Harbour master sets sail

Martin Willis
Martin Willis

Whitby’s harbour master has handed in his notice - but says it is nothing to do with a recent vote of no confidence in the town’s maritime infrastructure.

Captain Martin Willis is stepping down after two years at the helm and eight years as deputy harbour master.

This is just days after the vote and debate at the annual town assembly where harbour users slammed what they called the “derelict” state of the harbour and “a total lack of investment” from Scarborough Borough Council.

He said: “It is an opportunity that came along out of the blue, regardless of our friends in Free Whitby.

“Believe me I am not being forced out of any job, an opportunity came up three weeks ago and I had to make a very big decision. It is a step up career-wise.”

Capt Willis will leave his post on Thursday 21 April and take charge of the Port of Blyth which is just north of Newcastle where he will have responsibility for 1.5 million tonnes of cargo and ships weighing up to 30,000 tonnes.

Answering his critics about the state of the maritime industry in Whitby, Capt Willis blamed politics for the demise of the town’s fishing fleet – which he says is also the biggest change he has seen during his 10 years here.

He said: “There was a need to restock the fish after the 1980s and 1990s and bring in some sort of control.

“Quotas have never worked and everybody in fishing knows that.

“The fish are out there, the stock has been replenished but there seems to be a premeditated annihilation of the UK fishing fleet in comparison to our European partners – but that is politics.”

The other big change in Whitby, he says, has been the development of commercial fishing and pleasure boats and the setting up of the Whitby Harbour Board.

He added: “Whitby has always been popular as a seafaring destination but that has increased with the facilities we have put in.

“The rise of the pleasure industry has become a major part of what we do between Whitby and Scarborough. Whitby is a lot more visible these days than it was when I came here 10 years ago.”

Captain Ian Vasey, the deputy harbour master, will take temporary charge of the borough’s ports.