Practice makes you a good coast pilot

It sounds weird to hear "coast pilot " when you ask someone about his profession. Luis Alberto Guerra Valdés has been working at Western Coast Pilot UEB in Mariel township for five years, but he has worked in that profession for 38 years,almost his entire life.

He got graduated in the Naval Academy of the Revolutionary Navy, formerly based in Castillito in Mariel, where specialties such as war , fishing and merchant navy were studied. After graduating, he chose coast pilot. He has been a merchant sailor captain since 1980.

“Most people are unaware of the complex and risky work we do; they think that ships are docked by captains, and this is not the case: without us, no ship does not dock or unclog in our waters, by law, despite the help of the captain of the vessel; The greatest responsibility lies with us.

“We are the ones knowing the bay´s physical features , the most common climatic conditions in the area, where a ship is stranded or where there are reefs or corals, where the sea currents pass and where they are going…

“In addition, we know the features of each vessel, because they are not all the same: they have different sizes , some have more than one engine, blades that turn outward or inward, rudders in different places, in the bow or stern, of a whole little bit. It is a high responsibility job, ”he explains as he shows archived videos that support him to study.

Coast pilot undergo medical check-up every two years, because physical conditions are necessary in this job, and they revalidate degree every five years.

“Do you imagine an accident happening because of us? It is not a matter of simplicity. Many lives could be in danger ; environment could also be in danger, if fuel spills or damage to the seabed occur that are irreparable, and economic damages become equally important.

“Weather at sea is to be respected. We must know even if storms are coming; rough sea does not resemble a calm sea. And there is not a excuse to get on ships , not even bad weather: we have to dock ships no matter how the weather is like . If the storm surge catches you in the middle of the work and you don't know your job, or you lack nerves to endure the situation, things get complicated.

“Ships are the only means of transportation that are not “ parked ” by those who drive them, and the only ones that don't have brakes; you check the energy that it already brought, low anchor, you turn to one side or another, check where you have to go back and at what time.

“When I worked in Havana, I learned a lot. There were places in the bay (very complex) where you could not turn sharply to any place, because you drove the ship towards El Morro. You had to know the bay very well ; it was the first thing to learn. Mariel's bay is a bit simpler, but it has its tricks and features that you should know and handle like the palms of your hands. ”

This experienced man enjoys telling his stories . “Ships captains stop trusting your skills if you hesitate. The first thing they do is look at your behavior, without telling you anything, of course; depending on what you do, they calm down or worry.

“When I was up on the ship, I used to put my hands in my pockets; captain´s face changed inmediately. It is a bad symptom, it seems that you are very nervous. The Russians, intelligent as anyone, immediately gave us coffee, but gave us a cup with a plate; If it sounded it was because your hands were shaking, so they wouldn't let you to control the ship anymore.

“That's how I learned. When I went up, I sat in a chair, asked for coffee before they offered it to me, and lit a cigarette. Everyone was already relaxing. Then I stood up and began my work.

“An old coast pilot asked me once:

-Do you know the right time you are ready to be a coast pilot?

-After a few years, I replied naively, and he said:

-When you feel that you are the ship and your body feels that it is going where you are going to go to the ship. This is the moment when you will be ready.

“I did not believe it. However, after ten years of working I felt it in my bones, and I asked the others 'boy, don't you feel the boat leaning to the right, more than we put it?' I already felt the ship in the body ; incredible, but it is true. ”

Rubén Ibalmea, the UEB manager , says that “when we have any doubt we talk to Luis; he is very skillful ... This company has four ports under its supervision and two ships carrying out coast pilot works , one in maintenance and the other in functions. We are seven coast pilots in a large family of 25 workers.

“We have a coast pilot working in Namibia; he studies larger vessels and other types of bays. We also study larger vessels, 366- meters long ships will begin to enter the port, which never reached Cuba before ... and we must know how to master them, the prestige of our workers is at stake.

“We all master our work, but if Luis does not nod, nothing is done. He always tells us: practice is what matters ; practice makes you a good coast pilot . ”

TRANSLATION BY LMMS

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