By Nicolas Bocskai
The waves roll gently on the
Chesapeake Bay today. Days ago an autumn storm rocked and
tossed the vessels that traveled her. Now there is a silent
stillness in the Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay area.
Soon it will be sunrise at the horizon. It is
there that an American cargo vessel is sighted as it arrives
at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Yes, it will be a busy day
for the men who make their living on this body of water.
The sunrise is magnificent in the
east. The first glimmer of sunlight floods and paints the clouds
that are visible at this early hour… purple, red, orange, and gray
colors enhance the beauty of the sky!
The cargo vessel, "American Export," is just
arriving at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. She is sighted by the
Virginian Pilots, who are stationed on the pilot vessel, "Hampton
Roads," which is anchored offshore at Cape Henry.
As the ship comes into the region, a small pilot
shuttlecraft prepares to depart the pilot vessel with one of the
Virginian Pilots on board. The duty of the pilot is to arrive and
depart with the ocean going ships safely into and out of the
Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads harbour area.
One such pilot, with this duty, is a native
Virginian named Captain Robert Mapp. Being fifty years of age, he
has lived and served on the bay and harbour most of his adult life.
He knows the water of this region like the back of his hand.
Captain Mapp will bring the cargo ship into Hampton
Roads harbour and the Norfolk port city, today. As he makes way for
the shuttlecraft, moored with the pilot vessel, he becomes aware
that he will have to be extra careful with this loaded down ocean
going vessel. The Thimble Shoal Channel through which the ship will
pass, is fifty-five feet at its greatest depth. With salt in the air
and a slight breeze, the sun appears to be rising out of the ocean
in the east. In a few hours, Captain Mapp will arrive at his
destination in Norfolk with the vessel, "American Export!"
Captain Mapp soon departs the pilot vessel and
boards the shuttlecraft to rendezvous with the incoming cargo ship
arriving at the bay. The journey of the pilot shuttle to the cargo
ship takes about fifteen minutes at the mouth of the Chesapeake
where the ship is steaming.
As the pilot shuttle arrives at the cargo ship,
Captain Mapp disembarks the pilot shuttle via the Jacob's rope
ladder that has been dispersed over the side of the ship for him to
board the "American Export." Once on deck, he immediately reports to
the bridge of the ship where the Captain relinquishes command of the
ship to him, the Virginian Pilot.
"One-third ahead!" Captain Mapp commands to the
engine room over the intercom. In two hours, the "American Export"
will arrive safely in Norfolk… Virginia's busiest harbour port city.
At this, a later hour, Captain Mapp steers the
"American Export" into Hampton Roads where numerous other cargo
ships are anchored. The unloading facilities of the N.I.T.
longshoremen are at a constant heavy work pace. Keeping up with the
unloading of imports from other countries makes for a busy day! It
is going to be a few days before these ships in the harbour are
brought portside where their cargo containers are unloaded.
Time passes day-by-day and numerous Virginian
Pilots are busy taking the different ships to the Norfolk
International Terminals (N.I.T). Here the docking pilots ease the
ships to the piers with the aid of tugboats. It is late afternoon
with a slanted autumn sun. Soon an early evening fog begins to drift
into the Norfolk/ Virginia Beach metropolitan area.
their tasks done, the pilots' return once again to the pilot vessel,
"Hampton Roads," anchored at the mouth of the Chesapeake. The hour
now is evening dusk with a heavy fog in the region. At a distance
along the shoreline, the Coast Guard Station sounds it's foghorn
every fifteen seconds or so at the cape. The Cape Henry Lighthouse
now begins to beam it's light out over the ocean to the ships coming
into the United States. The clouds are low and white in the night
sky. With the vision of the lighthouse in the fog, crews of other
ships, offshore, know that safety and refuge are close at hand.
Old Point Comfort, also called Fort Monroe, sounds
a foghorn at late hours such as this or as the low clouds dictate.
There are many lights on the harbour water by the beauty of the
lights of the coastal city. The Norfolk skyline is situated further
down the Elizabeth River where the harbour and Elizabeth River
tributaries meet in Hampton Roads. During the Civil War, on the
Elizabeth River, the two ironclads, "Monitor and Merrimac," met and
fought a battle which neither side won. The stand off battle took
place, here, on this river!
Coming from the southern branch of the Elizabeth
River tributary, an American tanker steams up the river after
dispersing it's wealth of oil to the Virginia Power Company
established along the river at Money Point in the City of
Chesapeake. The power company is built along the shore of this river
for easy access to the tanker shipping lanes. The procedure of
unloading the tanker's oil takes place every few weeks to ensure a
steady processing flow of electrical power to the South Hampton
The Virginian Pilot bringing the tanker up to
Hampton Roads harbour and eventually to the mouth of the Chesapeake
Bay is named Captain Thomas Sentry. He is a man of fifty-five years
age with white hair and a pot gut. He has perfect eye vision,
although, as do all the rest of the Virginian Pilots, proving their
skills for the maritime work force and merchant marines in the
Southeastern Virginia harbour area. Captain Sentry's workday will be
completed in several hours. Once he takes this tanker to the mouth
of the Chesapeake, he will meet with the pilot vessel there,
offshore at Cape Henry.
Although still dark outside, it will soon be
another day in the Hampton Roads area. The day is beginning for most
people, but just ending for the overnight work force, the Porter's
of the Dawn!
Today will be a great day. At port Norfolk, a
tugboat with a crew and harbour master is undocking for a rendezvous
with a day of shipping activities. Captain Dan and his first mate,
Mascarinas, are on the tugboat bridge at the helm. They have just
received a message over the marine radio for them to assist a cargo
container ship dock at the Norfolk International Terminals (N.I.T).
The sun will rise, soon, in the east and the fog,
in the region, will burn off as daylight approaches. This is where
the experience of the docking pilots' pays off. With much
preparation and study, Captain Dan eases the tugboat into position
along the portside of the cargo container ship. With much power at
the helm, he slowly forces the ship against the pier with the aid of
other tugboats. He smiles at himself and then says to the first
mate…"Well done, my friend!" And at that, the fog dissipates as the
sunlight seeps over the horizon!
It is a new day and the work of the docking pilots
never ceases. Captain Dan is now steaming through the Hampton Roads
harbour into the James River with his tugboat crew. There is a barge
that needs the assistance of an extra tugboat at this time. Arriving
at the scene at Newport News Shipyard, Captain Dan and crew have
been called along with another tugboat to tow the barge up the
Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore. This twelve-hour journey will terminate
in the Baltimore harbour at sunset this day!
Back in Hampton Roads harbour near the Elizabeth
River, several tugboats are transferring two barges of coal along
the river for unloading at the Portsmouth Terminals. The barges will
disperse the coal onto the Norfolk Southern Railroad train car
facilities available at the terminals for shipment throughout the
rest of the country.
It is late autumn of the season. Soon the early
winter cool breezes will saturate the area in Hampton Roads. Working
on the bay of the harbour port city is really difficult in the
winter for high winds cut deep to the bone at that time of the year.
Along the James River, the local oystermen work
upon their fishing trawlers dredging for oysters in Hampton Roads
and lower Chesapeake Bay. The best time of day for this seems to be
at high tide, which occurs twice daily. Local crabbers are also
governed by the tides, which bring the crustaceans in during high
tide. Area fishermen can tell you that the moon affects the tides
and marine life coming into the bay. Locally in Hampton Roads,
crustaceans (crabs & lobsters) are richly embedded in the James
River bed shoreline. The oystermen, crabbers, and fishermen are
blessed daily with their intake of seafood resources. The men who
work these waters are up and out before sunrise each day and return
to port at sunset with an abundant catch of fish, clams, crabs,
oysters, and lobsters on any given day.
Of such is the life of those whose work takes place
on the harbour waters'. The men who make their living here say
nothing compares to the outdoor lifestyle and working side by side
with men and ships of other nations. Yes, a worthy vocation, for
these men are blessed.