Hamish Ross: Man Who Changed the Face of Irish Sea Ferry Travel

The man who revolutionised ferry traffic on the Irish Sea, Hamish Ross, has died aged 75 on the Isle of Man where he lived and worked for the past two decades

Almost up to the time of his death last Thursday Hamish was still working, writing for the ‘Sea Breezes’ nautical magazine which he owned.

Hamish Ross was Managing Director of the Isle of Man Steam Packet for more than a decade in the latter years of his working life; but it was for the introduction of the SeaCat fast ferry to the Irish Sea for which he will be best remembered.

A native of Stranraer, he was a deep sea captain, then worked for Sealink (predecessor of Stena Line), before introducing the revolutionary fast ferry SeaCat to the Belfast-Stranraer route in June 1992, a service which totally transformed the face of ferry travel in the Province.

It brought a massive tourism bonanza to Northern Ireland when the industry needed all the help it could get after the tough years of the Troubles – a time when incoming tourists from the UK Mainland were comparatively thin on the ground.

The new SeaCat service dramatically cut the crossing time for travellers with their cars, and for the first time ferry travellers to and from the Province were “guaranteed a seat” on board, a new phenomenon in ferry travel. Staff were also outfitted in bright airline-style uniforms and SeaCat also brought airline-style comfort and seating to the Irish Sea – providing a completely new and comfortable way of making a short sea crossing.

SeaCat went on to serve Belfast-Troon and Belfast-Heysham before it ceased operations on March 31, 2005. In its 13 years serving Belfast it completely changed the concept of ferry travel and led to the introduction of other fast ferries such as the HSS and Lynx.

Diane Poole, who worked with Hamish for 13 years in SeaCat and Sea Containers, fondly remembers a “real true gentleman” of the industry. “He was an absolutely lovely man, a pleasure to work with. Hamish brought out the best in everyone, and created such a unique team spirit among the staff at SeaCat. I learned so much from him,” added Diane, now Commercial Manager Irish Sea South with Stena Line.

Sea Containers, owners of SeaCat, subsequently acquired the Isle of Man Steam Packet company, and Hamish served as Managing Director of the Steam Packet for more than a decade. He joined the Steam Packet Board in 1994 and was appointed Managing Director in 1996. He was on the Board until his retirement in 2007, after which he served on the Steam Packet’s supervisory board.

His successor, Steam Packet Chief Executive Mark Woodward, said: “Everyone at the company is extremely saddened to learn of Hamish’s passing. Not only did he steer the Steam Packet Company for 11 years but he was a constant wise counsel and sounding board who always had the best interests of the company and the Isle of Man at heart.

“His common sense approach and vast experience and knowledge on all aspects of ship operation from a long and varied career was of great benefit. He is a real loss to the Isle of Man and we extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Gill and family.”

Hamish Ross was a keen golfer, a member of Rowany Golf Club on the Isle of Man and an active member of Manx Bird Life. Before moving to the Isle of Man he had a lifetime keen interest in his home town football club Stranraer FC. Indeed he is credited with setting up its first sponsorship deal with Sealink at Stair Park, a sponsorship deal, now with Stena of course, which exists to this day and has lasted 29 years – a football sponsorship record.

Hamish’s funeral will be at 10.00 am at Castle Rushen, Isle of Man this Thursday. He is survived by is wife Gill and sons Jamie and Gregor.