The valet parker for ships

by Bianca Reineke - published on 14 November 2020 366 -

Book review of Capt. Paul Lobo's "Crossing the bar".

Captain Paul Lobo`s extraordinary biography as the Pilot, who was „Crossing the bar“

When young Captain Paul Lobo met his future wife Carol, for the first time, they talked - like we all do when we try to get to know each other - about their jobs. “I am a valet parker for ships“ was his answer to her question of what he did for a living.
All Marine Pilots do know why... As the sentence „I am a Pilot“ will almost always be followed by „And which Airline do you fly for?“
This is just one of many wonderful and clever anecdotes in Captain Lobo`s book.

More than 30 years of being a Pilot

Being a sea and bay Pilot in San Francisco for more than 30 years makes his vivid memories very special and surely interesting for his professional peers- but even the laymen and landlubbers among us will be fascinated by the many stories he has to tell.
Let´s never forget that 90 percent of all trade comes via the waters of the world. So piloting the giant vessels who carry our goods, concerns all of us.

Captain Paul Lobo takes the reader on a trip through centuries of working on the water. All the encounters with crew members and captains from around the globe alone, the discussions on the bridge when the vessel is on the move, and nobody speaks or understands English.... the difficulties of manoeuvring the giant ship through unpredictable weather conditions, the dangerous way to get on the ship via wobbling ladders...all of that makes a good and exciting read.

And while Captain Lobo`s colleagues know about this hard and demanding job, all other readers will be full of respect after learning the way of piloting through the eyes of a man, who did this for over 30 years - and who guided 6.500 ships throughout San Francisco Bay.

Crossing the bar - and loving it

„Crossing the bar“ - a quotation from Sir Alfred Tennyson`s brillant poem about his looming death and his hope and faith in his very own „Pilot“ to carry his boat of life safely home, is a book full of power. The power of the oceans, the power of the giant vessels and the power, a Marine Pilot owns.
„Whenever I was on a ship, I was completely in charge of everything that happened in relation to moving it (...)“ writes Paul Lobo and he admits frankly that „That kind of power is rare and one of the reasons I love piloting so much.“
The love for this job is obvious in every sentence of every page.

But Captain Lobo manages to balance the reality of said job. Not everything in more than 30 years went smoothly and successfully. As the Pilots among you will know, this profession is a dangerous one as well.
But let’s be honest, after reading Captain Lobo`s biography, every reader will envy the extraordinary experiences only Marine Pilots have.

International encounters, wobbling ladders, coffee, tea and food

After getting the call to piloting a ship, come rain or storm or sunshine, and by the way no vessel cares about holidays, family gatherings or nighttime, it is a mystery, whom you will meet on the bridge.
But before getting there you have to embark the giant ship you are to guide through your waters.
As all pilots know, and have learned immediately, ladders, that are meant to bring the pilot on board safe and sound, are not always that safe.

Captain Lobo tells about a vessel,a former college classmate and CEO of a large tanker company had built. She costs around 500 million dollars, but one place to „save money“ was the way the pilot gets to the bridge. (No Elevator!)

Whenever you have safely entered the bridge, forget about the way you got there, is his mantra.

When on the bridge, you have to concentrate upon your work and nothing else. Forget how wobbly and dangerous, wet and nearly broken the ladder might have been. And never think about how the hell you will be getting back to the pilot boat after finishing your job...

Instead: Try to get a hot coffee. Captain Lobo describes the satisfying feeling a steaming mug of caffeine can bring on a bridge full of strangers who rely on you and your craft.

Sometimes you have to settle for a lukewarm cup of tea. And you will not always get delicious food on board, but all the talks, discussions, professional dialogues while manoeuvring the vessel, are priceless.Not one day resembles the other while piloting.

A very old profession and a famous pilot you maybe did not knew about

„Crossing the bar“ is an eclectic mixture of technical information about ships and piloting, wonderful vivid anecdotes about colleagues, mentors, friends and strangers. You will find interesting and surprisingly historical notes to piloting throughout the centuries. That this profession might be the second eldest next to prostitution in history might be one of the funny footnotes this book has to offer.

That the author Mark Twain used to be a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi and received his pilot license long before he became a famous and renowned journalist and writer, might be such a surprise. He loved his old profession so much that his home like a steamboat...

Lots of piloting quotation are from Twain himself - and Paul Lobo knows them all.

Faith, Superstition and accidents

People working at sea do have their very own believes, myths and stories to tell. Superstition might be a hard word to describe the rituals and ways to cope with the world of piloting, but after reading „Crossing the bar“ you will be surprised how important a bottle of whiskey can be when you join a burial at sea for a dear colleague.
The books begins with such a scenari. It is bittersweet and sad to say goodbye to someone who loved his job and the water as much as all the pilots do.
When the urn is put into sea, there is a bottle of Jack Daniels that is thrown in with it, along with a single white rose. „So he can have one on the way up,” said the pilot who threw in the bottle of Jack Daniels.

Interesting that there is supposed to be a „way up“ to God above, but also the idea, that a pilot who loved the water, will stay in this element enjoying his whiskey.

Death and fatal accidents are dealt with in this book as well. Paul Lobo describes the opening ceremony at the IMPA (international maritime pilot´s association) meetings that are held up every two years. There is a graceful and honorful moment of silence and a two minute silent prayer for all the pilots who tragically lost their lives during the last two year.
The book allows these death to be mentioned. Sadly some of the pilots who fall from the ships are never to be found...

Mr. Pilot, brilliant metaphors and Friedrich Nietzsche

„What doesn`t kill us makes us stronger“ is a quotation, Paul Lobo uses at the end of his career - and his book.
After reading the page turner, the reader will agree to this statement.
The author and Captain, who has been called (as all pilots, even the female ones have) „Mr. Pilot“ when boarding the ship, he has had his fair share and dangerous situations but very few accidents. But, he survived them safe and sound. He looks back on 30 years of piloting, sitting next to his wife, overlooking Martha`s Vineyard.

Thanks to him and his writer`s talent, we will be transported on numerous bridges of giant vessels.

He takes us into the eyes of the storms, into the heaviest rain, the wild waters and the unknown dangers looming in the streams.
All the brilliant metaphors and vigorous details he is telling, puts the reader right into the situation.

Sometimes it feels like the roaring waves and the foamy sea are underneath your feet and before your eyes while reading.

A mixture of feelings and a recapitulation full of gratefulness

Paul Lobo is not shying away form writing about his feelings. He takes us with him every step of the way. There is responsibility. For the ship, the people on it, for the Harbour, the environment, for the water. There are tears, and fear, and the problem of getting seasick. There is danger, unpredictable circumstances and there is the issue of time. Lots of pressure on one man`s shoulder that´s for sure.

But, there will always be the proud feeling of being able to get a giant vessel through your very own harbour. Profound knowledge, a very good education, professionalism, dedication and commitment are essentials, each Pilot has to live and breathe. To love your job might be the key. It is a job worth loving that´s for sure.

In Paul Lobós professional life there were amazing helicopter flights above the gorgeous archs of his beloved Golden Gate Bridge. And not to forget Captain Lobo’s incomparable experiences U.S. Navy ships and aircraft carriers. Thanks to lots of photographs, the reader can join the adventure.

A life of piloting. Thankfully shared with the world with „Crossing the bar“

Bianca Reineke, November 2020, Germany

Editor's note:
Opinion pieces reflect the personal opinion of individual authors. They do not allow any conclusions to be drawn about a prevailing opinion in the respective editorial department. Opinion pieces might be deliberately formulated in a pronounced or even explicit tone and may contain biased arguments. They might be intended to polarise and stimulate discussion. In this, they deliberately differ from the factual articles you typically find on this platform, written to present facts and opinions in as balanced a manner as possible.
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