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Only the dead fish go with the flow!

By Stuart Ballantyne - posted Wednesday, 1 April 2020

"Just a sailor" I tell people when they ask what I do. Upon reflection it was a superb training in leadership. I managed at 16 to obtain a cadetship at sea, ending up for all of my four years training on a passenger cargo ship running between Geelong, Melbourne and the Pacific Islands of Nauru and Ocean Island, and occasionally NZ.

This ship "Triaster" had 81 crew and 48 passengers, and carried all the lifeline stores, fuel and passengers to the islands bringing phosphate and passengers back.

As a deck cadet I was trained in the wide vision scope of navigation, ship construction, stability, meteorology, seamanship, cargo handling and advanced first aid on my first step to becoming a Captain. Some of my friends ended up in more focussed, almost "myopic" careers in dentristry and accounting.


At sea I was taught to eliminate threats and to react with quick decision-making and work shifts around the clock, even through storms. Nurses are similar and interestingly many of my seafaring friends married nurses.

One strange life lesson I learnt at Nauru, was during the westerly winds when the ship could not tie up to the mooring buoys and had to "drift", as the water was too deep to anchor. Within 3 days of drifting, the crew started to become unhinged, day 5 they were at each other's throats, despite being on wages.

Luckily being the only passenger ship on the trade we had some priority and drifting didn't happen often, thank goodness. A kindergarten teacher friend told me at the time that if you don't keep the kids busy they will quickly degenerate into fighting.

After 7 years at sea, including many seriously frightening storms, I left the sea to study Naval Architecture in Scotland, subsidising my meagre lifestyle by driving a taxi in Clydebank at weekends. This was 1971.

At that time the shipbuilding industry was decimated by PM Ted Heath's decision to close the Upper Clyde Shipyards which threw many thousands of people out of a job. Despite a safety network of the dole, within days, the robberies, domestic violence, suicides, home invasions and general disorder spiked unbelievably. There is an old Scottish saying "When poverty comes in the door, love flies out the window". I was astounded at the speed of this social collapse.

In 1976 I started my own company in Queensland, a one man band with wide vision that my years at sea had instilled in me. Captain of my own ship no less !.


In 1989 a greedy bank sucking 22% on my overdraft "NABbed" me despite a 13 year unblemished record of growth. But I wasn't Robinson Crusoe and Labor's Paul Keating "Recession we had to have" decimated a record number of small businesses, the hardest working Australians, with thousands out of work.

Again, despite the dole being available, there was a spike in social disorder, domestic violence, home invasions and suicides including 2 friends of mine.

With 4 kids at school and a big dog that ate more than the kids, despite a meagre dole allowance, my wife and I restarted the company. Captain of a much smaller command, this time eliminating the threat of banks, and rebuilding slowly without any debt.

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About the Author

Stuart Ballantyne is just a sailor who runs Seat Transport Solutions who are naval architects, consultants, surveyors and project managers.

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