Master Mariner John Harbord delivered the most fascinating and entertaining talk relating to his long and successful career in the Merchant Navy to Vaga Probus on April 25th.

His talk provided insight into the unique world of those who spend their working lives at sea for often months at a time.

Although John’s family are local farmers his life took a very different turn when he attended HMS Conway the Merchant Navy’s Cadet School (which no longer exists) where he experienced a very strict level of discipline designed to prepare him for his future role at an officer.

It was in 1969 that he first went to sea as a cadet to continue his training by way of hands on experience. He explained that at that time Britain had a very sizable Merchant Navy employing no fewer than 80,000 officers and 120,000 ratings, operating hundreds of ships.

He explained that time in ports would be a minimum of days and sometimes a matter of weeks as everything was loaded and unloaded by hand, with no containerisation in those days.

John talked us through the various companies for whom he worked and the ships on which he served as he went through the officer ranks.

He enthralled the members with various stories which included a fire, medical emergencies involving the crew, an incident when his ship was in danger due to bad weather and much more.

Some of the ships on which he served also carried passengers which sometimes included celebrities, all of which brought additional responsibilities.

Time did not allow John to cover his entire career, so the club will be inviting him back to tell us more!

Vaga Probus is a men’s group that meets twice a month in Ross. Visitors are very welcome, if you have an interest in visiting or indeed have a talk you would like to deliver, please contact the Secretary on [email protected]. Further details are on the website at