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Pierre Vallee - Trois Rivieres, Quebec, Canada - French (Global Lives Project, 2013) - Life Story Part 3

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You need to be self-confident because when you board a boat the captain entrusts you with his boat. If you are not confident, the captain can lose trust in you, and if you don't trust yourself, it should not be shown. Another quality become a pilot probably is to have self-confidence. You need to show self-assurance when you board a boat in order to make the captain say: "Here is the pilot, everything will be alright", and not "Oh my God, here is the pilot, I hope it will be alright". Uh — Do you have good memories to share with us? — About navigation... — Yes, on the Saint Laurent. —Yes. Some good memories... What is really gratifying, it is when you maneuver or when you come to difficult passages. We don't have a lot of... gratitude, you know, it is unusual... However, it is always funny when the captain says: "Pilot, if it was not for you... I wouldn't have come here... I wouldn't have done that maneuver, I wouldn't have gone through that mist". This is... It's gratifying when the captain or when you manage a maneuver with another pilot, and then he... shows he appreciates your work this is really good. — How do you see your professional future? — My professional future is... what is good in this job is that that... here we gather in a corporation of pilots, its name is Corporation Pilots St-Laurent Central and I have already committed twice to be director within our board of directors, so it could be possible to be part of it again. I had a mandate as director and everything was fine, I had a mandate as vice president and everything went well, so maybe it could be interesting to become president. However, what is difficult is that there are no more steps to take. We start as pilot trainee for two years. The aim is to become a pilot. We need to study a lot. When I was 16 or 15, if I was told that I would have studied until my 30, I would have said you are completely crazy. I would take the first exit and everything will stop there. However, I studied until I was 30, uh... Then once we have reached... When you start navigating, you pilot small vessels. You are class C0 during 6 months and then you are class C1 during 6 months. You become then class C2, after that you become class B1 and then you are class B2 during two years, and after that you are class A. Once you reached the pilot level of class A when you became pilot of class A for 3 years, then you obtain class... we call it class star A, it means that you can be the responsible pilot on every vessel, despite its size. Actually classes are defined according to the size of the vessels. It goes from... the first class gets to 165 meters and you are limited to 165 meters when you are class C0. It increases 10 to 20 meters for each class. So when you reach class A or class star A, class A you can lead every vessel, except for the biggest as the responsible pilot. And in class star A you can be the responsible pilot on every vessel. — What is the length of the biggest vessel? —294 now, but they can measure up to 300 meters up to Montréal. What is interesting is that we are going to have a new class of vessels. They won't be longer but larger, because the channel was built for vessels that are large 32.26m. However, since a few weeks we are authorized to use vessels whose length is 44 m. It is an important change for us to have increased the width of a third and... it adds an important level of complexity to our job. However, professionally speaking, I am limited. I can't go further than that. There are no other steps in my professional career apart from joining the board of directors that manages the company. I am a star A pilot, or senior A, if you prefer, so I can't so I can't go further. I reached the final step. — So are you on stand-by several months per year? — Yes. We have a working calendar. We are available 207 days per year. So during 207 days they can call me with 4 hours notice in order to reach the ship in Quebec or Trois Rivières. When we disembark we always have a minimum of ten hours to rest. During this period the administration can't call us to ask for our services. We have then 4 hours to reach a boat. This means we have 14 hours to rest between two trips. There are always 14 hours between two assignments, from when I finish and disembark to when I board another boat there should be 14 hours. I say that's the way it should be because it is 10 hour rest and 4 hours notice but in case of a lot of traffic this notice can be of an hour. So we could board after 11 hours when there is a lot of traffic, an intense flow on the river. — Can you describe in detail a typical day starting with the time when you receive your assignment? — We don't really have typical days, they are unusual. That's part of what makes this job so exciting. We rarely have two similar days. The call for the assignment can arrive at 12h15 or at 6h30am or even at 2h30am. We are available 24 hours a day when we work. In most families when the phone rings at 2h00am everyone wakes up and starts panicking. On the contrary, at our house when the phone rings at 2h00, I am the only one to wake up. The dog and the cat don't bother either. So, when the administration calls us to assign us a boat, we are told where we have to go. In my case, to Quebec or Trois Rivières. Then we are told the name of the ship, the kind of ship it is, its draft and depth. The under water part of the ship is called draft, so it is important to know how deep the ship is. With the arrival of very big ships the draft is also very important. The part outside the water is also important because, in order to pass under bridges we are limited to 50 meters of draft and a new feature we have is that there are air cables downstream of the Trois Rivières bridge whose characteristics have changed in the last few years. In order to pass under the cables, we need to deviate from our normal route and go where the cables are higher to ease the transit of big ships. We receive that information when we have to pilot with someone else. Of course, they give us the name of our colleague and the destination: if a ship goes to wharf or if it leaves for the sea or the Montreal harbor. This is what happens with an assignment. After that, depending on where the ship is, Trois Rivières or Quebec, I need more or less time to reach my station. I take a shower and get ready and dress up. After that, I verify my navigation equipment, I take my car and... — Do you wear a uniform? — No, we don't have an official one as pilots, however we try to keep a dressing standard to give a good first impression to the captain when we board a ship. — So you have a luggage... — Not really I have a bag with my navigation equipment but I don't take a change of clothes because we do not leave for long. The assignment average lasts six hours and a half. Some trips will be longer: for instance for a very slow ship, due to a negative tide the transits can last up to 10-12 hours, but the average transit lasts six hours and a half. — When you arrive at the bay, you get ready and go to the ship. What happens then? — At this point we wait for the ship to arrive to the station in the waiting room and when the ship is near, we board the pilot ship. The pilot ship takes us to the ship. As I said, big ships do not stop to board or disembark a pilot, they would slow down. The pilot ship touches the boat and we board. Once on board, I introduce myself and exchange information with the pilot I replace, unless I board at the wharf and there was no pilot on board. On the contrary, I exchange information on the characteristics of the ship with the pilot I'll replace. Then I introduce myself to the captain and once this is done I take charge of the boat. In Quebec and Trois Rivières bridges are next to each other, particularly in Trois Rivières. When I board, I have to pass the Trois Rivières bridge downstream. The job starts when I'm on the footbridge. — Is the captain next to you when you operate? — When a pilot boards or disembarks, captains are on the footbridge, unless the captain had to work a lot before and has to rest. In this case his second in command will be in charge to carry out the replacing of pilots. — Are there many automatic things? For instance, if you think about an airline pilot, is it boring sometimes for you? —Sometimes you have the impression that it is calm. However, the external elements and the same ship change every time. So, no, it is not a predictable job since it is never at the same time, it is never at the same tide, it is never the same season. Sail a boat in winter in the ice and without navigation assistance is more complicated compared to a nice day in July. However, on a nice Sunday in July there are a lot of amateurs on the river. We have to consider the contemporary presence of amateur and commercial ships. Often in summer when humidity is high we can have waterspouts or sudden squalls. It is windy and rainy. For sure, there is no routine. — How do you proceed when you have to maneuver? Can you describe it? — Yes, sure. It always depends on the ship you are assigned, at which wharf the ship should go. You need to consider if you can do that maoeuver alone or if you need the help of the tugs. Talking with the captain and with our experience... The government obliges the ships to board the pilots because they are experts of a region So we know where we need the tug. On some ships you can have one or two tugs no matter the characteristics of maneuverability of the ship. So we can plan our maneuver. In any case we explain it to the captain. Just before maneuvering, we explain to the captain what we intend to do in order for him not to be surprised about what is happening. After that we really start with the maneuver of the ship. The pilot needs to have good skills and good feeling. Even though some maneuvers are quite standard we do that action at that time, we do that other action at that time. I think it exists two kinds of pilots. Some are really technical, other really follow their feeling, you know. Sometimes there are trainees with me and they ask: "When are you going to tack"? I don't really know I can't say, when the corner of the wharf is at point 17000, I'll tack. It depends on the wind, on the current, on the tide, on the ship, on tugs and their strength, on the captains of the tug. Decisions will be different and also the captain's attitude. A captain can be very nervous, so you approach in a more conservative way yes, conservative to reassure him as much as you can. On the contrary, if the captain is more confident, you can do a sharper approach, a little quicker, but in the end the pilot is there for safety. Whenever we make a decision, we have to guarantee safety. First of all, the environment safety, and then the ship safety. So we always make our decisions according to those two elements: safety and efficiency. The guidance system, a maneuver, a transit all have to be efficient. It does not make sense to slow down if it is not necessary. ... It is important to find the right balance between efficiency and safety. We can choose to give more importance to safety, but we won't be efficient. If the ship is along the wharf nothing will ever happen to it, this is safe. However, there is no efficiency. It is important to have a balance between safety and efficiency and during the maneuver it's the same. We can maneuver a ship with eight tugs. It will be very safe, but it will also be very expensive for the ship-owner. He will refuse to have this again, because it is not efficient. So, balance is all! A right balance between safety and efficiency. When you maneuver there is a lot of... The pilot's feeling is important. I can't exactly define what a maneuver is because each maneuver is different. The important thing is to sail the ship safely to allow it a safe and efficient approach to the wharf. — Ok. In technical terms, what requires the assistance of the tug? — The incapacity of the ship to... to do a transversal route. A ship can do a longitudinal route and can tack with its tiller. A ship tacks thanks to the water pressure applied on its tiller. If the ship is off, even putting the tiller on the left or on the right, there won't be any reaction. A ship tacks thanks to the water pressure on its tiller. When the tiller turns, it creates high pressure on one side and under pressure on the other: this makes the ship tack. A ship can move forward and backward without problems but it can't move transversally unless it has specific tools. Those tools are called bow propellers. It is a small propeller which is in the longitudinal direction of the ship it will be transversal and will be able to push the front or the back of the ship at the left or right. When those propellers are not there or are not strong enough, we use the tugs to safely approach the wharf. — Let's try to finish... but you want to continue... We did not finish his day either. — So the day... — He has not disembarked in the day! — Ah... — Ok — Ok, let's go on. I would like to talk about the trainees. We've just talked about the tugs, but there are also trainees. — Yes, there are. Navigation is a knowledge transmitted from pilot to pilot. There are also some training courses to help trainees for their training. The... The pilot's presence allows the transmission of the knowledge. — Do you often have trainees? — Yes, we do. There are always people at the end of their career and we recruit according to the needs. It depends on the planned traffic for the future and the anticipated retirements in the next years. Since the pilot training lasts two years, we need to recruit in advance. When a pilot retires, if he is a class star A pilot, it takes ten years from when the trainee starts his apprenticeship until when he becomes star A. We recruit following the anticipated need in the future. We do it the most efficient way in order to keep the number of transits per pilot acceptable. Pilots can't do 200 trips per year, it would be too demanding, it would be too many hours to do. The workload is about 130 to 140 assignments or transits per year. When we anticipate that the traffic will be higher, then we recruit pilot trainees. The trainee has to do at least 140 trips per year with a patented pilot to learn his job and take advantage of the knowledge transmission. — In a typical day, you board the ship, and we saw the relative steps earlier. — That is how we board. — Then there often is a trainee... — Not often, sometimes. Now we have a lot. Now we have in our area nine pilot trainees who are learning. Four of them should become pilots in September. So in September there will be five left. The more trainees we have, the more chance we have to have one during our assignment. However, we have about 6500 assignments between Quebec and Trois Rivières. We have nine trainees who do 140 trips per year, we don't have a trainee every time. However, when we have a trainee 4 to 12 hours during the trip between Quebec and Trois Rivières, we exchange a lot with the trainee. Once I have boarded and I have talked to the captain, I have the responsibility of the boat. From now on the real mission is to navigate in my sector between Quebec and Trois Rivières or vice versa. The coordination of the traffic with the other boats the interaction with the circulation, at confluences, managing everything according to the areas, is crucial because you can't meet other boats anywhere, you can't overtake anywhere. That's why the coordination is important. The final goal is to keep the boat in the navigation channel to avoid it to run aground. Thus, according to the duration of the ship, I navigate to reach the destination. If there is a manoeuvre, I coordinate it until I arrive at the wharf. Otherwise I coordinate my departure with the arrival of the new pilot. I need to send an estimation of the arrival time at least four hours before so that the administration has the time to reach the replacing pilot. And when I arrive at the pilot station my colleague approaches the footbridge. I transmit the information as I received it and I leave the boat to go and rest. — How is the end of the day? Do you go home or you often arrive in another city? — I normally disembark in Quebec or Trois Rivières. If I disembark in Quebec at 2h00am and I know that I work again in 14 hours, then I stay in Quebec. In Quebec I had for a while a pied-à-terre, a flat which belonged to me. I have always had a pied-à-terre in Quebec, a flat for my needs. However, since some years I have rented a friend's flat to go skiing in winter in Stoneham. This friend is a sailor, he is steersman on the big lake boats. He sails the whole summer, so I can use his flat when he is not there. Now we have a nice pilot station in Quebec where there are two rooms, little rooms where we can rest some hours. So if I land at 2h00am and I'm a bit tired, I can sleep some hours. If I'm in shape, I go home, or I go and sleep at the flat waiting for the next ship. When I disembark in Trois Rivières, I go home and if it is 3h00pm, my kids will be there soon and I won't rest. If I land at 3h00pm, it means that I had boarded at 6h00 or 7h00 am, I slept the night before so I'm not tired. It is difficult to say that I always do that because I never disembark at the same time. Sometimes I disembark, I go to the grocery and cook dinner, sometimes I disembark and go to Tim Hortons to buy some breakfast, some sandwiches and then go home. Sometimes I'm home at 5h30am. I put the sandwiches on the table and I go sleeping, sometimes I have breakfast with my gang. It is hard to say how it really goes, but generally, we disembark, we go home and we wait for the next boat. We rest and wait for next boat. — What do you love most in your job? — I think the fact that it is never the same. I love boarding a boat at 6h30pm, it means that I slept the day before, I had the whole day for me, and then went to work. Then I'll have the next night. I think what I love most is the lack of routine. The second thing I love is the high responsibility I have. When I board, apart from a captain who could doubt about my skills and knowledge, and who could relieve me of my duties, there is little chance that someone challenges me during my job. I love it!

Video Details

Duration: 30 minutes and 1 second
Country: Canada
Language: French (Canada)
Producer: Karen Vanderborght
Views: 112
Posted by: globallives on Sep 30, 2013

This is part of a 24-hour recording of a day in the life of Pierre Vallee, a boat pilot living in Trois Rivieres in the province of Quebec, Canada.

This video was produced by Karen Vanderborght, David Fabrega, Marie Dietlin, Rafi Leeuwenkroon, Marianne Ploska, and Catherine Genest.

This video is part of the Global Lives Project, a video library of life experience.
For more information please visit

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