BANGOR SKIPPER AND LONG-TIME RNLI VOLUNTEER AWARDED MBE

DAVID Eccles has capped a life on the open wave by becoming an MBE.

The 67 year-old is the captain of the Queen of Ulster, a Bangor-berthed vessel that’s vital for the protection of the fishing industry and the environment around the Irish Sea.

Just this week, the boat headed out to check that clam fishermen are obeying strict rules designed to prevent overfishing, and journeyed up to the north coast on a mission to retrieve high-tech instruments monitoring the sea bed.

That’s just everyday life for David, who with his crew can often be out to sea for up to seven days at a time.

The Queen of Ulster has been his home away from home for the last 14 years, so he has to be happy with his ship.

In fact, David was involved in designing the vessel, meaning it exactly matches what experience has told him is needed for his missions.

“I worked with the shipbuilders in Estonia on this,” he says, joking that its maiden voyage proved nerve-wracking as a result.

“I thought, have I got that part in the right place? Will the guys complain that I should have put things somewhere else? I’ve only got myself to blame here.

“But she’s served us well alright.”

David started his career as a fisherman before, in his words, jumping the fence to work with what’s now the Department of Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs in protection and enforcement.

He’s also a long-time volunteer with Bangor’s lifeboat.

He has been awarded his MBE for services to fisheries, the environment and maritime safety, but he admits that he didn’t believe the news when he first learned he was getting the gong.

“A woman from the cabinet office phoned me while I was walking to work,” he says.

“She told me they wanted to give me an MBE and had been trying to email me, but it was bouncing back. She wanted me to hand over contact details over the phone; honestly, I thought it was a scam.”

He’s quick to dedicate the award to his crew, stating that they’ve been invaluable to his success.

“It’s like the old saying goes, there’s no ‘i’ in team,” he says. “A skipper needs a crew and a crew needs a skipper, I couldn’t do it without them.”

His wife and two children are over the moon with his gong, says David, adding that he’s looking forward to taking his wife to Buckingham Palace for his formal investiture proceedings.

“For me, that’ll be a once in a lifetime occasion,” he says.