A Pilot’s Life

A Pilot’s Life

Piloting ships as long as a 100-story skyscraper is tall leaves little margin for error. It takes a superior helmsman who intimately knows the bay to safely navigate the bay’s shipping channels aboard vessels that barely clear the bay bottom.

“It’s empowering,” says Capt. Carolyn Kurtz, the sole female in an elite group of 21 highly skilled harbor pilots who guide foreign-flagged cargo and cruise ships through Tampa Bay. Pilots are on call 24/7 for two-week shifts. The job is challenging and dangerous. Tugboats ferry pilots to inbound ships at sea; pilots climb aboard using rope ladders while the ship is underway — something Kurtz managed even while pregnant.

“There’s a little leap of faith you make when you get on ship that it’s going to respond the way you expect.” A sluggish rudder, or a tired crew, can have serious consequences, for the crew and the bay, especially in bad weather and with hazardous materials aboard.

“Some days I feel like I really nailed it. Others days I need the tugs to help push the ship around.”

“But it’s like watching gymnastics: all anyone remembers is the perfect landing.”

Did you know?  Tampa Bay’s main ship channel is 42 feet deep in places –  nearly four times the bay’s average natural depth.

Photo By: Jorge Viso

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