End of an era for Portsmouth harbour pilots

The retiring pilots plus current staff at the retirement reception on board HMS Victory
The retiring pilots plus current staff at the retirement reception on board HMS Victory
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Picture: Jonathan Brady

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BETWEEN them they have spent decades looking after the movements of warships at the naval base.

Now four of the admiralty pilots from Portsmouth Naval Base have retired all at once.

Steve Tidbury, Alex Carnegie, Neil Fray and Bill Clarke have enjoyed long careers supporting the Royal Navy and its operations both at the base and away from the port.

And they all have fond memories of the warships and major naval events which they have helped to keep running.

They marked their retirement with a reception on board HMS Victory at the historic dockyard.

Mr Fray, 55, said: ‘I have lots of fond memories to take away such as some of the big events like the International Festival of the Sea and Trafalgar 200.

‘I have really enjoyed my time in the job and will take away a lot of good experiences into retirement.’

Mr Fray began work in the maritime world at the docks in Chatham in 1978 before being sent to Rosyth in 1983 shortly before the Kent docks closed.

He obtained his masters and qualified as an all-ships pilot in 1987.

Mr Fray, who lived in Bosham but now on retirement has moved back to Kent, came to Portsmouth in 1991.

He added: ‘My best memory of the job was being a pilot and a tug master – that was the best.

‘Pilots used to be based on the tugs but it was decided to take us away from them and place us in the harbour control office.

‘I also do miss driving the old dog-class tugs, the last of which was got rid of about five years ago.’

Portsmouth’s admiralty pilots work for the Queen’s Harbour Master out of the naval base’s Semaphore Tower and are Ministry of Defence employees.

Chief admiralty pilot Tony Bannister said: ‘These four pilots have done an excellent job keeping the port operational and open for all these years.

‘Their work as pilots and in the harbour control office has been vital to the successful operation of the harbour.

‘With Portsmouth being Britain’s second-busiest port, the demands of the job are high and they have always risen to those demands to ensure we provide the best support possible to the Royal Navy.

‘I wish them all the best as they head off into their well-earned retirement.’

The job of Portsmouth’s admiralty pilots is to provide pilotage support to all warships entering and leaving the harbour.

They are also involved when ships move between berths and docks within the harbour.