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All change as pilot boat baton is passed on

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The recent christening of the Island’s newest pilot boat was a proud moment for four men who worked as pilots for decades.

Retirees John Kennedy, Keith Battersbee, David Darrell and Harold Millett spent an average of 37 years in the service.

Mr Kennedy, who broke a bottle of champagne over

St David’s bow as part of her official launch ceremony, spent 31 years in the service 29 as a pilot and the last two as the pilot warden.

“She’s much faster and should do the job very well,” he said. “I had a small run in her in St George’s Harbour and she seems to be a very nice boat. She can go a longer distance than the other pilot boats and can go out in more uncertain weather.”

Mr Battersbee, whose 15 years in the service makes him the longest serving pilot warden in the modern era, sees the 61-foot

St David as a welcome addition of the pilot boat fleet. Built by the Gladding-Hearn Shipyard in Somerset, Massachusetts she is the Island’s largest pilot boat to date.

“It’s a good investment, state-of-the-art, a good sound vessel and money well spent,’ said Mr Battersbee who retired in 2005 and then worked for about 18 months as a consultant.

Mr Battersbee says the pilot service was looking at more high-end pilot boats during his time as warden. “We were trying but we just weren’t able to get the funding at that time,” he said.

“In all fairness from that time to now they have made improvements so we benefited from those improvements by not purchasing at that time. Some of the stuff we used to ask for they considered it as being a luxury but how can it be a luxury if you are saving people’s lives?”

He recalled his years as a pilot as enjoyable ones.

“What made it easy for me was when I finished as pilot warden I was taken on as a consultant and was still shoulder to shoulder with the pilot service in a lot of respects. I was able to wind down without the abrupt leaving so it was a nice way of coming out [of regular work]. I’m still in touch with the pilots and the warden, we have a good rapport and I hope that will continue. Now and then they call and have a chat about this or that and I enjoy that.”

He added: “There is a younger crowd in there now and they are not afraid of change. You will find a younger pilot but that is not to say he doesn’t have the skills or the knowledge. In a lot of cases what he has to learn nowadays he perhaps knows more than the basic pilots years ago. On-the-job training never stops. One of my old instructors always said, ‘This is a job that once you get your licence you start to learn’.”

Mr Darrell’s career in the pilot service spanned from 1956 to 2000.

“They have come a long way over the years and you have to keep up with the times,” said the former senior branch pilot. “That’s not only for pilots but also search and rescue. That boat is handy for that.

“I retired just before the mega [cruise] ships started coming. I think it was 2001 when they started coming here, but I had been on them, a couple of pilots invited me on.

“I was proud to see some of the boys I helped to train handle those big ships. I’m very proud of my young pilots. When I retired I was glad to see the group of guys we had there. I was happy to go down there [at the

St David launch] and see the guys. It brought back memories being back down there. These are modern times and you have to keep up with the times. I enjoyed my 44 years on that job, I wouldn’t trade that.”

Neither would Mr Millett.

“I wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China,” he said. Mr Millett, who joined the service at the same time as Mr Darrell, reached the rank of deputy pilot warden.

“The boat is rather sophisticated compared to pilot boats of yesteryear that were wooden. The navigational aid that the present boat has is far superior to what the craft of yesteryear ever had. You get what you buy in the sense of technology. No doubt I would have enjoyed being a part of this modern era. The era I came through, the pilot boat crew and pilots who worked with the crew, that technology was far from their fingertips.

“It was an entirely different set of skills utilised in my era, we didn’t have the extensive training that today’s pilots have or are required to have. Today the pilots we have in our midst receive some of the finest training Bermuda would want them to have. I do miss the chatter of the pilots, but we keep in touch and often get an invitation to go on a ship.”

Today the baton has been passed on to a new crop of pilots led by pilot warden Rudolph Cann and deputy pilot warden Mario Thompson.

Mr Thompson started in the service in 1982 and has been a harbour pilot for 27 years. He worked under all four of the retirees.

“It’s a very highly regarded and a very close-knit group and you find all pilot fraternities operate the same, where the rank and file leaned upon the experience men,” he said.

“Guys of yesterday did things differently and that’s where the biggest paradigm is, that there is a lot of modern technology in the piloting trade, but that it is best to learn your trade from the grassroots up. You are better off for it. I was the first of the new crop of harbour pilots.”

Past pilots (left to right): David Darrell, John Kennedy, Harold Millett and Keith Battersbee stand on board the new pilot boat St. David in St. George's ( Photo by Glenn Tucker )
Deputy Pilot Warden Mario Thompson speaks during the christening of the Pilot Boat St David at Penno's Wharf in St George's ( Photo by Glenn Tucker )
The new pilot boat St. David cruises the St. George's Harbour

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Published March 01, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated March 01, 2012 at 7:37 am)

All change as pilot boat baton is passed on

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