Savannah River pilot achieves 10,000th trip
by Mary Carr Mayle
December 25, 2013 11:39 PM | 787 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SAVANNAH — Rick Wesley, who recently piloted his 10,000th ship up the Savannah River, will be quick to tell you he’s not the first to achieve that amazing milestone and certainly won’t be the last.

“Through the years, I’m sure there have been other pilots who have reached this number of ships,” he says modestly. “I’m just a record-keeper.

“Today, it’s quite common for pilots to have records of all the vessels they have handled and also the particulars, such as weather and tides. Not so much 30 years ago,” he says. “I consider this more a club than a singular achievement.

“I am just one more pilot in the 10,000 ship club.”

And Wesley — also known as “Pilot 11” — expects the club to grow.

“The Savannah River has more than twice the number of ship transits per year than it did when I started, so we will see this number of transits again, I’m sure,” he added.

Numbers aside, Wesley is extremely proud to be a Savannah River pilot, a job he says never grows old, be it his first or 10,000th trip. And he’s especially proud to be the first pilot selected from outside of what was then a close-knit group of Savannah families.

“I spent a lot of my first years here trying to earn the respect of this highly regarded and hard working group,” he said.

That dynamic has changed over the years in Savannah, he said.

“Now we have a very diverse group of young pilots chosen from many areas, including the maritime academies, the river community and also family,” he said. “What hasn’t changed is the work ethic.”

Wesley says he learned his from such well-known pilots as Capt. Bill Brown, who was the Master Pilot when he was hired, and Capt. Tom Browne, the pilot he replaced when he retired.

“Capt. Joe Myatt, a very talented Atlantic Towing Co. docking pilot and friend, my family and all the many river and docking pilots who helped train me during my apprenticeship — I wouldn’t be here today without them.”

Needless to say, Pilot 11 has had his share of interesting trips up and down the river.

He’s piloted more than a few ships that had stowaways on board, although he didn’t know it at the time. And he was at the helm of the Lago Isabal, a container ship seized by the U.S. Coast Guard off the Georgia coast.

“Turns out they were carrying five crew, one goat and 20 tons of marijuana,” he said, laughing.

And it hasn’t been all cargo and container ships.

“I piloted the British royal yacht, the HMS Britannia, many tall ships and multi-million-dollar yachts and the S.S. Norway, one of the world’s great ocean liners,” he said.”

His first ship, the 463-foot British-flagged M/V Ardenhall, pales in comparison to his 10,000th ship, the 1,066-foot MSC Maeva.

With the bigger ships have come bigger challenges, he says.

“Most of these new containerships are so much bigger than the ships of the past. Vessels over 1,100 feet in length and 150 feet wide are becoming commonplace on a river that is still, in most areas, the same size it was 30-plus years ago,” he said.

“Hopefully, after the deepening project is finished, these ships will be able to more safely and efficiently transit our river, helping keep the maritime industry alive and well here in Savannah.”

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