A week or so later, I received a letter asking me to make myself available at the Dock Office to meet the Harbour Master and his assistant. They weren't very interested in my career as a navigating officer, but it was obvious that they were weighing up my suitability to join the Pilot Service. I must have impressed them, because I was informed a few days later that I had been accepted and that I was to commence my one month probation immediately.

The Manchester Ship canal runs 26 mls from the River Mersey at Eastham, to Manchester. It was completed in 1894 and was christened 'The Big Ditch' by the hundreds of workmen, mainly Irish navvies (navigation workers) who built it.
Despite the huge expense in construction, it allowed merchants producers in Manchester to avoid the exhorbitant charges made by the railways to take finished goods (particularly cloth) to Liverpool for export. Later oil reinfineries at the lower end of the canal and the vast Trafford Park at the other made the canal one of the busiest shipping lanes in th world.
On probation, my first task was to find a ship and ask the Pilot whether I could accompany him and the assigned helmsman on the passage. I shall always remember the first ship I boarded. Her name was “Dotterel”, one of the many British & Continental ships which had a regular run between Manchester and the continent, a vessel of about 2,000 gross tons and the Pilot was Billy Musker. So impressed was he with my steering that he put the helmsman ashore at Latchford locks to take his car back to Eastham and I steered the ship all the 21 miles to Eastham.  All in all, a good start!

A week or so later, I received a letter asking me to make myself available at the Dock Office to meet the Harbour Master and his assistant. They weren't very interested in my career as a navigating officer, but it was obvious that they were weighing up my suitability to join the Pilot Service. I must have impressed them, because I was informed a few days later that I had been accepted and that I was to commence my one month probation immediately.

A week or so later, I received a letter asking me to make myself available at the Dock Office to meet the Harbour Master and his assistant. They weren't very interested in my career as a navigating officer, but it was obvious that they were weighing up my suitability to join the Pilot Service. I must have impressed them, because I was informed a few days later that I had been accepted and that I was to commence my one month probation immediately.

The going was tough, and on many an occasion I finished in Manchester after a ten or twelve hour passage, walked around to another ship and started all over again! But change my life it certainly did, and little did I know that I was to become a seven year wonder, but more of that later.

One of the first things I did was to part exchange my 250c.c. motor cycle for a bigger bike; an Indian 500cc. I later sold this and purchased my dream bike, a Harley Davidson 750. I stripped it down, had all the attachments chromed and then sprayed it cream using my mother’s vacuum cleaner! It was truly my dream machine and I enjoyed many trips on it, including one to France with a colleague who had the same type of motor cycle. It was about this time that I met the girl who was to become my wife and a year later we were married, and twelve months later our first child was born.

I was still a helmsman, of course, working hard for not very much pay, and, at the time, dependent on the amount of ships and their size. The payslip (pictured right) shows me earing about £34 per month. But then, in 1954, I was surprisingly summoned to the Dock Office to sit for my 2nd Class pilots licence, after only six years of steering, an exam which I successfully passed.

I shall always remember boarding my first ship, a small Dutch coaster, and it was strange to be addressed as Pilot, but the pay was not much better than a helmsman, and strangely at times, worse.   But then, in 1955 a drastic change to the service came about. The Pilots had had enough and demanded, and were granted, a public enquiry into their working conditions and pay, the result of which ended in a 112% pay rise and the appointment of three more first class Pilots, yours truly being one of them, hence my rise to obtaining my first class licence in seven years.
By now our family was complete, two boys and a girl, so the promotion and pay rise were more than welcome and I settled down to a long and, generally speaking, happy career.

But even though I had settled down to life ashore and a very happy family life I missed the sea. It occurred to me that I could enjoy the best of both worlds – all I had to do was acquire a boat!