Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy


The Forth Pilotage Authority (Part 2)

A brief background regarding the Firth of Forth Pilotage Authority pertaining to the boarding and landing vessels – sea going cutters and harbour launches.

Forth Pilotage Cutter Largo Law (sold out of service 1969)
Seen at North Berwick harbour as a private pleasure yacht
Pilot Cutters.
Forth Pilotage Cutter No. 1, ex Admiralty MFV 1919. built Wivenhoe 1919, sold out of service 1938 as a yacht.
TRAPRAIN LAW, ex Forth Pilotage Cutter No. 2, built by Miller, St Monans, 1924, sold out of service 1969 as a yacht.
LARGO LAW, ex Forth Pilotage Cutter No. 3, built by Miller, St Monans, 1924,
Sold out of service 1969 as a yacht.
BERWICK LAW, built by Weatherhead, Cockenzie, 1938, sold out of service to Sandbank, Holy Loch, 1970.
Leith Pilot launch, TIGER, built 1914 by Weatherhead, Cockenzie.
Methil launch, Lion. Grangemouth launch, Leopard. Boness launch, Panther.
North/South Queensferry launch, Elk. Burntisland/Kirkaldy launch, Beaver.

The Sea, River and Docking Pilots within the limits of the Firth of Forth came under the jurisdiction of the Forth Pilotage Authority, with the exception of the Royal Naval Dockyard at Rosyth – which was the responsibility of the Kings/Queens harbourmaster;

Each and every Firth of Forth Licensed Pilot was self-employed, all their earnings being collected into a common pool and shared out each month, Pilots were stationed at Leith, (26) Grangemouth, (8) North Queensferry, (1) Burntisland/Kirkaldy, (2) and Methil, (2). The area administration centre was within the Trinity House of Leith, in the Kirkgate, this Office later moved to premises just inside the Shore gate of Leith Docks.

Leith had the largest number of Licensed Pilots, fluctuating usually between twenty two and twenty six, some of those serving were sixth generation, originating from the small fishing community of Newhaven-on-Forth, which at one time was known by the poetic name of Our Lady’s Port of Grace, situated between Leith and Granton.

Grangemouth at the upper reaches of the Forth had eight Pilots, North Queensferry, one, Burntisland/Kirkcaldy two and Methil two.

The Leith Pilot Look-out Station, situated at the Imperial Dock Basin, was a self contained operations centre, with a look-out room which covered an unrestricted view by powerful telescope from Gullane Bay in the East, though North, including Inchkeith and Burntisland, to the Oxcar Lighthouse, and Granton Harbour in the West.

For the convenience of Pilots being landed from ships, either in-bound from the North Sea or out-bound from up river, Grangemouth, Boness etc; and unable to return home until public transport had re-started there was a custom built bunk-room providing sleeping accommodation with all domestic facilities.

A fully equipped engineering workshop, with resident Engineer Superintendent, was incorporated, all of the Pilot Sea-going Cutters and Launches being serviced in house, during this period all marine engines fitted were supplied by Kelvin Engines of Dobbie’s Loan, Glasgow.

Support Staff:

Robert Nicholson………………Pilot Master

Ian Avery………………………….Company Secretary

Thomas Carnie…………………Cashier

Miss Dunnet……………………..Office Administrator

Thomas Donaldson…………..Engineer Superintendant

Boarding and Landing launches were operated from Leith, Grangemouth, North Queensferry, Burntisland and Methil, the Leith Launch also serviced the Inchkeith Pilot Cutter with provisions and took Pilots to and from that Station.

Three sea-going Pilot Cutters covered the two out stations, one vessel always being moored at Leith during the crew rest week and for routine servicing, and as an emergency back-up vessel: the other two craft spent one week at Inchkeith one week at North Berwick on a system of rotation, the first two week cycle at sea being the Inchkeith or Inner Station.

The Cutter lay at a mooring buoy on the East side to watch for inward bound ships showing a signal requiring a Pilot, in the event of adverse weather the Cutter lay in the small harbour on the West side of the Island and the Pilots continued their watch up in the Lighthouse which also afford greater distance of visibility.

The second at the Bass Rock or outer station, although known as the Bass Rock station the Pilot Cutter usually lay in North Berwick Harbour for about three hours before to three hours after high water, with a look-out keeping watch, they then spent the remaining low tide period at a mooring close to the east side of Fidra Island, during which time a constant watch was being kept for ships requiring a Pilot or to land a Pilot.

The Cutters had a permanent crew of three, Skipper, Engineer and Cook/Steward, invariably drawn from the fishing community, these were always considered locally as being ‘plum’ jobs and much sought after, most crews serving continuously for many years until retirement.

Engineers: –

Ray McInnes.
John Gowans.
William Noble.
Dick Sharp.
Duggie McInnes.
John Gray.
Ben Morton.
Sandy MacDonald.
Seaton Noble.

During the summer months, although away from home, conditions were
reasonably pleasant, but during winter it could be very arduous: The third week spent at the Leith base required the crew to service the boat and carry out any running repairs and ensuring being ready for the next tour of duty.

The Firth of Forth Pilot Stations were known as the ‘Bass’ – named after the Bass Rock near the outer limits of the Pilotage district, the Cutter serving this area lay at a mooring on the East side of Fidra Island, close to North Berwick Harbour where Outward Pilots were landed after bringing shps from Leith or Grangemouth – and Inward Pilots embarked after returning from taking ships to any of the Ports as far as Grangemouth, the other station being known as Inchkeith, approximately half way into the Firth of forth.

A constant look out watch was maintained and any vessel seen to be flying the International code flag ‘G’, indicating – ‘I require a Pilot’ – became the focus of attention, prior to Radio communication, the Cutter immediately set off to meet the ship half way across the Firth, which at the Bass station was up to ten miles and from Inchkeith not much more than two/three miles.

During the pre ship-to-ship radio telephone era many ships did give an approximate time of arrival through their local agents although just as many turned up quite unexpectedly. The Pilot only learned where the ship was bound-for upon boarding, most of the Leith Pilots were Licensed to take a ship to or from any Dock or Harbour within the Firth of Forth limits, and if obliged to anchor, a Docking Pilot had to take over upon arriving at the Port in question.

Several little known incidents surrounding these Pilot vessels show actions of bravery where some of the crew members were engaged in attempts to save life. A Pilot Launch man, Andrew MacIntyre lost his life attempting to save a Lighthouse Keeper from Inchkeith Lighthouse, who, after a few hours shore leave, was being taken from Leith to Inchkeith.

It was assumed at the subsequent enquiry the Light Keeper had fallen overboard and MacIntyre made some heroic attempt to rescue him, the Pilot Launch ‘TIGER’, was located and picked up several miles to the East of Inchkeith the following morning, with the engine still running, in neutral gear, but no sign of either men…. a tragic case amongst the many mysteries of the sea, which happened during the early 1930’s, long before the advent of radio communication being fitted to small craft.
An equally sad and no less tragic incident occurred when the Engineer of the Pilot Cutter ‘BERWICK LAW’, Seaton Noble, who was the brother of the Skipper William Noble, was accidentally lost, presumed drowned, whilst on passage from North Berwick to Leith after their two week tour of sea duty, it has only been assumed Seton Noble fell overboard and was not posted missing until the boat was about to enter Leith, his body was never found even after extensive searching was carried out, one outcome of the enquiry decreed that safety rails and chains had to be fitted round the after end of all such craft.

Many of these vessels have been sold out of service, it is understood Pilot Cutter No. 1 is still being used as a private Yacht, as with the Largo Law, Traprain Law and the Berwick Law. When these boats were built nobody involved ever foresaw the ultimate ownership and usage, no doubt they give much pleasure to the present owners, though with a little insight to the background could they ever have visualised the worthy career their cherished boat had been through.

Licensed Pilots Circa 1930-1960:













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