Nelson keeps an eye on maritime charity

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A MORPETH man who travelled all over the world in charge of large ships has been voted into the top position at a centuries-old organisation.

Captain Raymond Nelson has been involved in the maritime industry since he was 16 and in 1992 he became a member of the Trinity House Brethren, based on the Newcastle Quayside.

At its annual board elections he became Master of the charity, effectively the Chief Executive, for 2011 and he is looking forward to the year ahead.

The 61-year-old started out in 1965 as an indentured apprentice helping to navigate Shell tankers.

After getting his Second Mate Certificate he worked for Palm Line before joining the Overseas Shipholding Group (OSG) in 1971 and he was on the first very-large crude carrier (VLCC) made at the famous Swan Hunter shipyard.

Captain Nelson achieved his Master certificate in 1976.

Two years later he was promoted to Master at OSG, which meant he was responsible for oil and chemical tankers and boat carriers making regular international journeys.

For eight years, from 1979 to 1987, this was with regional company Souter Shipping when it was taken over by OSG.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at sea,” he said.

“The element of travel and going to places I hadn’t been to before was exciting and the challenges the sea can throw at you meant you never knew what would happen from one day to the next.

“Of individual trips, one that comes to mind was the voyage from Hamburg to St Lawrence Seaway port in Canada.

“When we were just off Land’s End the conditions were so horrendous that the waves were about 80ft high, which was quite a frightening experience.

“But it’s the nice days you mainly remember such as the fabulous scenery on calm, moonlit nights in the South Atlantic.”

In 1987, Captain Nelson took on the land-based job of Marine Superintendent, which saw him move to Morpeth.

And three years later he became Marine Director of Souter Shipping, a position he held until his retirement in 2007.

All this meant he comfortably met the criteria for Trinity House and he was invited to join in 1988.

Like all newcomers, the Stobhill resident then did a four-year ‘apprenticeship’ to prove he had an on-going association with the industry.

The charity has links to the Berwick and Borders region going back to the 1300s.

It was officially formed in 1505 as the ‘Guild of the Blessed Trinity of Newcastle upon Tyne’ to support the area’s growing maritime community and their dependants.

It quickly developed into the main operator of ship traffic on the Tyne, with a toll set up for those going in and out, and had responsibilities for navigation from the Tweed to the Tees.

But its powers began to be transferred to the City of Newcastle in the 1800s and an Act of Parliament in 1861 effectively destroyed the system of fees on which it very much depended for the bulk of its income.

More recently, in the 1990s the responsibility for navigation marks across the country was passed entirely to Trinity House in London.

So its role has changed and now one of the Brethren’s primary functions is the preservation and maintenance of the historic buildings that occupy the Broad Chare site and the collections they contain.

Members are still empowered to examine and license Deep-Sea Pilots and they co-ordinate a programme of visits, talks and other training activities for sea cadets and sea scouts in the region, with a particular emphasis on safety on the water.

One of Captain Nelson’s previous roles at Trinity House was Education and Training Warden.

Visits to the House also regularly take place by adult education and special interest groups.

It also supports other local maritime charities and like-minded organisations in the region.

Of the year ahead, Captain Nelson said: “We have had a struggle to get the House financially sound, but we have just about got there.

“The next stage we are looking at is work on the regeneration of our assets because if we don’t look after them, they will disappear.”

It is also hoped that progress can be made in the project to have a memorial to naval hero Admiral Lord Collingwood on a plot of land adjacent to the House.

Lord Collingwood, who went on to live in Morpeth, was born on the Quayside and was an Honorary Freeman of Trinity House.

For more information about the charity and to arrange a visit, go to www.trinityhousenewcastle.org.uk