‘I’m back where I fell in love with the sea’

The Queen's Harbour Master Commander Nigel Hare
The Queen's Harbour Master Commander Nigel Hare
Picture: Shutterstock

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As a young boy, Nigel Hare would go on family holidays to the Isle of Wight and look out across the Solent from the ferry.

It was something about the sea which excited his boyish sense of adventure.

He dreamed of boldly sailing over the horizon to a world far removed from the Portsmouth shore, a world full of possibilities and places he knew nothing of.

So it is not surprising that when he grew up he joined the Royal Navy.

But what is peculiar is that young boy who gazed out from a ferry in Portsmouth Harbour ended up in charge of everything he could see in the water.

After 30 years in uniform, Commander Hare’s career has gone full-circle.

His last post before retiring next year is as the Queen’s Harbour Master of Portsmouth – a job which is responsible for over 100,000 shipping movements a year.

From his office at Semaphore Tower in Portsmouth Naval Base, which has commanding views of the harbour, he says: ‘There’s a certain irony that I’m QHM here at the end of my career when it was here many years ago that I first fell in love with the sea.’

Cdr Hare and his 28-strong team keep track of all shipping movements in and out of Portsmouth Harbour and beyond into the Solent.

His primary role is to protect the home of the Royal Navy and he has the power to shut the whole area down at any given moment.

It’s a job steeped in history and traces its origins back to the sailing days of the 17th century.

‘It’s a huge honour,’ says Cdr Hare, 51.

‘This is my last job in the navy and I asked to come here because it’s one of the most fascinating places to be. It’s not just about dealing with the navy, it’s all the commercial traffic as well.

‘One of the reasons why it’s such a great job is it’s so linked to the community.

‘It’s such an important role in the community because I’m very conscious people are running businesses here.

‘While I’m here to protect the dockyard port, I’m also here as someone who can help commercial interests in the harbour as well. It’s a real balancing act.’

Cdr Hare took up the prestigious role earlier this year after three decades at sea.

He joined the navy in 1980 as an artificer rating, but was soon commissioned and became an officer specialising in navigation.

The QHM role is much coveted among specialist navigators in the navy.

‘I asked about five years ago and I suppose I just kept asking until I got it,’ says Cdr Hare, who lives with his wife and two children in Hampshire.

‘The specialist navigator branch is not that large and the job of QHM is one of the top roles you can do within the specialist navigation branch. That’s why it’s always appealed to me.

‘The fact is it’s so varied and I have had a whole career in maritime environment. It’s now rewarding to put some of that experience into running a port.

‘It’s very challenging but that’s another reason I wanted to do it.’

After arriving as the new QHM in January, Cdr Hare has had a lot to take in. He is in charge of everything from all the naval coming and goings, the ferries, cargo shipping and recreational yachts, as well as policing the shipping lanes and enforcing fishing restrictions in the harbour.

He says: ‘It’s been a very steep learning curve. Whilst I’ve got 30 years’ worth of experience in a maritime environment, there’s a lot of very different facets to this job you need to understand.

‘I’m lucky that I’ve got a hugely experienced team around me, so much of the first few months was learning and understanding the extent of the role.’

But for a man with so much on his plate, Cdr Hare still finds time to coach his 16-year-old son’s football team and pursue his love of the guitar. Until recently, he was lead guitarist in a rock covers band made up of people he worked with at HMS Excellent.

He says: ‘The band was called Anti-Flash after the safety clothing the navy wears at action stations – no we didn’t wear it on stage.

‘That was going for about a year. It was great fun but sadly everyone has now dispersed, such is the transient nature of the military.

‘We aim to play again at Christmas if we can get enough of us together.’