admits to occasionally getting frustrated at how many people don’t appreciate the importance of seafaring to the health of UK plc.

Just under 439 million tonnes of goods arrived in UK ports last year, according to the Department for Transport, on an estimated 82,300 cargo vessels.

More than 95 per cent of the UK’s trade comes by sea.

David, whose interests outside marine include breeding rare pigs with his wife, said: “We’re out of sight, out of mind, but play a crucial role in the health of the nation.”

One aspect he’s particularly proud of is the quality of the team at Poole Harbour Commissioners.

“They’re talented and hard-working.

“It’s a real pleasure to work with them,” he said.

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