Murdo’s sea career comes to an end

Murdo and his mother at No.10 Geocrab, his childhood home.

Murdo and his mother at No.10 Geocrab, his childhood home.

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The final part of our weekend online feature about the sea career of Harris resident Murdo Morrison.

Another of the quirky request Murdo took on whilst living in Australia found him charged not with keeping human passengers safe, but live animal cargo as he was commissioned to covert a ship, the ‘Bader II’, to become the world’s largest livestock carrier.

It was the desire of the Australian government to ship live sheep to the Arab nations, allowing for the animal to be slaughtered on arrival, leading to assured halal meats.

“You have to remember the sheep were live – they had to be fed and watered, never mind the mess that had to be cleaned up after them, so what a project it was to be on!” chuckled Murdo.

The aim was achieved however as Murdo devised and designed a conveyor belt system running the length of the ship at head height from which the sheep could eat and drink whenever they wanted.

And water running constantly across a slight V-shaped deck assured that all waste – and any ground up carcases – was quickly washed overboard!

Murdo recalled: “When we put the ship out to trials I was glad to wave her goodbye. She sailed from Australia to the Persian Gulf and after leaving Australia I was told, was followed by birds and sharks because they knew they’d get a free feed!”

His skill and ingenious mind carried Murdo’s career in good stead and lead to his final job – overseeing the conversion of the naval troop and helicopter carrier HM Ocean from its expensive steam turbine propulsion to diesel engine.

With few options in-house, the Royal Navy turned to the sea industry, selecting sea-going engineers from five different parts of the UK as recommended by shipping companies.

Glasgow firm Clyde Marine put forward Murdo, to his surprise as he admitted: “I thought they’d be looking for someone with degrees, but Clyde Marine said no, they wanted a practical man.”

Travelling down to London four weeks later to interview, the prospect of meeting the Navy’s elite may have caused others to tremble. Not Murdo though as once again his grandfather’s attitudes prevailed.

He continued: “I was called in and sat at a big table opposite all the Admirals and bigwigs. My CV was sitting in front of them, so when they said they like me to tell them about myself and my work, I just replied that I could see they already knew all about me and pointed to my CV!

“We went through the speil and they they wanted me to look at the vessel. I said no way! I was dressed for the interview and was not going on a ship in my good gear. I had a bit of a ‘take me or leave me as you find me’ attitude I suppose.

“I’d near enough forgotten about the interview but three weeks later I was picked and appointed to Chief Engineer to do trials on the HMS Ocean.”

Now aged 71, retired and living in Inverness, Murdo is looking back on his sea-days with a smile, and would welcome hearing from any young islanders who, like himself many decades ago, think they might fancy a career at sea.

He is also very keen to hear of any information regarding the Head of Engineering from Lews Castle College (c.1953 to 1955), and if you think you can help, please contact Eilidh Whiteford at the Stornoway Gazette (telephone: 707714 / email: eilidh.whiteford@stornowaygazette.co.uk).

“My sea career was stared by that teacher, it was him telling me his experiences which put me on the track and I’d like it if I can do the same for any youngsters that maybe want to go to see and are looking for advice,” Murdo added.