In praise of Neil Gates

A huge amount of stuff gets posted here about the late 80s and the end of the offshore era, and amidst all the tales of who did what to who, which ship was owned by which mystery backer etc, we can sometimes get the impression that everything was all conflict all the time, and not like the great eras of older days.

And true, while there was some of that, there was also a lifetime's worth of magical times, fun, adventure, and friendships forged.

I must have worked with more than a hundred people in my time with the ship at sea, many, many of them wonderful people.

Of all of those, one of the most hardworking, solid, dependable, loyal and true people was Neil Gates.

In his early days with Caroline I was his Programme Controller and he was a new presenter, in the last months in 1991 he was in charge of the ship and I was just a crewmember, and I can honestly say that he didn't treat me any differently in either situation. Neil was a giant to me, a person that I would come to depend on for so many things, as whatever I asked him to do, or whatever needed to be done, he would always do it, quietly, professionally, and without complaining.

He worked himself half to death in the hard times, and could always be relied upon to finish whatever he started.

He had a great belief in what Caroline was trying to do, and would debate endlessly ways to improve the station, and make life better for those on it.

We shared a frightening few moments when we thought we were staring death in the face on the Goodwin Sands in November 1991, when we so honestly believed the ship would capsize before the helicopter came that we shook hands and said goodbye.

It's a moment I will never forget.

The fact that he was both the last broadcaster offshore, and part of the final crew is no accident: he stayed to the bitter end, because that was who he was.

It's great to see that Neil is still around, and still passionate about what he believes in. I'm old now, and very settled and building a life in Ireland, so I can't take part in his plans, but I can tell you this: if you are a person who is considering embarking on this kind of adventure, you will find no better leader, no braver general, no better friend than Neil.

I don't think I ever told him that at the time (men didn't talk in the 80s!!!), but I would say to him now: Neil, you were one of the good guys of Caroline, and I'm proud to have worked with you on the Ross.

Steve Conway