Member Profile: Chris Stopford, Alphasea Marine

Indvidual Corporate Member ‘Chris Stopford’ provides us a view into his career and the world of a Self-Employed Mariner.

What is the history of Alphasea Marine Ltd?

I began working as ‘Alphasea Marine Ltd’ originally in 2002 to fulfil a Leisure and Small Commercial Vessel delivery service, as well as numerous local and near European vessel deliveries; it included the deliveries of two ex-Admiralty Tugs’ to destinations in the Mediterranean and Trans-Atlantic.

What projects are you currently involved in?

The mainstay of my current business in 2020 is to provide relief cover of Masters or Deckhands in the CTV industry. It has provided full-time employment in the past, however due to the nature of the Windfarm CTV business, last minute cover is often required when full-time crew are unable to attend. It means being fast, flexible and able to complete various inductions at short notice, this linked with the ability to travel and learn new management systems and vessel layouts quickly.

What was your background before ASM?

A life spent at sea, but not doing the same thing.  I left school at 16 and started commercial fishing in the Thames Estuary. An astute fishing skipper taught me at that young age the art of dead reckoning using a compass, clock and depth sounder and it inspired me to learn more!  For 15 years I fished around most of the UK in various vessels, but Scalloping in the Irish Sea and Trawling from Whitby were the most memorable, as well as a season on Seine netters on Dogger Bank [from Grimsby]. This was before modern mechanical rope-drums; lifting and stowing coils of rope on deck from the Beccles rope coiler was my job, doing 18 day trips on a wooden 55 footer! 

After some time, and with the decline of the fishing  fleet, I sold my fishing business and sailed away to Mediterranean with my wife and 2 children.  Whilst living in the south of France fate led me to becoming Captain on a 55m Private Yacht with 12 crew for the next 12 years.  – Although Mediterranean based, every winter we went to the Caribbean, Florida or oppositely to the Seychelles. 

On returning to live in UK, I operated as an RYA Instructor on the Scottish West Coast before starting as a CTV Master and Marine Superintendent in the Offshore Wind sector [2009 onwards].

What services do you offer?

Along with the previously mentioned; I have learnt how important a good network is in this industry! It’s a case “who you know” and what you can do for them.

In recent years the following projects have all been completed:-

  • The setting up of a training scheme for a Jackup barge business, training aimed at the recruitment of new entrants into the Jackup sector. Providing a tailor made training system to introduce new recruits to the marine aspect of the Jackup industry. We put large emphasis on ropework, knots, splices and heaving lines, as well as classroom activities that were relevant to their job. This covered learning sessions on weather and tides, and a basic introduction to safe working practices for life on a Jackup.
  • I often perform vessel inspections and thorough/practical Sea-trialing to determine maneuvering characteristics and vessel/equipment condition for purchasing, modifications, reparations or other.
  • In-depth research projects into practical aspects of technological developments for Workboats. Example:- if  a company introduces a new product or idea for a vessel, how will it affect the vessels operations and the crews familiarisation or need for further training.
  • Crewing services
  • Vessel deliveries
  • Dry-dock or project based Superintendence works
  • I am also working part-time as a Duty Harbour Master for a small Port, it involves hands-on operation with a large variety of different sized vessels on a routine basis

What has been the most memorable Workboat experience so far?

So many to choose from! But, there are a few highlights;

Once I was guided by a VTS authority to a large object adrift in hazy conditions by their radar. We duly assessed that it was a large ships mooring buoy that was loose, we conducted a retrieval operation of the buoy as it was risk to shipping.

Similarly, another VTS warned us one day, of a large piece of timber spotted by a small vessel adrift in a major harbour. We offered to recover it, which they accepted, and it ended up becoming the large feature lintel over our fireplace in the new house I was building at the time!

An ongoing experience I get great pleasure from, is seeing younger crews and career starters gain valuable skills and confidence through my (and other peers) guidance and instruction.

Do you find it easy to transfer skills across the various sectors of the maritime industry you are involved in?

With some caution, yes.  For example, one particular technician I remember being a regular passenger onboard one of my vessel, taught me everything I needed to know about carrying out lifting operations safely. His clear precise attitude, his toolbox talks, coaching, energy and his dedication to the operation is something I often use and have never forgotten.

It comes back to my statement earlier about meeting and working (and learning) from people you respect.  Only when you have worked with someone who has confidently and clearly shown you a new skill, can you start to implement it.

What advice could you offer any persons looking to go self-employed within the water-based maritime industry?

Self-employment in the marine industry is (I think), becoming less popular. As the workboat industry continues to mature, I have seen more companies employing crews as full time employees rather than contractors or sole proprietors/ sole traders. Offering services under a limited company, with associated liability insurance, has been a requirement in obtaining work in the past, but that has in my eyes ‘evolved’ rather than being a planned event.

Think carefully before jumping into self-employment, especially if you have domestic financial commitments. But, I am proud of Alphasea and what it [I] has achieved over the years. If anyone wants the challenge of self-employment, then “nothing succeeds like success!”.

Member Profile: Chris Stopford, Alphasea Marine