Delving Deeper, exploring the role of pilot boats in Halifax Harbour
Every day a steady stream of commercial and industrial ships sail in and out of the Halifax Harbour.
Cruise ships, oil rigs and giant container ships all frequent the port, but the bustling traffic and lucrative business wouldn’t be possible without pilot boats and their crews.
Ian Wallace is the captain of Chebucto Pilot. It’s owned and operated by the Atlantic Pilotage Authority, a crown company that regulates all marine pilotage in the region.
Wallace and his crew headed out for another day on the water. Near George’s Island, they meet another pilot boat crew that is guiding a container ship out of Newfoundland. Their high tech radar tracks it.
“This is all the information we have coming in right now on this vessel, the Oceanex Sanderling, which is going into Pier 36,” says marine pilot George Hilchie.
Hilchie’s job is to transfer from the pilot boat to the other, larger vessels and then he pilots them into the harbour. Sometimes that happens in five to six metre waves, so Hilchie must have absolute trust in Captain Wallace, who must keep the boat steady.
Marine deckhand Chris Naugle is like an extra set of eyes for Hilchie.
"He'll be talking me a down a ladder, telling me how far to come down, because certainly the boats riding up and down on the swell or the sea conditions. You won't see that this morning, but I would say 25% of the time it's altogether different," says Hilchie.
Today, the Chebucto Pilot is going out to meet the cruise ship Veendam.
"Veendam, she left Saint John, New Brunswick yesterday, so she's dealing with 30 foot tides, altogether different than in Halifax. We're dealing with higher traffic concentration and more shoal areas, stuff like that," says Hilchie.
As the Chebucto approaches the cruise ship, Captain Wallace is in contact with their crew and Naugle is prepping Hilchie to board.
"Everything went pretty smooth,” says Naugle. “Not a lot to think about, but the weather can change here in a hurry, especially in the fall and winter, winds to 45 to 50 knots and to try and embark or disembark a pilot, it gets dicey."
Once aboard, Hilchie has full control of the Veendam’s navigation.
Conditions today were absolutely perfect, however, that's not always the case. A few years back Hilchie was piloting an Israeli container ship out of the harbour. Conditions were so bad, he couldn't get off, and back onto the Pilot Boat. He spent 11 days on board and ended up in Spain.
Hilchie and Wallace work in tandem to ease the cruise ship into the harbour.
"I'm just navigating the boat back to base and keeping within the buoys and main channels," says Wallace.
Hilchie guides the Veendam around the far side of George’s Island and shows off his skill, as he safely moors the cruise ship to its berth.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Jayson Baxter