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Title: The Pilot Service of Port Jackson
Author: John Arthur Barry
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1302111.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2013
Date most recently updated: May 2013

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Title: The Pilot Service of Port Jackson
Author: John Arthur Barry

* * *

The Pilot Service of Port Jackson
John Arthur Barry

(Author of "The Luck of the Native Born," "A Son of the Sea," "In the
Great Deep," "Steve Brown's Bunyip," etc )


Published in the Australian Town and Country Jornal (NSW)
Saturday, May 17, 1902

* * *

A fine, sunny, clear day, Watson's Bay, and the pilot steamer Captain
Cook, in which we are bound for a short cruise, lying quietly at her
buoy. In answer to a signal a boat puts off, and in a few more minutes
we are on the steamer's deck; in two more, after a cordial welcome
from Captain Chudleigh, the "Cook" glides gently out to sea, through
the broad gateway of the Port. It is an ideal day; blue water and blue
sky; the great, weather-worn rocks that guard the portal of the harbor
glow warmly with patches of rich, red color, while around their feet,
for there is a swell on, plays a creaming fringe of foam. Coasting
steamers and ketches are coming and going; but nothing big in the
way of inward-bound ships is as yet in sight, which fact is rather
disappointing, inasmuch as we have come to see for ourselves what the
routine of pilot-life is like. But later on comes compensation.

The men are busy cleaning and painting, and the skipper takes the wheel
and talks--talks well and entertainingly, as one of the "great and noble
craft of the seafarer" to his aforetime brethren. Meanwhile, he handles
his ship like a top, takes us in and out, to and fro, right to the edge
of the white water, round the grim North Head, and back past the "Gap,"
and the spot where the fated Dunbar went to her doom. Aft, a silent,
brown-faced pilot paces, with regular quarter-deck steps, and an
expectant eye glancing every now and again towards the signal staff on
the South Head.

"Regular picnic work this piloting business," one remarks tentatively,
voicing the opinion of "the man in the street."

"So folk seem to think," replies the skipper, with an appreciative
smile, backed by another from the pilot, who has just joined us on the
bridge. "And so it would be if it were all like this. But what about
the pitch-dark nights, with a S.E. gale, blowing big guns, rain driving
in thick squalls, and a scared foreigner burning blue lights and
sending up rockets for a pilot off Botany, and not knowing where he is
any more than the man in the moon. You should come out with us at a
time like that to see what piloting really is! It's then that a man
wants all his nerve and strength and skill. A false step, a slip
between boat and ship rolling and pitching in a heavy sea, and a broken
limb is the least one has to look forward to. No, it's not all beer and

Just at that moment a three-flag hoist appears on the staff at the
Signal Station, and is quickly deciphered to mean that a large steamer
is coming in from the north, and is now twenty miles distant.

This means business, so we steam back to the Bay with the signal flying
for another pilot. Presently he comes on board, and we make out again
to wait for the expected arrival. As showing the amount of work
performed, and, incidentally the amount of money earned for the State
by its pilot service, it interests us to learn that during the last six
months the average number of vessels taking pilots was a little over
100; on one occasion the tally rose to 125 for a single month. A record
performance was the serving of 14 ships in 24 hours. It will thus be
easily seen that the six pilots on the station must have their hands
pretty full. In a busy time they see little of their homes ashore, and
the captain very much less. Indeed, not long before our visit he only
spent one night at home out of seven. Otherwise there appears nothing
to complain of. While tossing about outside waiting for the incoming
ship it seems a good time to take a closer look over the Captain Cook.
On deck she is as spick and span as paint and elbow-grease can make
her--a fine roomy boat, too, with plenty of beam, and evidently from her
searchlight to her powerful pumps well adapted for the business she was
built for. Her boats are a pleasure to look at, and a greater pleasure
still to see put into the water and plucked out of it. Of which,
however, more anon. On the after-davit of each is an electric lamp
under a shade, an idea of the captain's, by which, on the darkest
nights, the space immediately around is rendered as light as day.
Below, the vessel is well and plainly fitted, with berths forward for
the pilots and officers, and a snug saloon aft--no embroidery or
gingerbread work, but just what is wanted for the rough dusting she
very often gets, especially during the winter months.

Masters of oversea ships trading to or visiting Port Jackson have ever
been warm in their praise of the way the pilot service is conducted,
both by the Captain Cook and all connected with her. As for the pilots
and the master, they do their duty as a matter of course, and do it
well. As for the ship, all she requires to make her perfect, is, one
judges, an alteration in her steam steering gear, and twin screws.

Dinner, and no sign of the "large steamer distant twenty miles," at
least three hours ago. Soup disposed of quickly in the swell, and with
the fiddles on the table, is followed by a round of corned beef, with
"trimmings;" a baked currant pie that is a poem in itself, and a credit
to the cook. On deck again, and we see close aboard a big lump of a
5000-ton tramp flying light; funnel painted with the red and yellow
colors of Spain, but with the British ensign fluttering over her
taffrail, and the signals for a pilot between her pole-masts.

She rolls solemnly In the long swell, her lofty sides towering above us
like the walls of a warehouse, at times showing her bottom green with
trailing sea vegetation. Dark faces on her bridge, and darker ones
staring at us from the foc'sle head. Our skipper takes his vessel as
close as possible, which is very close indeed--a business requiring a
quick eye and steady nerves. A few sharp orders, and men hurl
themselves at a boat. Before you can wink she is in the water, the
pilot jumps into her, and she is pulling for the big ship to where,
adown her precipitous sides, swings a rope ladder. Another wink or two,
and we see the pilot, like a Tivoli acrobat, clinging to the swaying
ladder. A final wink, and he is on the tramp's bridge and our boat is
at her own davits--altogether as smart a bit of work as ever delighted a
seaman's heart.

Then the Spanish-Britisher turns slowly on her heel and makes off in
between the ocean gate posts of the harbor for Sydney, and the dock
that she is so evidently in need of.

"Twenty pounds," says the captain, as we slip in ahead of her, "is what
it costs him for pilotage. That's the maximum for any ship. Two pounds
ten's the minimum charge. Coasters are exempt; so are some deep-sea
men; but when their time expires there will be no more renewals, and
all such fish will, perforce, have to come into our net. More work, of
course; but also more revenue for the State Treasury." By the way, one
of our pilots--it must be remembered that we still have a spare one on
board--remarked that, aforetime, when the dues were 4d per ton, he alone
had earned for the State nearly 5000 during the year. It should be
here mentioned that all these men are passed masters of the mercantile
marine, clever, and experienced seamen, and long accustomed to command
both in steam and under canvas.

A word as to the ingenious system for night signalling in practice.
Warned from the South Head Station that a ship is asking for a pilot
somewhere ouitside, the Captain Cook slips her moorings, and puts to
sea. A long flash from the station indicates, say, that the vessel is
to the southward; this of course is vague, but two lamps in a line give
compass bearings; for distance, a light obscured and released so many
times will show the number of miles, the whole process furnishing
sufficient data to go upon in any weather.

Off Bradleys we meet a "minimum" (a 2 10s ship), a little, grotesque
Norwegian steamer, with her funnel stuck right astern, three masts, and
a bow like a whaler's. But, all the same, she has to be attended to. So
we put a pilot on her, and kept a motherly eye on her down the western
channel, which she negotiated at her top speed of some four knots an
hour. It seemed absurd that she should require pilotage at all; still,
the revenue gained by fifty shillings. Back to the buoy again after
taking our pilot off the Norwegian, and, no signals appearing at the
station, we made fast in about three minutes--everything connected with
the pilot service is nothing if not "quick and lively." The
'Carrington--a smart steam launch attached to the pilot steamer--we found
ready to take us up to town; and we took leave of the Captain Cook and
her ship's company, thoroughly convinced that both of them are not only
the right men and the right ship for their business, but that they both
deserve well of the State, the general public, and more particularly of
the whole seafaring community.


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