When the cruise ship Seabourn Quest made a planned port visit to Bar Harbor last Wednesday, conditions at the mouth of Frenchman Bay were too rough to send harbor pilot Dave Smith safely back to shore after the ship weighed anchor around 5 p.m. He remained on the ship overnight and took an unexpected short cruise to Boston. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Harbor pilot takes unexpected cruise to Boston

BAR HARBOR — Harbor pilot David Smith wasn’t planning on taking a cruise, but last Wednesday evening, he found himself enjoying dinner aboard Seabourn Quest as it headed from Bar Harbor to Boston.

Pilots like him come aboard large ships as they enter a harbor to assist the captain and crew. In Bar Harbor, they usually go to meet the ship aboard Frenchman Bay, which is also David Spear’s lobster boat. Spear is an expert at getting his boat safely close enough for the pilot to reach over to a ladder hanging from an open door on the side of the ship. When conditions are choppy, that maneuver is difficult.

“The morning was breezy, and there was a sea on, but it was definitely doable,” Smith said of the ship’s arrival Wednesday morning. “I brought them in and anchored them and went home. The storm kicked up in the early afternoon. The agent called me at two in the afternoon to say the captain was cancelling the rest of the tours. He wanted to get everybody back on board because the wind had picked up so much. He said he had 60 knots of wind at one point.”

When Smith arrived at the Harbor Place pier, there were three tenders tied up and a group of passengers waiting to go back to the ship. He went to the ship ahead of the passengers, he said.

“So when I got back on board, the weather had moderated a little bit, it was like 30-35 knots, and they were able to get the remaining passengers back on board. By the time we had everybody on board, it was their planned sailing time anyway. So we heaved up the anchor. It was blowing 40 again by then.”

Smith talked to Spear to begin making plans to get picked up from the ship by Frenchman Bay once it reached open water.

Smith, david, eurodam

Pilot David Smith cautiously leaves the cruise ship Eurodam to board the pilot boat to return to land in Bar Harbor. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOLLAND AMERICA

“I asked Dave if he’d head out towards the lighthouse, towards the pilot station there, just to see what side I might be able to get off on. There was a pretty good southeasterly storm coming in. The wind was ripping out of the southwest. He called me back on the radio and said, ‘We can’t do it down there. It’s gonna be too dangerous.’

“Then we considered doing it up inside, but the way the seas were and the lee that I would have had to be in with the ship, it would have been too dangerous. We would have been heading right for Ironbound Island to make a lee, and that just wasn’t safe.

“Dave and I have done this a lot. We’ve been friends since high school. For he and I both to say we can’t do this is rare. But we decided collectively, ‘I’m not going, it’s too dangerous.’”

Smith shared the news on the cruise ship’s bridge. The captain turned to Smith and said, “You’re welcome to stay and ride down to Boston with us.”

“I guess I don’t have a choice,” Smith said.

He was assigned a cabin and shown to one of the dining rooms for the dinner buffet. “I went to the buffet, had a nice dinner and went to bed!” he said.

Seas continued rough for the first part of the trip, he said. “It was pretty lumpy when we left Bar Harbor. A couple of plates did fall off the table.”

Seabourn Quest arrived in Boston at 5:30 a.m. Thursday. Smith left the ship, headed to the airport and flew home.

Being prepared for changes of plan like this is part of the job, he said. If the ship had been headed to Canada, he would have had his passport with him, just in case.

On another trip a few years ago, he rode a cruise ship from Portland to Bar Harbor because the weather for getting him to the ship when it arrived here didn’t look good.


Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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