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Cape Cod Taking On A Pilot

When coming to a harbor, marine law required a sailing vessel or steamer to have aboard it a well experienced and licensed harbor pilot. It was his duty to take, over the handling and safe management of the vessel from the time he boarded her at the harbor entrance until she was securely made fast at her wharf or mooring.

Piloting was not only a necessity for large vessels unacquainted with the lay of the land, but highly competitive, and many an exciting race occurred when two or more pilot ships (usually schooners) would put on all sail down the harbor to reach an incoming vessel.

Sometimes putting a pilot aboard was an extremely dangerous maneuver, requiring expert seamanship, physical strength and endurance, and courage unlimited. The little pilot ship would come as close on the lee (“l’ooard”) side of the larger vessel as possible.

The waves might be large and the wind powerful, each vessel rising and falling, and pitching crazily, one down in the trough of two waves while the other was riding momentarily on the crest of another. Overboard would go the pilot’s small boat, and the approach would be made to the larger vessel’s Jacob’s ladder a rope-and-wood affair lowered overside for temporary use and with the oarsmen ready to fend the small boat off to avoid being crushed, the pilot would seize the side ropes of the ladder at exactly the right instant and a moment later be scrambling up the ship’s sides while the rowboat pulled away at once and headed back to the pilot ship. When taking a ship out of harbor, this process was reversed, the pilot’s big moment being the right one to spring from the ladder into the rising and falling rowboat below him.

This is still the case today, with many ports/harbors requiring ships to use harbor pilots. However in the “old days of sail” the pilot’s job was a bit more daring.

Strait Pilot Rough Seas Video
The video below is from Turkey and features some great harbor pilot footage and ships in rough seas.

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Cape Cod
Posted by Cape Cod - (website) on 09/25/08
Categories: BoatingHistory
Keywords: history, maritime, harbor pilot, video


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