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Captain Alec Provan – Extra Master Mariner
by John M. MacFarlane 2011
Alec Provan’s father was a Chemical Engineer who worked with the Burmah Oil Company (later with the Assam Oil company in India). Provan started out on his marine career as a Sea Cadet. The sea Cadets in his Scottish town shared the use of a beautiful sailing schooner, the Prince Louis, with the Gordonstoun School. The Prince Louis had been a Pilot Cutter on the Elbe River and Alec experienced two long voyages – one to Hamburg and the other to Norway. He also participated in the 1953 Spithead Naval Review as one of the crew of the Salt Horse, a small ketch–rigged training vessel.
Sea Cadets with the Prince Louis
Alec and his brother Donald (Alec already in command)
While at Gordonstoun he took a Pre–Sea Course which helped to count his sea time for his apprenticeship. Students graduating from the course tended to join the Blue Funnel Line or Shell Tankers. Provan chose Shell and went to sea in October 1953 in a T–2 Class tanker. His whole apprenticeship was in tankers where ever oil was produced or needed. He sailed between Curacao and Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, to the Persian Gulf, Indonesia and Malaysia. The oil terminals were usually in remote industrial locations – not the exotic settings that other mariners may have experienced.
In 1955 he won the Shell Fleet Apprentice Award as Most Proficient in the Shell Tanker Fleet.
While at sea he took Merchant Navy Training Board correspondence courses which were worked on between watches. He says that the officers took an interest in the apprentices and provided actual training. He worked on the bridge, doing maintenance work (chipping rust and painting) and canvas work (which he enjoyed). The ships were tramping so voyages lasting 12–16 months might take him to a wide variety of destinations. On completion of his apprenticeship he went back to school for his Second Mates ticket at Glasgow Technical College. Later he qualified as a First Mate at Aberdeen. In 1962 he completed the exams leading to his Master Mariners ticket still working for Shell Tankers.
It is not very often that you run into someone with an Extra Master’s Ticket. Alec tells me that it is mainly a UK designation that is useful for mariners wishing to hold positions as an Examiner, Inspector or Surveyor – or to instruct in a Nautical Institute. In August 1963 he achieved that qualification and was able to accept an offer to teach at the Newfoundland College of Fisheries, managing the Pre–Sea Course. He spent 11 years at the College in the Department of Nautical Science.
In 1976 he moved to Ottawa to work with Transport Canada in Vessel Traffic Management as a Training Officer. He was exposed to a range of positions there ranging from Navigation Advisor to the Head of Aids and Waterways. Working in Ottawa was frustrating and when the Arctic oil boom started there were opportunities to go back to sea.During the Beaufort Sea oil exploration boom Transport Canada thought it would be a good idea to find out what conditions were like and what was going on in the Arctic during the frantic search for oil that occurred in the late 1970s. No one really showed much interest in going north, but Alec saw adventure and challenge. He took a leave of absence to work with Dome Petroleum’s Canmar shipping. He worked as a Second Mate in a large drill ship (the Canmar Explorer III). Later he was appointed as Mate. It was exciting work he recalls, but it was at the peak of activity and the work only lasted for two drilling seasons before the boom was over.
After the adventure of working with Canmar Shipping the prospect of going back to Ottawa seemed less than interesting. Provan took a job as Mate in the CCGC George Darby on the Pacific. She was involved in search and rescue, checking fixed and floating aids to navigation and delivering supplies to the light stations. He was also the Relieving Master. Then he moved to R-Class cutters based in Victoria doing Search and Rescue work. He enjoyed this work very much showing his love of ships and commanding them in operations.
In 1985 he moved ashore again as District Supervisor of Operations and Transportation in Victoria. He moved on to Saint John New Brunswick in 1987 as District Aids to Navigation Superintendent. In 1989 he moved back to Victoria when he was appointed District Manager, replacing Larry Slaght who retired. The District Manager position was always a key one on the Pacific Coast, but Coast Guard re-organization resulted in a transfer of authority to officials based in Vancouver. The transfer of Coast Guard from Transport Canada to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans resulted in an opportunity to work with the Responsible Fishing Division, based in Ottawa. Reporting directly to the Superintendent in Ottawa, he promoted initiatives for responsible and sustainable fishing in B.C. waters.
Victoria Coast Guard
After his retirement from the Coast Guard, in 1997, he went back to sea as the Master of a whale watching vessel based out of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. He skippered the Wildcat, a large whale watching vessel capable of speeds up to 40 knots. He worked for Bob Wright for three seasons as the Master of the Charlotte Princess, a floating luxury fishing resort based at Langara Island in the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Wildcat Cruising at 40 knots
He has enjoyed his career and experienced the sea in way many of us imagine it in its exotic and romantic terms. One can only envy the breadth and depth of his career. He also saw it into the realities of the 21st Century at all levels of the industry. He credits his early education - his courses in English and mathematics to providing an essential foundation to his career. He also mentions ‘lifelong learning’ and enhancement of his knowledge and experience in all things maritime – keeping up to date through his contact with other Victoria members of the Company of Master Mariners of Canada. In his spare time he makes frequent visits to Senior Homes, schools, etc with his pet llama ‘Inca Warrior’, a registered therapy animal (Pacific Animal Therapy Society).
To quote from this article please cite:
MacFarlane, John M. (2012) Captain Alec Provan – Extra Master Mariner. Nauticapedia.ca 2012. http://nauticapedia.ca/Gallery/Provan_Alec.php