Full Steam Ahead

At The Helm … Capt Lynch at the Queenscliff Pilot base’s radar controls.

When Australia was only 50 years old, when Queenscliff and Geelong were only villages and the port of Geelong didn’t even exist, the Port Phillip Sea Pilots opened for business.

Many shios were coming to grief on the reefs bordering both shores of the treacherous Rip, and it was soon relised there was a need for experianced boatmen to guide those pilots without local knowledge.

Merchants petitioned the then Governer of New South Whales, George Gipps, to grant Captain Tobin a pilots’ licence, and by 1841, there were six pilots operating.

By 1857, when 2190 ships entered the heads, there were 53 pilots.

One was in charge of each pilot’s ship with an apprentice as chief officer.

Today, 35 former ship masters of Australian vessels are licensed by the Marine Board of Victoria to perform all pilotage within Port Phillip and Westernport bays.

The president of the busy Port Phillip Sea Pilots – which guide 4000 ships through the Heads during 1988 – Captain Charles Griffiths, who also sits on the Marine Board, says the 150th anniversary year is one of change.

This year, after an unsuccessful bid was made for its Westernport pilotage licence, the Port Phillip Sea Pilots were issued with a 10-year licence from the Marine Board.

Under the new licence the pilots will become an incorporated company next month.

Capt Griffiths said he expected the operation to run a lot more smoothly, with every pilot being an equal shareholder.

But Capt Griffiths said the organisation would continue to look at using helicopters to allow pilots to board and disembark from their ships.

“What ever decision is made will be made on the basis if it is most cost efficent and whether it is better for all,” he said.

In the mean time, Capt Griffiths said the pilots expected to build a new launch next year.

Port phillip pilots operate from 3 stations – head office at Williamstown and bases at Queenscliff for Port Phillip and at Flinders for Westernport.

Queenscliff station contains a control centre, which is manned 24 hours a day, and houses the pilot who takes his weekly turn to be in charge of up to 12 pilots awaiting their turn for inward ships.