By Mark Cardwell

Champagne, smiles and sunshine were the order of the day for the christening of the Laurentian Pilotage Authority’s new pilot boat and the inauguration of its new pilotage station in the port of Quebec on the last day of May. “This day have been a long time coming,” Daniel Ouimet, past President of the Pilots’ Corporation of the Lower St. Lawrence and master of the dockside ceremonies, told the gathering of about fifty people, many of them river pilots. “We are all very pleased with the result (and) we want to thank the LPA for its efforts.”

Built by Ontario’s Hike Metal Products between Feb.-­‐Dec. 2012 at a cost of nearly $5 million, the new 22-­‐metre-­‐ long, custom-­‐built pilot boat features a variety of state-­‐of-­‐the-­‐art technologies and safety features, including deck-­‐ and hand-­‐rail heating to avoid ice build-­‐up, neoprene fenders to cushion impacts during pilot transfers, and a stern-­‐mounted hydraulic lift that greatly reduces the potential for fatal falls into the water by pilots when getting on and off assignment vessels. The new pilot boat is equipped with twin 950-­‐HP diesel engines that can quickly bring it up to a speed of 25 knots.

The third LPA-­‐owned pilot ship based in Quebec City, the new vessel replaces the Charlevoix, which has been in service between Quebec and Les Escoumins since 1995, mostly during the treacherous and difficult winter months from December to April.

“We’re very satisfied with the performance and quality of (the new pilot boat),” said Fulvio Fracassi, Chief Executive Officer of LPA, a self-­‐financing federal agency that earned a net income of $2.7 million on $79 million in fees charged to vessels transiting the St. Lawrence River in 2012. “It can operate in the most difficult conditions.”

For their part, the current and past Presidents of the two corporations that represent the approximately 180 pilots who guided more than 22,000 vessels through their respective districts on the St. Lawrence in 2012, lauded the new pilotage station. Built last year by Ocean Group and rented on a long-­‐term basis by LPA, the new

two-­‐storey building features a lounge and kitchen on the ground floor and bedrooms on the upper floor where pilots can rest before and after assignments. According to Ouimet, catching forty winks before driving home after an assignment will eliminate the very real danger of pilots falling asleep at the wheel of their cars.

“Room service is pretty bad, though,” quipped Ouimet in a white tent next to the new building where champagne, wine and hors d’oeuvre were served at noon following the ribbon cutting and christening. Notably, the pilot boat bears the name of a young Innu man, Taukamain (pronounced ta ow ka mame) who paddled his birch-­‐bark canoe out to greet Jacques Cartier at Les Escoumins during the famous French explorer’s first visit to Canada in 1534. “When Cartier later returned,” Raoul Canapé, an Innu from Les Escoumins who was invited to the christening by the LPA, told the crowd, “Taukamain took the wheel of Cartier’s ship, La Grand Hermine, becoming the first river pilot on the St. Lawrence.”

Unfortunately, Canapé added, the young Innu hit a reef, much to Cartier’s dismay.

“But he did show the need for pilots on the river,” noted Canapé. “And (the Innu) are very grateful for (the LPA’s) recognition of one of our people. He then walked to the boat with a Quebec City priest who read a benediction and, after several attempts, broke the traditional bottle of champagne on the bow. Onlookers then toasted the new ship with glasses of champagne served by waiters.