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Pierre Vallee - Trois Rivieres, Quebec, Canada - French (Global Lives Project, 2013) - Life Story Part 2

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When you change the paper, don't do it while he is talking. -- No. I am discovering him at the same time... --OK. Perfect. -- It's.... -- She... I don't want to give too much, but she... she is going to.... She wants to make it a documentary, so I am teaching her a few tricks. And also... -- Great, Mummy. No, stop joking.-- --Yes but.... And also, it's great when he talks... In fact, it's amazing, and that's why you say yeah, whow. But...--Not too much. I shouldn't speak. -- With your body. Try not to say OK. -- But you can ask questions. -- I though it'd be boring for him after a while because I was being too quiet.-- No. --No.-- No, it should be OK with the sound. But he is... I think we are enthusiastic enough. He can feel it. -- You can feel it. That's true. --He is going to feel that... --OK, I am just going to... I am just going to shut up....-- No, but you can say, you can definitely ask questions about other things he hasn't talked about. That's true. -- But don't say: Yes, uhuh, uhuh. Yeah. Uhuh, uhuh... -- Not all the time because otherwise I am gonna have to bring in when we are editing. --Yeah.-- And I am gonna have to tell you: Just do it yourself.--Yes, that's right. But get rid off the uhuh, huhu. -- It is difficult. It is very difficult. That's the kind of thing that can take up a lot of time, sometimes. I know know people I work with who have a lot of experience working as director, and they still do it.--OK.-- Really?-- Sometimes I need to rap over their knuckles because it really is difficult... --No, but, that's not going to be easy for me. --You know, that's normal.-- You are going to laugh. --But that's no big deal. -- That's OK. Shall we continue? -- Yes, let's going on. Of course. -- All good, we are filming.-- We are filming, and this is really great. Everything is going smoothly. --So, I am also going to ask you questions to give more details for people who come from other countries and who are going to listen to your story. When you say that during your internships, during your training... You were talking about internships... When you were talking about "cadets", did you mean within the army? -- No, no. Not within the army. The school...The Maritime Institute trains officers for the merchant navy. It is not for the actual Navy. It is completely different. This is... a school where you learn about navigation in the merchant navy. And... The.... "Cadet" is the name of a position. On a ship, there is... There is a hierarchy, and there are positions. So, for the navigation, there is the captain, who oversees everything on the ship. On the navigation side, there is also the first officer, the second officer, the third officer and then the cadets. The cadets are people who don't have a licence. That means that they don't have any skills certificate to allow them to take on the responsabilities of a job, but they are in training. Transport Canada requires 12 months at sea working as a cadet to be able to take the exams and get a skills certificate to become third officer. So what is important to remember is that you need to get skills certificate to become third officer, second officer, first officer and captain. But it is not because you have a certificate as captain that you necessarily get the captain's position on board a ship. To be able to get a job as captain, the company must trust you enough to put the ship's responsability in your hands. So, the time at sea for cadets is first used to check if the candidates enjoy living on board a ship. Because, like I said, it is the kind of life where you are limited to the ship. If the boat is 500 feet long by 75 feet wide, or 200m long by 32m wide, that's what you get to do everything during 2, 3, 4, 5 months, 6 months. So, this is a very special lifestyle. People need to enjoy it. Then, that's why the training is mixed with internships on the ships. -- And how much time do you need to spend at sea to go from third officer to second, and first?-- To become second officer when you are third officer, if you have been to the Maritime Institute, you need 6 months at sea. And, if you filled the additional internship report, you will need to spend 6 months at sea. Otherwise, it is 12 months if you haven't submitted the internship report. Then, to graduate from second to first officer, you need 12 months at sea. It doesn't have to be 12 months in a row. It could be three 4-month-contracts or six 2-month-contracts. But you are required to spend 12 months at sea to become first officer when you are second. And to become a captain when you are first officer, it requires another 12 months at sea. But on top of the time at sea, Transport Canada requires some exams. So, once you are done with the training in Rimouski, there were, if I remember well, five written exams that needed to be provided to Transport Canada. You must pass with a minimum of 70%. Plus an oral exam in front of Transports Canada's examiner. Then, you are given the certificate to become third officer. After that, you spend 6 months at sea. Then, I think, there were six written exams, and one oral exam to become second officer. After that, another 12 months at sea. And another 6 written exams, 2 oral exams to become first officer. There was an exam about magnetism, then an exam... an oral exam. Then, after that, I think there were five written exams, one oral exam to become a captain. So all this meant that it took... It took a good... What's the word.... Personal discipline because you had to study for exams during your time off. And the exams were on a fixed schedule. If you want to take the Astro ON2 exam, which is the certificate to become second officer. For example: it was taking place on the week of April 14th. If you weren't taking it on April 14th, the next time would be May 12th, for example. So, once a month, the personal discipline to study, you had to manage your holidays, your studies and the exam schedule to try to do it all as quickly as possible. And that's how you progress between all the certificates. And then after that, to get promoted onboard the ship, you have to prove the captain, and also the company, that you are ready to get a higher position. You have the skills certificate that allows you to become second officer, but you must prove that you are ready to be second officer on board the ship. And then, to be first officer. Each officer has his own responsabilities on board the ship. So, he must be ready to take on the responsability, all the higher responsabilities including taking the command of a ship entirely. -- What kind of ship did you work on before and, where did you work? -- I mainly worked on tankers as an officer. Pretty much exclusively on tankers. The only ship that wasn't a tanker, was a ship belonging to Société des Traversiers du Québec. The last ship I worked on before starting the training for pilot was the Camille Marcoux, a ferryboat between Matane and Baie-Comeau. I was pretty young when I got that job. I was 27 years old when I was... when I started to take the command of the Camille Marcoux. And we used to relieve... There were two captains on board Camille Marcoux who used to take over one week ON, one week OFF. And both captains, who were very experienced, retired a few months beforehand. So, I remember well meeting with passengers on the ship's deck. They would see me, and then would ask: "Who's the captain on board?" And I would just reply: "I am the captain." And they would reply: "No, no. We mean the real captain?". Just because for them, I was 27 years old, it was pretty rare to see very young captains, like that, take command of a ship where there could be... I think there were 600... The Camille Marcoux could host 650 passengers. And before that, I was the captain on a brand new chemical tanker, that a company from Quebec had just bought: Groupe Desgagnés from Quebec. I was captain for them. Not for very long. But, these are the two times I was in command. Before that, I had only navigated on tankers. Tankers, but tankers that carried gas, or chemicals, or regular tankers. In fact a tanker is a ship that transports materials... liquid materials. So, you can have tankers carrying water. There are tankers which transport orange juice. There are tankers which carry liquid gas. For exemple: propane, butane, but in a liquid form. So, a tanker is a type of ship which carries bulk liquids. Bulk carriers only transport solid bulk. Container ships transport containers. There are Lake freighters. Another one... These ships are specially made for the Great Lakes. That is to say with maximum dimensions to go through the locks. But me, I spent my career on tankers. -- And so, earlier on, you said that you ended up in Lebanon, Near Lebanon's coast. --Yeah. -- You went to a lot of countries with this... -- Yeah. I did go to a lot of countries. I have never been to the Far East. But I have been to South and North America, Northern Europe, Africa. I worked for a long time in Africa, the Mediterranean, Turkey, Norway. The Persian Gulf. Except for the Far East where I have never navigated, I can say I have been to the other parts of the world. -- Have you ever had any troubles? or do you have anecdotes to tell us?-- Anecdotes? One of the anecdotes that I often tell, and it is related to my.... to the fact that French is my mother tongue. I remember very well navigating with English-speaking Canadians. And we entered a harbour.... Portland's habour, in Main. It was on the same day as the American Superball, and the Americam coast guards came on board and under... It was a tanker. And under the connectors, there's some kind of large container. And in English, we call that a drip tray. It is a container that gathers drops which could fall during the connection or disconnection of the loading pipes. And then, the coast guard officer told me:... We had some bad weather for two days before that. So the drip trays were full of ice. And then, the American coast guard officer, he told me, in English: "Well made. You won't be able to start discharging because your drip tray is full of ice". And I said: "Ok. Understood. I was second officer. I called the first officer and told him "Dany, the coast guard said we can't discharge because the drip tray is full of glass". And then he said: "How come the drip tray is full of glass?" And then, me, I was a bit more short-fused at the time. So I answered: "The weather's been bad for two days, So the drip tray is full of glass!" So then, he said:"You mean is full of ice." At that moment, I felt ridiculous and small like that. After that, I navigated with English speakers, English from England. I was second... second officer. So, we are about to enter in New Orleans, Mississippi. We were about to pick up the pilot from the Mississippi River. And, the captain... I call the captain and tell him: "Captain, we are going to pick up the pilot in half an hour". Generally, the captain is in charge of maneuvering when that is the case. So the captain goes upstairs and tells me: "OK Pierre. You can go down dowstairs and get your bowl of soup." In that case, English not being my mother tongue, when it doesn't fit in the context... You know, it is 2 o'clock in the morning. The captain is telling me that I can go downstairs to get my bowl of soup. I knew something was not right. So, I ask him to repeat. He repeats exactly the same thing: "You can go down and get your bowl of soup." But..."Captain, I am so sorry, I can't understand what you mean. Go down and get your boiler suit." English-speakers call a kind of... Coveralls. What we call here coveralls. They used to call it a boiler suit. And me, I did not know this expression. Boilet suit. So I told him: "Ah, I thought you were looking for a bowl...And I tell him: "What? You want a bowl of soup?" And he says: "No, no. Go down and get your boiler suit." So, that is the second one... When it comes to navigation, obviously.... We've had some bad weather. There were.... In Northern Atlantic, winter can be quite difficult. I remember going across the.... During eight days at sea, we were not able to go out on the deck, on any day, because the weather was really bad. Freezing sea sprays. When the... the temperature is below zero, but the water is still liquid, and when there are waves that splash the ship's stem, once the drops of water come onto the deck. The deck is cold, so it freezes. And ice forms. That, that was... That was unforgettable. However, when it comes to... when it comes to cargo, we've had all kinds of adventures. Some... Situations when you had to... We had.... we got contaminated cargo. Several experiences like that. But, there wasn't... Nowadays, tankers that navigate through certain places in the world are often...Well, not often, but.... Modern pirates can attack them. At the time, we didn't have to worry about that, or very little. When I was working for Maersk, in Africa, Maersk which is a big Danish company, we had... there were pirates along the west coast of Africa. But, I've never had any personal experience. However, a sister ship from the same company, got attacked and two crew members were murdered: a steersman and an officer from a ship similar to mine, and which was navigating in the same area. But personnally, that never happened to me. -- Were you ever scared for your life in other occasions?-- I was only scared for my life once because, when we are on land, sometimes, we get to visit. Then, me, I have never navigated on passenger ship. So, all the places we were going to, were refineries, and refineries are often outside big cities, because of pollution and so on. And, once, in Fort-de-France in Martinique, we ended up with people threatening us with machete. But there, that was a French territory but... That was the only time I got the most scared but I've never been scared for my life when navigating. Once, I got scared: that's when I was navigating with Maersk, in Africa. I was in charge of piloting approaching ships. I was on a ship. We call it a storage tanker. It is a... a ship which lies at anchor in open sea and which receives products. And there are other ships which come alongside the ship. It is the first officer's responsibility to maneuver the approach with the export ship. You had to climb a rope ladder, like I do here, when piloting. And once, one of the sides of the rope ladder had given way but I was still very very close to the pilot boat. So I fell down on the pilot boat but, if it had happen 20 or 25 feet higher, there could have been a real problem. This is... on a physical point of view, that was probably what was the most... the most life-threatening. -- Why did you decide to become a pilot on the Saint-Lawrence River, here in Quebec? -- What made me... When I was at the Maritime Institute, my goal was to become an officer. Once I became officer, my goal was then to become a captain. Then, I was navigating for Maersk, a Danish company where conditions were ideal to navigate. Then, I was contacted by a company from Quebec, Groupe Desgagnés, who had just bought a brand new chemical tanker and they offered me the position of captain. I was 27 years old at the time. I went to the interview and at the end of the interview, I was told I was hired to become a captain for them. I was 27 years old. I was the first student in my class to become a captain. I was very very happy. That was on a Thursday. On Friday, they called me for all the administrative paperwork, cheques, salary and other things. So I spent the end of the week with my head in the clouds. I told myself: "That's it, that's the realization of my dream. The following Tuesday, I was called and told that, in the end, they were somewhat coming back on ... Not somewhat. They were coming back on their decision. There was someone who'd worked for them, who showed to be perfectly incompetent. But at the time, I didn't and they didn't know it. Anyways, from the captain's job, they were offering me to become the substitute captain. We were navigating for 8 months per year in those years. Instead of being captain for 8 months, I was offered to be a captain for 4 months, while the captain was on holidays, And, to be first officer during the other 4 months. So then, I came back to Earth rapidly. And the experience on this boat ended up being quite difficult with that captain and with... the chief engineer who was also on that boat who... Both were dismissed later on but at that specific moment, I had to work with those people. It ended up being difficult. And at the same time, one of my colleagues had started piloting, that same year. And he came. When you are a trainee-pilot, you have to travel with pilots. My ship had gone to the Great Lakes. He came on board. And once we reached Montreal, he took his suitcase and went home to see his wife and kids. Me, my wife that I hadn't seen for three months and a half, came with my son that I hadn't seen for three months and a half as well. When I left home, he was just about three weeks old. So at the same moment, once I realized that the company had a bit... Not a bit. They'd come back on their decision, and realizing what conditions pilots were given... At that time, I told myself:" I am going to do my best and try to get as many jobs as possible. There is a point system that allows to get into piloting. I wanted to get as many points as possible to become a ship pilot. --So the difference between a captain and a pilot is not just about ranking but also points. For example, working hours. -- Yes, it is completely different. --It is completely different, ship types are different as well. -- The pilot, is specialized in one region. I know 72,000 rivers very, very well. Like the back of my hand. I know Quebec to Trois-Rivières very well. The captain, he always stays onboard his ship. The captain is the ultimate authority on the ship. Even though the law in Canada requires ships to use a pilot to travel some areas, the same law doesn't exempt the captain from his obligations. So, if the captain, while I am in charge of the transit, has doubts about my knowledge or about my skills, he can dismiss me at any time. That means that the captain has the right to do it. However, if he does it, he has 72 hours to submit a report to the Laurentian Pilotage Authority. What you need to understand is that, in Canada, piloting is regulated. There are four pilotage authorities. The Pilotage Authority... The pilotage Authority for the West Coast, for the East Coast, for the Great Lakes and the Laurentians which is here. They are Crown Corporations that were created in 1972, which have federal authority to make legislation in terms of piloting. And the law requires ships to take a pilot on board but, as I was explaining, if the captain has any doubts on my knowledge or skills, he can dismiss me. But the captain always stays on board his ship. He can work with 25 different pilots but he always stays on board his ship. While the pilot is the specialist of a region. The type of ship doesn't matter, he knows the area and takes... When I get on board a ship, I am in charge of navigation. I am in charge of navigating the ship between Quebec and Trois-Rivières, and obviously between Trois-Rivières and Quebec. We do the return trip. -- What are the characteristics of the Saint-Lawrence River and why is it dangerous to navigate this river?-- The Saint-Lawrence River is relatively difficult but, per sections, for different reasons. For example: I pilot between Quebec and Trois-Rivières. This section is subject to tides. And it is subject... This is a section where there is an important change in the nature of the bottom. Some areas have a silty bottom. Other areas have sand at the bottom, and other sections have a rocky bottom. And the ship react differently depending on the nature of the bottom. This is also a section subject to tide currents. In Quebec, we can get up to 22 or even 24 feet-tides. So that means that the currents change twice a day. Since there is a tide, the... channel does not have the same depth everywhere. The subjects... Areas that are less subject to tides, for example: from here, Batiscan, which is 20 miles downstream from Trois-Rivières, le channel is 11.3 meters deep with, as a reference, zero on maps. On the other hand, between Batiscan and Saint-Jean-Deschaillons, it is 11 meter deep. And from Deschaillons to Quebec, it is 10.7 meters. So, it is not as deep. However, the tides are more important. So for us, we need to be in coordination with the tidal wave to allow ships with deep draught to go through. For Montreal's sector, one of the characteristics... So for us, between Quebec and Trois-Rivières, it often happens that we take care of transits. We get onboard the pilot-ship in Quebec and disembark on the pilot-ship on Trois-Rivières. Big ships do not stop to take pilots on board. They only slow down. There is a small shuttle boat which comes very close, and then we climb a rope ladder on the side of the boat. Or, an aluminium ladder when they are available. We don't get a chance to maneuver the ship, to berth the ship during each job. For the sector from Trois-Rivières to Montreal... Pilots, who belong to the same corporation as me, need to maneuver ships for each job. When they get on board in Trois-Rivières, the ship's destination is the wharf, the Saint-Lambert lock or anchorage. And then, when they leave Montreal, they leave anchorage, they leave from the lock, or they leave from the wharf, towards Trois-Rivières. So they are better than most of us. They are the best pilots in this sector because they have to maneuver ships for each job. We become good at maneuvering ships by maneuvering all the time. It's as if I told you... Parallel parking. You know, we only get better by keeping on doing it. So the pilots from Montreal get the opportunity to maneuver during each job, things that we don't get to do. However, here, the coastline is very well-defined for work with a radar. So we are able to become better at the use of radar in our sector. The pilots from Montreal don't get to develop it as much because the coastline doesn't allow it. Here, you will see rocky escarpments that you can clearly see on the radar. The radar is a basic navigational apparatus for pilots. In the Montreal sector, for example, Lake St Peter, is a vast area. When we get on board, there is... the coastline doesn't rise much. So, it is difficult for them to read the radar images. For the area from Quebec to Escoumins, the navigation channel is... Between Montreal and Quebec, the navigation channel is only 240 meters wide with a 2.5 meter-strip on both sides which are 10.5 meters away. So it is about 245 meters wide. We pilot ships that are longer that the channel's width. Ships... The length of ships going towards Montreal, the maximum is 300 metres. At the moment, ships that are 294 metres long cannot transit but the channel is only 245 meters wide. The channel is wider between Quebec and Escoumins. But the ships are bigger. It is not part of my piloting area but, they have their own problems over there too. They allow very very big ships to go through the North channel, at the Island of Orleans. They must be coordinated with the navy. Each sector has its own difficulties. The river offers a varied range of difficulties depending on where you are. -- We are just going to stop for a bit.-- --Maybe not on the Saint-Lawrence.-- Yeah. Well...-- Yes, we are filming.-- What are the skills required to become a pilot?-- The required skills? -- For a pilot on the Saint-Lawrence River.-- Well... I think the best... The most important one is probably coordination. Being able to... Coordination... Do... Being able to do several things at the same time. Being able to anticipate, being able to see, feel or see events coming up.

Video Details

Duration: 30 minutes and 1 second
Country: France
Language: French (Canada)
Producer: Karen Vanderborght
Views: 97
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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