Port Kembla pilot Don Buckthought retires after 40-year career leading ships to safety



Browse the opening pages of the classic Moby Dick novel, and author Herman Melville writes a complete love letter to the ocean that suggests people give in to their love of the sea and work there, or spend their lives obsessed with it. from the earth. .

The son of parents who loved the ocean so much that they raised their children on a boat, Don Buck had no choice but to succumb to it.

“[As a family,] we have traveled to the South Pacific, to Australia, to Papua New Guinea and everywhere. “

He and his siblings would “watch” during the day while his parents slept, and the food was stored unrefrigerated and often limited to canned goods, cheese, and cookies.

He always enjoyed working on the water and chose to become a marine pilot, helping large ships navigate safely in and out of ports.

Four tugboats bid their traditional maritime farewells as Don Buckthought pilots his latest ship, the 292-meter HL Esperance from Port Kembla.

Worst of the job: ‘the transfer’

At any given moment, several huge bulk carriers line the horizon off Wollongong.

The town on the south coast of New South Wales is home to Port Kembla, a crucial transfer point for ships carrying cars, coal, grain, iron ore and steel.

The pilot is the person who travels aboard a tugboat to meet the ship’s captain and help guide them safely to port.

“We have weather limits in the port, but we don’t reach them often,” Buckthought said.

“The worst part of the job is the transfer of the pilot’s position to the ship.

Three tugs help steer a large gray ship towards Port Kembla with the Ruby Princess cruise ship docked in the background.
Tugs steer a large ship towards Port Kembla while the Ruby Princess is moored in the background.(

ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale


He says the captain maintains control of the vessel once on board, but the port authority takes care of the mooring process safely, using local knowledge of weather, winds, depths. of water, tides and currents.

NSW Port Authority Operations Manager for Port Kembla and the South Coast, Peter Ernst, congratulated Mr Buckthought ahead of his retirement.

“Don’s ship handling skills are superb and regardless of the size of the ship, the difficulty of navigation required, he has always had the natural ability to moor any vessel safely and accurately. in our port, ”he said.

He piloted his last ship through Port Kembla on Thursday.

Mr Buckthought oversaw around 4,000 ship movements at Port Kembla, including helping to bring in the Radiance of the Seas cruise ship when several cruise ships used Port Kembla to resupply at the start of the COVID outbreak. 19 in Australia.

“It was a highlight, but I was unhappy with the Ruby Princess because the rest of the pilots said I was too old to go and be exposed to COVID, so they took care of it,” he said. he declared.

An aerial photo of Port Kembla, showing a cruise ship docked in the port.
Don Buckthought says the arrival of cruise ships in Port Kembla in early 2020 was a highlight.(

ABC Illawarra Justin Huntsdale


How the industry has changed

Don Buckthought’s flying career saw him spend nine years in Auckland in his native New Zealand, before moving to Townsville and then Port Kembla.

He said that while the nature of the work has remained the same, the ships requiring his services have changed a lot.

“When I first came to Port Kembla it was commonplace and uninteresting BHP ships, then we went to passenger ships, car ships, gas comes in and container ships.

Although he is retiring from his post at Port Kembla, Mr. Buckthought will never stray too far from the ocean, but the size of his ship will certainly change.

“I have a little tinnie on the roof and a trailer and we do a lot of touring in Australia so we will do a lot more,” he said.

“I will be outside [of the country], I don’t want to be in the middle. “


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