At 11 a.m. on July 6, approximately a mile and half northeast of East Quoddy Head Light in the Bay of Fundy, Captain Robert Peacock stepped from the deck of the U.S.S. Hawes (FFG-53) onto the frigate’s pilot’s ladder. That step officially marked the end of Eastport’s Old Home Week/Fourth of July celebration – and it also marked the departure of the 24th Navy ship to visit Eastport since 1982, all piloted by Peacock.

The Navy vessels, however, are a small fraction of this harbor pilot’s roster. Peacock says he’s brought 483 ships in from the pilot station through Head Harbour Passage to Eastport and taken 496 ships out on the same route. And that’s just his work for the Port of Eastport.

Peacock explains the discrepancy between inbound and outbound as a function of his partnership with the other Eastport harbor pilot, Gerald Morrison. “We share a lot of jobs based on family functions, meetings,

schools, illness, and the like,” says Peacock. “We work together.”

Morrison made news in January when the 425-foot cargo ship Alexandergracht was steaming through Head Harbour Passage inbound for Eastport, when she lost power. Using his experience, and training – as well as the ship’s two anchors and bow thruster – Morrison secured the vessel and kept a mishap from becoming a dangerous situation.

The departure of the Hawes on July 6 was routine and on schedule. But the frigate’s arrival on July 2 was not quite so routine when the vessel encountered fog – a common occurrence downeast but a factor that makes Navy commanding officers cautious, and Cdr. Kristin Jacobsen was no exception. It was clear to Peacock aboard the pilot boat that the ship wouldn’t arrive at the pilot station on schedule, and he agreed to meet her off West Quoddy Head.

“She wasn’t the first, and she won’t be the last,” Peacock says of the CO’s cautious speed – and he takes it all in stride.

“At least half of this job is preparation,” he says. Weeks before the frigate’s arrival he’s been in constant contact with the ship, sending e-mails with instructions and detailing factors like tides and currents, as well as security assets. He also provides the ship with an inch-thick book in which he provides everything from sectional navigational maps to onshore resources to a description of Old Home Week to a maritime history of Eastport to a detailed diagram on how the frigate will be docked. The book also includes Peacock’s experience and qualifications, which are formidable.

Besides Eastport, Peacock has served as harbor pilot in Penobscot Bay, on the Penobscot River, and in Bar Harbor. He has served as master for tankers and served as first class pilot, chief, second and third mate. He’s worked on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Great Lakes, Africa, the Mediterranean, Europe, the Persian Gulf and Vietnam

Now a retired captain in the Naval Reserve Peacock’s naval career has spanned more than 30 years. He holds a B. S. degree in nautical science from Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) where he now serves on the board of trustees.

However, he credits a great deal of his education and training to a group of Penobscot Bay pilots – Gilbert Hall, Richard Moody, William Abbott and Murray Gray. “They helped me a lot,” he says. “They were my teachers on the coast of Maine. I rode as pilot observer for 12 years to get their approval. They were tough and demanding.”

Peacock’s first job as a licensed pilot in Eastport was in 1976 aboard the Swedish freighter Arizona. “We didn’t get another ship until 1981,” he adds.

He stresses that planning is important for all the ships he pilots. For Navy vessels the issue of security is added to his usual comprehensive planning. “I like to know as much as I possibly can about the ship – class, for instance, if it’s a class I’m familiar with. I like to get to know the different players, the navigator, the XO, the deck officer. I want to get a real feel for the ship before I get alongside. Each visit is an active learning exercise for the Navy. I consider myself nor just the pilot but as an assistant training officer”

With media like the Discovery Channel raising the issue of the hazards that harbor pilots face especially when boarding and leaving a ship, Peacock says that personal safety is a critical issue.

Referring to Captain Ralph DeWitt and crewman James Smith of the Eastport pilot boat, Medric II, Peacock said, “We train every year. We take safety courses at MMA. We’ve done fast boat rescue handling. The Maine State Pilot Commission offers a wonderful course in safety, and of course we pat attention to life rafts, life vests and survival suits.”

Peacock also took notice of the fact that six pilots were lost just last year. “One in Hawaii. On the Columbia River bar an MMA grad fell off the ladder; they found him 60 miles away 12 hours later. In Delaware a pilot fell off the ladder; they never found the pilot. In Galveston the pilot boat tipped over. Pilot in Boston stepped from a barge onto the ship, fell off. In Alaska the pilot helicopter crashed; pilot froze to death. We had five years without an incident; then we lose six in one year.”

Peacock himself has had a close call. “This was when the Eastport pilot boat was the old Chester T. Marshall. Well, due to a passenger leaning against the kill switch, her engine quit. The ship’s captain stopped his engines, put her hard over and swung the stern away from us, and the pilot boat’s captain diving below to start the engine, That saved us.” Then he added, “There have been many instances when it was just too rough to get aboard.”

But again Peacock emphasizes planning and caution. “Every time I get ready to bring in a ship I assess conditions externally and internally until I feel it’s safe to maneuver. Even if the weather’s good I may not be satisfied to proceed.”

“In Eastport, the people at ships’ agent Federal Marine are masters at understanding that we have procedures that we must follow,” Peacock says, and he cited Russell Selwood, who also serves as security director for Federal Marine. He also has high praise for Captain Charles Leppin, who serves as tug and operations manager, as well as security director for the Port of Eastport.

Peacock also can look at his job with a sense of humor, especially about the pea soup that’s known as fog on Passamaquoddy Bay. He recalls the following incident with a Navy ship.

“I told the captain we were 30 or 40 feet off the pier,” he says. “The captain ordered one of the deck crew to throw a heaving line onto the pier. The crewman asked which side he should throw it from. The captain never forgot it. I sailed with him again, and he loved to tell that story.”