Ship’s Log: Day Twenty Eight (Melbourne to Tilbury)

Twenty eighth day of the voyage: Savannah, Georgia. 400 for the pilot, 800 to berth, 1800 departure.

So now we are on the US east coast and here the pilots are more willing to talk, although I suspect they were immediately drawn to me since I was the only ‘native’ English speaker on the ship. In the dog watch hours (he came on board at 100) the river pilot boarded, preparing to guide the ship for about four hours up the Savanah River to the city of the same name. Intrigued about travelling so far when his job kept him to the end of the voyage, we talked of the sea and home, of destinations and plans – as one does at sea, I suppose.

As river pilot, his task was to protect the river itself, ensuring that the ship did not do anything too outrageous. Not so the ageing harbour pilot, who came on with the tug and guided the ship into its berth. In about fifteen minutes I had his life story, his politics, and his view of the world. He had done it all – tug captain, salvage captain, New York pilot, for 40 years – and took no shit – whether state terrorism security (‘what do you think, that I’m a terrorist’) – and felt both that Japanese ‘fishing boats’ had far too much surveillance equipment upon them and that container screening was pointless, since if you got caught smuggling you were really, really stupid.

But I also learned that the pilot is in constant contact with the tugs, checking distances, speeds and turns. And that American pilots occasionally accept cartons of cigarettes.


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