Saturday, 1 September 2012


About eighteen months ago I was captain of a ship called the Swanland. It was a smallish bulk carrier, carrying a full cargo of about 3,000 metric tons and trading mostly around the British coast and Ireland.

On one short trip from Raynes Jetty in Colwyn Bay, we took a cargo of limestone to Workington in the Lake District. Due there late in the evening and being completely unfamiliar with this port, I ordered a local pilot to meet us on arrival.

He duly arrived, climbing on board up a rope ladder from a pilot launch. A short broad man in his late fifties, he also seemed fairly taciturn but in the darkness of the ship’s wheelhouse, it was difficult to make him out and anyway we were only interest in getting the ship tied up alongside and the cargo discharged. The Swanland worked 24/7 (but fair's fair - they had us only do one cargo on Christmas day)

It wasn't an easy approach to Workington - the Swanland was about the maximum size for the port but the pilot did a brilliant job, swinging the ship completely round at the last moment before backing her through a lock with only a couple of feet clear on either side. We tied up in the tide free inner basin.

When we were all fast, I went into the chartroom to sign his docket and as he went to leave, idly asked was he going to stop at a pub on the way home.
"No," he replied, "I'm going straight home to change!" and then in the dim light of the chartroom, I saw he was soaking wet from head to foot.
"What happened?" I asked.
"Oh, I slipped off the ladder climbing down from the quay to the pilot boat. The rungs were icy. Went right under the hull but they fished me out," referring to the crew of the pilot launch.

I forgot to mention it was also snowing heavily. When he'd gone I went out onto the wing of the bridge to check the air temperature. 

It was minus seven centigrade.

I was going to write to the local paper about him - but never got round to it.

...and ten months later, long after I'd left, the Swanland broke up and sank in bad weather off the Welsh coast of Anglesey and six of the eight Russian crew drowned (you might remember it, there was a lot of publicity becasue Prince William was one of the helicopter pilots).

The owner, a proper little English gentleman from East Anglia with a Bertie Wooster stutter had stopped paying for maintenance to the hull - but that's another story.

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