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Isle of Wight Pilotage District by E&OE Ian Card
Isle of Wight Pilotage District by E&OE Ian Card (A personal account)

When I joined the inward Service in December, 1967, there were separate Inward and Outward Pilot Services. Outward pilots lived on the mainland, at or near Southampton, while Inward pilots lived on the Isle of Wight. The day-to-day administration of each Service was in the hands of a separate Duty Pilot. Pilots of both services were self-employed, but examined and licensed by Trinity House. Many pilots had an unpaid administrative duty, such as Hon. Secretary, Hon. Treasurer, Catering Officer, Pensions Representative, or Roster Organiser. Many Inward pilots had young families at that time, so there was tremendous pressure on the Roster Organiser to grant leave in August. So a new rule was voted in, to the effect that anyone was at liberty to criticize the Roster Organiser, but anyone doing so automatically became the new Roster Organiser!

The Outward Duty Pilot was located at Union Castle House in Southampton; he was on duty for 24 hours, during which time he would receive ETD's from Agents, allocate pilots to outward ships, and place pilots returning from ships in their correct order on the daily rotating roster.

The Inward Duty Pilot was located at the Totland Pilot Station, also for a 24 hour watch, during which he would gather information about ETA's from Agents, from the Needles launch, and from the Nab cutter, also directly on the station radio. He would allocate pilots to ships, and maintain the inward daily rotating roster, warning pilots when they were nearing the top of the roster. His food was prepared by Mrs. Beggs, the housekeeper, wife of the caretaker, and really excellent it was, too. As there were 36 Inward pilots at the time, this duty came round every 36th day. A small administration office for the Inward Service was kept in a room above Russel & Bromley in Union Street, Ryde, but it had no part in the daily operation of the Service.

The Inward Service also maintained one extra pilot on the Nab cutter to cover ships arriving without an ETA. This latter duty was shared between the Third Class pilots of the Inward Service, i.e. those in their first two years, who consequently spent a great deal of their time on the cutter. VHF Radio was by no means universal.

At that time, the Nab cutter was supplied by one launch, operating in daytime only. Thus an outward pilot landing on the cutter after the last relief at 2130 had to wait on board the cutter for the next launch at 0730 the following morning. Often it was quicker for him to take passage with an Inward pilot during the night. Similarly, the Nab cutter had to be manned for the whole night by pilots who gathered on the end of Ryde Pier at 2100 to go off on the last launch of the day. The Neeedles Station was also manned for the night at 21.00.

At that time the pilot station on Ryde Pier had not been built, and pilots waiting on the pier for a launch were allowed to shelter in the hut belonging to Blue Funnel Cruises.

The first car-ferries, operating from Southampton, were mostly unable to embark or discharge pilots when at sea because of their large rubbing bands, so the pilots agreed to remain on board for the round trip to either Cherbourg or Le Havre. This often meant being away for up to 36 hours. The two Services agreed to share this duty.

A few years later, Totland Pier fell into disrepair and became unsafe. This necessitated the removal of the Needles Pilot Station to a terraced house in Yarmouth, with the Needles launches operating from Yarmouth harbour, and it necessitated the removal of the Inward Duty Pilot to the new Station on the end of Ryde pier. At the same time, the Nab cutter was discontinued, and replaced by launches operating around the clock.

The Duty Pilot was assisted for the first time by a clerk (ex cutter officer) supplied by Trinity House. An unfortunate consequence of the move to Yarmouth was the increased time that it took the one duty launch to steam from its base at Yarmouth to the boarding/landing station at the Needles Fairway buoy. Thus it was often impossible for the launch to return to Yarmouth between ships. This frequently resulted in several Inward pilots spending many hours in the launch waiting for their respective ships; and for outward pilots, it could mean many hours in the launch waiting to be landed.

Some years later, it was decided to amalgamate the District Pilot Services, which subsequently operated under one Duty Pilot situated at the newly built VTS Centre at 37 Berth, Southampton, and again assisted by a Trinity House clerk. This amalgamation coincided with the removal of cross-Channel ferry services from Southampton to Portsmouth. The 3 pilots of the independent Trinity House Pilot Service at Portsmouth were thus faced with a huge increase in traffic, which might be short-lived if ferry captains obtained exemptions from Pilotage in due course. It would have been unwise for them to recruit extra pilots. The solution to this awkward problem was to amalgamate all three services, i.e. Inward, Outward, and Portsmouth. It was necessary to have one pilot stationed in Portsmouth each day to look after movements within the harbour and to act as a kind of part-time Duty Pilot for administration purposes in Portsmouth, otherwise a pilot on duty could be sent anywhere in the District.

The combined services maintained a financial and administration office in the VTS Centre, most ably conducted by Miss Susan Weston, who later became Mrs. Hollyhock.

The efficiencies which resulted from the introduction of launches, the amalgamation of the Services, and the universal introduction of VHF radio, meant that pilot numbers rapidly reduced as retiring pilots were not replaced. By the time that pilots became employees of their ports on 30"' September, 1988, numbers for the whole district were down to 33.

E&OE Ian Card.
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