A Day in the Life of… a CalMac Skipper

Gill Sherry

Clifford Wilson’s shipping career has taken him all over the world. He is now a skipper for Caledonian MacBrayne, primarily sailing the Largs to Cumbrae route. He also owns a small fishing company, supplying fresh shellfish caught on his fishing boat, Boy Rory, operated out of Maidens Harbour. Clifford (known as Cubby) takes time off his duties to tell us about his role as a skipper.

How long have you been a skipper?
I passed my first skipper’s ticket when I was 20. I’m 50 now so I’ve been a skipper for 30 years. I was one of the youngest skippers at that time, also owning my own fishing boat at the age of 20.

What training did you need to do?

I went to Banff and Buchan Nautical College (this later merged with Aberdeen College to form North East Scotland College) for five months for my first skipper’s fishing ticket. Then I went offshore before going back to college in Liverpool where I sat my second master’s ticket to skipper tugs and multipurpose vessels. I went all around the world including Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Dubia, Saudia Arabia and all over Europe. I then came home to fish Boy Rory in 2017 from Maidens. I started working with CalMac in 2020 skippering vessels all around the west coast of Scotland. I’m now full-time sailing Largs to Cumbrae on the Loch Shira.

What do you like best about being a skipper?
The everyday challenges.

Do you dislike anything about your job?
The paperwork, but it needs to be done. It’s a big part of our job now.

How many hours a week do you normally work?

What time does your working day usually start?
I leave home at 5am and I’m on board for 5.40am at Largs. I do the necessary start procedures and pre-departure checks prior to service at 6.45am. I get home 17.30.

Can you briefly describe what a typical day involves?
Keeping the vessel clean and tidy, making sure all safety equipment is in good working order, and keeping daily paperwork updated. Drills must be carried out and it’s important to keep good morale between the crew. Also looking after the passengers, making sure they have a good experience and giving them any local information.

Sometimes, with the weather, it can be challenging to keep the service going for islanders, and berthing the vessel in high winds. It’s important to keep the crew and passengers safe.

One piece of advice for someone looking to become a skipper?
Be positive. Every day is a school day.

What would you be if you weren’t a skipper?
I can’t imagine not being a skipper so I have no idea! I’ve been a skipper most of my career, it’s all I know.

Career highlight so far?
Passing my first skipper’s ticket.

If you had to sum up how you felt about your job using only one word, what would it be?