Harbour Master Sailing Challenge

Mark Ashley Miller’s day job is a little different to the rest of us. He’s on a mission to sail around Great Britain and visit every harbour master in the UK and Ireland on his way. He spoke to Rosie Paterson about the inspiration behind his journey.

Mark always dreamed of owning a yacht—something he realised immediately after he and his wife, Fiona, sold their e-commerce company, The Present Finder—and sailing around the British coastline.
Initially, he planned to visit every pub or Church visible from the sea, eventually settling on his current mission: to visit every harbour master. He is 18 months into the five year odyssey, raising money for Seafarers UK along the way.
The charity—previously the King George’s Fund for Sailors—supports seafarers and their families across the marine community. Mark has suffered with depression in the past, and was and is impressed by their continued work supporting men’s mental health issues.

The anchorage off Port An Eilean, Handa Island, where Mark spoke to Country Life from

He learned to sail as a child growing up in the Norfolk Broads and cemented his skills in the army (pre-Present Finder). However, he says that meticulous day-to-day planning is the key to success. ‘A typical day starts with interviewing a Harbour Master—often in their office which usually has a spectacular view of their harbour. Imagine Milford Haven with its vast view of oil tankers, Conwy with its dramatic castle or Mevagissey and its classic fishing fleet.’
‘I then try and get going, sailing towards the next harbour, maybe via a scenic anchorage. In the evening I spend time writing up my interview notes for my book and posting them on Instagram. I try and email each Harbour Master about a week before I arrive. Before I go to bed I try and prepare the passage for the next day which centres on the weather, tides and of course the direction of the wind. I go to bed very tired.’

Mark with the harbour master at Newlyn, Rob Parsons

Despite the constant hard work, there have been multiple highlights: the harbour master at Newlyn, who sheltered Mark from a long storm; taking part in an at-sea rescue mission in Clovelly; sailing sideways at 13 knots up the River Severn; visiting Glasson Docks, unchanged since Victorian times; the harbour master at Faslane, who controls the passage of our nuclear deterrent submarines.

The intrepid sailor has also learned an awful lot about British history and the fishing industry. ‘Did you know that most fish landed in the UK gets immediately exported to Europe or China?’ I did not. ‘I am very wary of fishermen,’ he jokes. ‘On entering Newlyn one shouted at me, “where are you from?” When I said Dorset, he replied, “we eat people from Dorset.” ‘
Mark is currently at sea in Scotland, relatively unperturbed by recent events. ‘It is easy to remain socially distanced when at sea!’ He says. Does he have any advice for those of us sitting at home? ‘If you have a dream, plan it now and then do it! Don’t get to the end of your life and regret the things you have not done.’
Go to office uniform
My sailing dungarees, with a specially adapted zip so I can pee over the side of the boat!
Work soundtrack
Nothing, unless I have my children on board. They don’t seem to be able do anything without loud music playing.
Messy or tidy desk (deck)?
A tidy chart table where I can spread my charts, pilot books and tidal atlases. My crew get in trouble if they drop crumbs!
Best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Change your career every ten years for an interesting life.
Instagram hero
Recently, a team of four young rowers circumnavigating Great Britain unsupported, who we bumped into (not literally) off Skye.