Article

Pilot Walter del Río: "I work 24 hours and book the next four days".


published on 19 October 2021 302 -

Original Article by La Voz de Galicia Sa / Pablo Portables

We chatted on Monday afternoon, the eve of October 12. "When you work shifts, you don't take holidays into account and don't worry about when they are. We pilots do 73 shifts a year. Tomorrow it's my turn. I'm used to it. I work 24 hours and I get off the next four days. That's why there are five of us. If a seaman or a skipper is on sick leave, it is possible to find a replacement, but replacing a pilot is complicated," Walter del Río Corbeira analyzes. He is 47 years old (he will be 48 on Halloween), father of two children aged 15 and 12, and grew up in Agra do Orzán. "Although there is no tradition in my family, I always wanted to be a sailor. I studied at the Monte das Moas high school, and before that at the Emilia Pardo Bazán school. I remember riding the bus around Gran Canaria and passing by Nautica, where I finally ended up," he recalls. His first trip as a trainee student was to the Gulf of Guinea on a merchant ship carrying tropical timber. "We left from Pasajes. I remember it perfectly," emphasizes the senior pilot. "In A Coruña, the one who has been there the longest has this position. In other ports, such as Barcelona, there are elections. You could say that I represent the company in meetings with the Port Authority, among other things," explains Walter, who orders a decaffeinated coffee with milk.

With six-meter waves

Despite the fact that we live surrounded by the sea, "many people think we go on tugboats. At port level we are very well known, but in the city there is not much knowledge of what we do," says Walter, who compares his job to that of a conductor, although instead of a baton he holds a portable VHF in his hand. "You direct the moorers, tugs, the ship's crew, the terminal staff.... You have a lot of people hanging around playing different instruments. Those of us who do this are used to it, but you have to know how to do it," he sums up. We are reaching the months of the year with less light and worse seas. "From winter to summer is another world. We get to get on tankers with six-meter waves. When you start in this job it's more physical, but now it's more about skill. At first your elbows and shoulders hurt from the strength you use to climb the wooden ladder. On a bad day, it can be scary in practice. The best moment, for me, is when you get off a 300-meter boat in rough seas and sit in the dinghy. You deflate after all the stress you've been through," he explains.

Molasses for Heinz

From 1994 to 2008 he sailed all the seas and entered almost every port. "I'm not much for counting battles. I liked sailing, but this world now depends a lot on shore offices. There is a lot of pressure. I'm better now, and with the advantage of being at home with the family. I used to spend most of the year away," he sums up. At the age of 29 he was a captain and worked on chemical tankers and container ships. He went around the world. "I think the port of Houston is the most spectacular. In 10 square kilometers there are four refineries. Going into San Francisco or New York is also impressive. I remember we transported molasses for Heinz's ketchup factory, or for Bacardi in San Juan, Puerto Rico," he says.

Gastronomic experiences

He declares himself a normal man. Simple. Although he is always in contact with the sea, he recognizes that, when it comes to eating, he is "meat". He also enjoys "gastronomic experience plans," he confesses. He wears a jacket with a logo that looks like a fish scrape. It's the Maiwa brand, which his wife is promoting. It's hard to imagine this calm-looking, easy-going man getting on and off huge ships to help dock them. "Every day I touch a boat. Getting on the high seas is difficult, and getting off, too. If the sea is really bad, you have to keep going to the next port. The only time it happened was 20 years ago and the pilot was pulled out by the Helimer," he recalls. "A Coruña, Gijón or Bilbao are the most complicated ports. And I hate the Tall Ships Regatta. It gives us a lot of work."
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