Ewan McCuish.
Ewan McCuish.

Life With a skipper: ‘I’ll never tire of the stunning surroundings we are blessed with’

Ewan McCuish, Master on MV Coruisk, talks to us about life on the water, Scotland’s beauty, and how he fell in love with the sea. 


I have been fascinated with the sea since I was young. My Barra grandfather was a merchant seaman all his life and as we always spent our school holidays on Barra. It must have rubbed off on me. There was the adventure of the ferry trip on the old Claymore and once on the island there were always rafts to build, boats to row, uncles who had fishing boats that took you out to lift creels, playing on the shore picking up flotsam, watching ships go up and down the Minch, and listening to stories of life at sea. All this had me hooked. It was the only job I ever wanted to do.

I went off to sea at 16 years old after leaving Oban High School in June 1980. I went to the national Sea Training Collage in Gravesend, Kent for 14 weeks pre-sea training, which gets you ready for starting your life at sea. It was a real insight into the reality of being away from home and getting on with people you had never met, and the discipline required for life onboard ship.

‘I have been hooked on sea life since I was a boy’

I started off as a deck boy on my first ship, which was a refrigerated cargo ship called the Loch Lomond. The route ran from Europe to the Caribbean and South America then through the Panama Canal to the West Coast of the United States, then on to the Persian Gulf and South Africa, before getting home to Oban seven months later after arriving in London.

That was the beginning for me, I was hooked on sea life from then on. I spent the next nine years with various British Merchant Navy company’s travelling round the world and working my way through the ranks before getting started with Calmac in 1991.

I work on a two-weeks-on two-weeks-off rotation. We live onboard for the two weeks, so the typical day starts at 6am. Living onboard we are all catered for. Daily mealtimes for breakfast, lunch and dinner are set in stone and the crew work round them.

I have spent 35 years working on the west and north coast of Scotland, taking around 2,500 trips as skipper but I still never tire of the stunning surroundings we are blessed with. From sunrises and sunsets, to snow-capped mountains and beautiful white and golden beaches, no day is ever the same. The wildlife that we see from orca and humpback whales, dolphins and porpoises through to sea eagles and otters, is incredible and the list is endless. 

‘The Scottish elements can be a challenge’

Being in this job has given me the ability to do a lot of voluntary work in my time off. I was a crewmember of Oban RNLI lifeboat for 14 years which allowed me to put my seamanship skills to use in a totally different environment and to aid others, I was involved in starting up a Sea Cadet unit in Oban. It is a fantastic organisation that takes children from the age of 10 to 18 and teaches them maritime skills from sailing, kayaking, power boating, rowing and plenty of life skills. It was very rewarding seeing kids enjoying the water in a safe manner, several of the cadets from my unit also joined the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy as a career.

The challenging side of the job is mainly the elements. The west coast can be as rough and stormy as any other part of the world, and we can have long winters. Making decisions on whether to sail or altering the sailing times to dodge the worst of the weather becomes a near daily occurrence at times but we try our best to keep the best service possible for the islanders. I have had to administer CPR on a passenger who become unwell while onboard and that not something you want to have to repeat.

I am usually finished for 9pm which doesn’t leave much time for anything but put the feet up and watch a bit of TV or read a book to switch off for an hour before bed. 


Read more from the Life With series here.

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