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Tugs and Pilot boats: 3rd winter talk 2024

40 East Coast Gaffers and guests gathered at the Long Shed in Woodbridge on Saturday 24 February for our third winter event. Moray McPhail brings us a report of the fascinating Tugs and Pilots talk presented by Ben Grundy and Jane Stone.

So how do you park 400,000 tons of container ship safely? We kind of take it for granted because it happens routinely, so it was good to find out what it involves from Ben Grundy, a tugmaster and Jane Stone a Harwich pilot. They both gave very informative, amusing and interesting talks on the role that they play and how they came to be doing them. The tugs pulling hundreds of tonnes sideways to give these large ships a hoof round the corner, inducing a heel angle enough to submerge one of the tug boats bulwarks, is spectacular to say the least. There was also the interesting interplay between the pilot and the ships’ captains which needed a certain amount of management!

The main thing that emerged from both talks is the sheer professionalism and teamwork that both the pilots and the tugmasters display in Harwich harbour, developing techniques which are then adopted around the UK. The positioning technology used is sophisticated, but it was gratifying to hear that a flat screen real-time display, otherwise known as a window, still played a vital role.

It was also really good to be reminded just how far the blind spot on these large ships extends beyond the bow; these ships may simply not be able to see you. And as Jane explained, if they think you haven’t seen them coming up behind, they may give a gentle toot. It never sounds that gentle in real life! Fascinating and impressive.

Words: Moray MacPhail
Photos: Paul Masters