Commander of QE2 is now skipper on a Union Canal barge

Nick Bates on his barge
Nick Bates on his barge
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HE has 45 years of experience at sea, captaining ships like the QE2 and the QM2, plus a Masters Ticket allowing him to sail into any port and across any ocean.

But Captain Nick Bates wasn’t allowed to cut corners when it came to obtaining his newest qualification – skipper on a canal barge carrying 12 passengers.

Captain Bates made the move from commanding some of the world’s most prestigious vessels to taking charge of a tiny canal barge after his retirement two years ago.

And now, instead of ferrying thousands of passengers across vast oceans he runs trips with The Seagull Trust, a charity providing free canal cruises to the elderly, others with special needs, and their carers.

The cruises begin in Ratho and can go all the way to Bo’ness, taking in local cultural sites and crossing Almond Aqueduct, 23m (76ft) above the River Almond.

Captain Bates told the Evening News: “When I retired two years ago I realised I still had a fondness for the sea and people said The Seagull Trust was always looking for 

“I got in touch and told them I didn’t expect my CV to pull strings for me – I was happy to make the coffees and throw the ropes ashore.

“That was about two years ago, but I recently asked when I could have a go as skipper.

“I admit I was rather surprised when they told me I’m not qualified, despite the fact that before I retired I was allowed to captain any ship, anywhere in the world. Apparently that didn’t apply to the Union Canal!”

Having passed the exams required to become a skipper, Captain Bates is now working towards his licence to operate barges with a larger passenger number – though he does have one reservation.

“Once I’ve finished I will be a Barge Master – I would be more enthusiastic about it if it weren’t for my surname!”

In the meantime, he’s happy getting to grips with his role as skipper, which comes with one major responsibility.

“You have to bring the milk for the tea and you’re not a popular man if you forget,” he said.

“Luckily the one time I did forget there was powdered milk in the cupboard. Still got a 
ribbing though.”

The 64-year-old revealed he has also been busy since retirement, and his other charity work includes volunteering for Care and Repair, an organisation providing an odd-job service for over-65s and those with special needs.

“We also have a cup of tea and a chat with them once the work is done, which can be almost as important as the repairs themselves.”

In addition to having recently taken up watercolours, any proceeds from which he donates to charity, Captain Bates is one of the founders of The Dog Trust, an online magazine helping those walking their dogs around the city become more than nodding acquaintances.

“We all meet up for a few drinks once a month – but we leave the dogs at home.”

And since writing his book – A Pinch of Salt, which interprets everyday expressions originating from the maritime industry – Captain Bates has become a popular after-dinner speaker at venues up and down the UK.