Mike Bullock Sea Views

Who are you

My name is Mike Bullock. I joined the Royal Navy straight from school when I was 18 and worked in a submarine as well as surface ships including an aircraft carrier. My naval career took me across the world and I even worked in the United States for six years. I am now the boss of the Northern Lighthouse Board whose job is to provide lighthouses, buoys, beacons and radio systems to help ensure safe navigation of all vessels around the coast of Scotland and the Isle of Man. This helps protect lives and the environment by preventing accidents at sea. We have two ships, a helicopter and around 200 people in our team.

What was your first experience of working?

I got my first Saturday job when I was 14. The job was helping deliver furniture including wardrobes and sofas, in my home city of Liverpool. Quite a lot of our customers lived in tall blocks of flats and the lifts never seemed to work!

What is your earliest memory of being on or close to the sea?

My grandad was a Chief Steward on a ship called AUREOL that took passengers from the UK to Africa. I remember visiting him on the ship with my mum and dad when I was about five and in particular going into the ship’s galley (kitchen) and seeing bread being made.

Who or what first attracted you to the sea?

I would often be with my dad when he drove his car along Liverpool’s Dock Road at night. I remember seeing all the ships loading and unloading their cargo. The names and home ports of the ships were lit up and my dad would read them out to me. Places like New York, Barbados, Monrovia, Trieste, Marseille, Tokyo, Hamburg all seemed so exciting and exotic. I was fascinated by the thought that the ships had travelled from across the world bringing everything from bananas to cars and I wondered what it would be like at the places the ships had come from.

Do you have a favourite sea story or book or poem?

My favourite book is the “The Cruel Sea” by Nicholas Monsarrat which tells the story of ordinary people overcoming the hardships of life at sea in a small Royal Navy ship operating in the Atlantic during the Second World War.

Who do you most admire for what they did at sea?

Now I’m in the lighthouse business, I realise how much all sailors owe to the engineers who built lighthouses in some of the most difficult places. Two hundred years ago a man called Robert Stevenson built many of Scotland’s most famous Lighthouses. His work has saved countless lives and still does, as many of the lighthouses he built continue to operate today.

What lessons have you learned about the world of work?

There are two key things I have learnt. First is making sure that whatever you choose to do as a job it is something that you enjoy. Second is respecting the people you work with – if you treat people fairly they will do the same in return.

Why should we care about the sea and have you had a wildlife encounter there that you’ll never forget?

The sea is like the lungs of the earth providing oxygen, absorbing carbon dioxide, and is the home to some amazing creatures. It is therefore vital we look after it by preventing pollution and overfishing. My best experience of wildlife was on the Island of Jura when I was standing by one of our small lighthouses right on the edge of the water and a sea otter went slowly past me doing the backstroke. This beautiful animal was no more than two metres from me and was clearly not worried in the slightest that I was there.

If you could be the captain of any yacht or ship, past or present, which would it be?

I love the glamour of the liners that sailed between Europe and the America in the 1930s. When my children were little, as part of a summer holiday, we stayed onboard RMS QUEEN MARY which is now a hotel in Long Beach California. The ship is huge and is an absolute beauty and it would have been amazing to have been her Captain.

Where in the world do you most like to be at, on or near the sea?

I particularly like being in the Caribbean. Each of the island Nations has its own very distinct personality and character and the colour of the sea is fabulous turquoise blue.

What do you know now about the sea and working life that you wish you had known before you left primary school?

There were plenty of kids at myschool who were smarter than me who went on to have very successful careers ashore and I guess I could have done something similar. ButI’m so glad that instead I chose to go to sea. I have seen and done extraordinary things that my school friends couldn’t even imagine sitting in their office jobs. What’s more it has given me unexpected opportunities who would have thought that I would end up looking after Lighthouses!