Looking out at one of the Cork Harbour Pilots boarding a large ship in the dark last night I decided to write an article about this interesting, and sometimes dangerous job. It's a task that takes place 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is essential to any modern shipping port. Under maritime regulations and local port rules, every ship over a certain size must take on a pilot when entering port. The pilot is a fully qualified ships' master who has special qualifications on pilotage and an intimate knowledge of the local port - he (or she) knows literally every rock and sandbank in the port, every twist in the river and every possible hazard to local shipping.
The Port of Cork has had pilots for centuries, starting with rowing boats and advancing to the present day with their two powerful pilot launches and sophisticated radar and ship location technology (AIS). Over the years the pilots have guided many famous ship's in and out of Cork Harbour including the ill-fated Titanic, on her infamous maiden voyage in April 1912. She was piloted safely from her moorings by Cobh pilot John Cotter. Alas the pilots also had their own tragedy in 1942 when five seafarers lost their lives when their pilot boat was caught under the propellors of the Irish Poplar. The five men who died were John Higgins, Frank Lloyd, Frank Powell, Patrick Wilshaw and William Duggan. They are commemorated by a monument near Cobh's old town hall. The memorial is in the form of a replica of the nearby Spit Bank lighthouse (see photo).
Without the harbour pilots the port of Cork would come to a standstill, yet in all weather they must board ships of all sizes and guide them safely to and from the port. The boarding of a ship from a pilot launch is a sight to behold, especially in bad weather, there is no funfair ride that could possibly compare as the pilots have to climb a rope ladder up the side of a moving ship while both ship and pilot boat are rocked by heavy seas and rise and fall into deep troughs and large waves. It's certainly not for the fainthearted!
Today the Cork Harbour Pilots are based at the pilot station in Cobh and have two modern pilot launches, the Gleánn Mór and the Sonia (the latter named after champion Cobh athlete Sonia O'Sullivan). In addition to radar they also have access to closed circuit television cameras which cover the entire harbour as far as Cork city quays and AIS (Automated Information System) which all ships must now carry and which gives the exact position, heading and other live information about the ship. I have included some video of the newest launch, the Gleánn Mór working in rough seas. Incidentally the Gleánn Mór is an Interceptor 42 (42ft long) specially designed as a pilot launch and built by Cobh based Safehaven Marine.
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