October 1, 2014
Interview with a passionate marine pilot
Continuing our series on passionate cruise aficionados, we met with an individual who regularly sails the waters of the Saint Lawrence. His name is Simon Lebrun and he is a marine pilot. A member of the Corporation of Mid-Saint Lawrence Pilots, Mr Lebrun is also President of Marine Heritage Canada, an organization set up to promote the country's maritime heritage through activities, events and attractions linked to maritime, aquatic and nautical life.
- To begin, please explain to readers what Saint Lawrence marine pilots do.
The Corporation of Mid-Saint Lawrence Pilots comprises about a hundred individuals whose job it is to assist ships in navigating safely from one point to another. Annually, the team of pilots handles some 5000 ship movements between Québec and Montréal, from bulk cargo and container vessels to cruise ships. Myself, I am part of the team responsible for ship movements between Trois-Rivières and Montréal. Our job involves sharing our knowledge of navigation on the Saint Lawrence with individual ship crews. Once aboard, always in teams of two, we take charge of piloting the vessel and convey course directions to the helmsman. It is the latter who steers the ship and proceeds according to our directions. Through our training, we are poised to prescribe manoeuvres based on ship type and river conditions.
Readers will be interested to learn that we are often required to board moving ships. To do so, we use small, high speed boats to travel out to the ships which must then reduce their speed. Once the ship and shuttle vessel have aligned their speed, the two pilots climb aboard using a rope ladder deployed by the ship. When one team of pilots comes aboard to relieve another, the changeover must take place very quickly as the ship is constantly moving. Understandably, we must be extremely precise in assessing the ship's current heading and conveying directions for the ongoing voyage.
- How long have you worked in a position connected to the marine/cruise industry?
I have worked in the industry since my days as a navigation officer for Royal Caribbean International from 2001 through to 2006, and have been a marine pilot on the Saint Lawrence for 8 years now.
- Could you tell readers a little about your professional background?
Following studies in marine navigation, I worked on oil tankers prior to my debut in cruise circles with Royal Caribbean International and then with Corporation of Mid Saint Lawrence Pilots as a marine pilot.
- What fascinates you or what do you especially enjoy about your work?
The marine pilot is an important link in the transport chain and I am proud to be a part of that chain. Pilots are akin to river ambassadors for ship crews and I am always pleased to introduce the river and surroundings to individuals journeying on the Saint Lawrence for the first time. In the course of day-to-day responsibilities, I am required to carry out challenging navigational manoeuvres such as anchoring, berthing and entering locks. Although the route taken is always the same, conditions change based on the combination of ship, crew and weather. As a result, there is always an element of novelty about what I do.
- What are the primary navigational challenges found on the Saint Lawrence?
The Saint Lawrence, not unlike other waterways in the world, comprises a number of substantial challenges which owe especially to river width and depth. All manoeuvres must be adapted based on ship size, surface area and air draught.
With traffic ever increasing on the Saint Lawrence, it is important to guide all ships safely and securely to destination. Naturally, navigation in winter is quite different and involves a higher level of risk owing to reduced visibility, ice and snow.
- What does the Saint Lawrence have to offer cruiseshippers?
The Saint Lawrence provides a diversity of experiences and countryscapes as one journeys from the hinterland to more urban surrounds. I personally find it amazing that, in the space of a few short days, one can revel in the splendour of the Saguenay fjord and nature at its finest, sail upstream into history at Québec and then continue on to big city hustle and bustle at Montréal.
- How do you view development potential for the Saint Lawrence?
I am convinced that there is a future for winter cruises in Québec. Naturally, that would require ships designed to confront the rigours of the season, if indeed they exist! The winter landscape, often lunar in aspect, would doubtless attract the adventuresome at heart.
Also, there are ever increasing numbers of smaller cruise ships on the Saint Lawrence such as the all new Saint Laurent scheduled to visit from 2015. These smaller ships make it possible for cruise aficionados to explore areas of interest often inaccessible to larger vessels. My mind immediately turns to the Lake St-Pierre World Biosphere Reserve not far from Trois-Rivières which provides an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. There exists a wealth of hidden wonders between the Magdalen Islands and Montréal just waiting to be discovered by passing cruiseshippers. It is my honest belief that new itineraries will be developed in the years ahead and that we will welcome ever greater numbers of cruise ships large and small to the Saint Lawrence.
- Have you ever been on a cruise?
I have been on a number of cruises in the Lower Saint Lawrence and gulf region with stops at the Mingan Archipelago, Anticosti Island and the Magdalen Islands. Each time, I come away with lasting memories. And each time, I am impressed by the warm welcome reserved for cruiseshippers at each of the ports of call visited.
- What would you like to see in the year ahead for cruiseshippers keen on discovering the Saint Lawrence?
That we might together provide memorable experiences for cruiseshippers one and all and that the latter, enchanted, will wish to plan return visits to our shores on other ships featuring different itineraries. In this way, we will be able to treat ever growing numbers of visitors to the countless facets of Destination Saint Lawrence!