The Atlantic Pilotage Authority has named a new 17-meter pilot boat after Captain Al Soppitt, who retired last year after 30 years with the Saint John Port Authority. Captain Anthony McGuinness, CEO of the Atlantic Pilotage Authority (APA), said plans where afoot to name the vessel after Captain Soppitt even before he learned his friend of more than 40 years had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last fall.

“The pilots have great respect for this man and although it’s not normal to name a vessel after someone who is alive, we thought going against tradition was the right thing to do and no one disagreed,” explained McGuinness.

Originally from County Antrim in Northern Ireland, Captain Alwyn Soppitt worked on the Princess of Acadia Ferry in Saint John and for ship agencies in Montreal and Halifax. He returned to Saint John, his wife Eugenie’s home, where he worked his way up to Assistant Harbour Master in 1981, and Harbour Master in 1989. He assumed the helm of the then Saint John Port Corporation in 1996, steering the organization though its transition to a Canada Port Authority in 1999. Soppitt is a past president of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities and a valued volunteer for the Seafarers’ Mission and Scouts Canada.

“I’m flabbergasted,” Soppitt said, as a rendering of the vessel was unveiled at the Marco Polo Cruise Terminal in Saint John. Looking a little pale having undergone several cancer treatments, Soppitt said he was very surprised and pleased with the honour.

“It’s a great way to honour him,” adds McGuinness. “It’s given him a boost, and we are continuing to play chess whenever we get together. I can only hope for the best.”

The eight-person, $2.2-million vessel “Captain A.G. Soppitt” was designed by Lengkeek Vessel Engineering of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and is being built by ABCO Industries Limited of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.  The yellow boat will be christened in November 2012 and will be one of two pilot boats serving Saint John. A similar vessel is also being built for Halifax and will be launched in May. 

Pilot boats come alongside vessels that are subject to compulsory pilotage and physically transfer pilots aboard. They take conduct of the larger ship to navigate through local channels in all weather and tidal conditions. 

“In order for the pilots to accomplish their assignments efficiently, it is vital to have good dependable pilot boats in place,” McGuinness explained. “I take my hat off to the pilots, as well as the Saint John tug crews, for safely accomplishing thousands of maneuvers with little or no incident to date. The pilots also recognized the weakness of our aging boats and worked with us to put in place a plan that would provide us with the money to pay for a new boat and possibly build another down the road.”

Modern, spacious pilot office opens

The APA reception also recognized the re-location of the Saint John Harbour pilots’ office. Last year, the Saint John Port Authority announced it would be tearing down the shed that housed the former pilots’ office since 1955. The construction of second cruise terminal on the Reed’s Point site is now underway and the Harbour pilots’ office was moved just across the street. 

“It was clear that the pilots wanted their new office at Reed’s Point,” recalls McGuiness. “Their reason was not just based upon the excellent view of the Saint John Harbour and its approaches, but on the sentimental fact that the Saint John pilots have always operated from Reed’s Point, starting 227 years ago in 1785. With the cooperation of the Saint John Port Authority, the APA anticipates being there for another 200-plus years.”

Established in 1972, the APA works with ports, the shipping industry, and other stakeholders to provide the safe and efficient marine pilotage service to Atlantic Canada.