New pilot boat navigates the mouth of the Mississippi

Top, apprentice pilot and boat operator Jason Motts headed for the sea buoy to meet a ship. Above, the pilots’ station on Southwest Pass near the mouth of the Mississippi River. (Photos by Brian Gauvin)

Bar Pilot is the new St. Johns-class pilot boat built by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding, of Somerset, Mass., and delivered to Delta Launch Services LLC, of Venice, La., in July 2007.

Jason Motts is a boat operator and apprentice pilot with the Associated Branch Pilots, which contracts the vessel from Delta Launch.

Under a winter sky populated with white pelicans, back from summering in Alberta, Motts headed Bar Pilot into Head of Passes, the confluence of Southwest Pass, South Pass and Pass a Loutre, three prongs of water defining the mouth of the Mississippi River.

From their Southwest Pass Pilot Station, the Branch Pilots move inbound and outbound ships through the pass between the sea buoy and Venice. At Venice, the Crescent City River Pilots navigate to and from New Orleans. The New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association (NOBRA) has jurisdiction between those cities.

Top, Bar Pilot is a 52-foot aluminum-hull vessel built by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding. Above, Engineer Joseph Beauvais exchanges an exhaust flex.


The 52-foot, 1,340-hp, aluminum-hulled Bar Pilot is an evolution of the deep-V hull design created by C. Raymond Hunt that Gladding-Hearn has been upgrading and tweaking for over 20 years. The vessel is powered by two Cat C18s, has a top speed of 28 knots and seating for four pilots and two crew.

The Associated Branch Pilots and Delta Launch Services also have a new home. Their station at Pilottown, which had been their base since the 1860s, was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. The loss prompted Delta and the Branch Pilots to decamp to a cluster of connected trailers at Venice. In December, they moved into their new building, an industrial-strength structure, hunkering behind the 18-foot levee.

Confidence in levees is at an all time low in Louisiana, so the first floor sits on concrete pilings, 28 feet above the ground.

As we passed by Pilottown, Motts reminisced about childhood summers spent there at his parents’ camp, also gone. “You know it’s winter when you see white pelicans,” he concluded.
Above, Bar Pilot is powered by two Caterpillar C18s putting out a total of 1,360 horsepower.


Below, the Delta Launch Services pilot boats tied up at the Southwest Pass station.

Above, operator Jason Motts looks on as fellow Bar Pilot crewmember Henry Paterson assists a pilot boarding a ship.

Below, the throttle controls on the 28-knot boat.
Above, the boat’s electronics are by Furuno.


Below, after their station at Pilottown, La., was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, the Associated Branch Pilots and Delta Launch Services built a new, sturdy headquarters in Venice, La.

By Professional Mariner Staff