New Ross Pilot Boat James Stevens

In December 2022 Walter Foley retired as pilot officer for New Ross. Walter had provided the service since my uncle Sonny retired at Cheekpoint in 1995. Walter actually mentioned to me that he took over the role on the first tide of January 1996, Sonny retiring on the last tide of 1995. In recent years Walter was based at Ballyhack using his pilot cutter Crofter, but originally had based himself at Great Island, until the wooden jetty became unusable, and it was later sold, I believe for a €1

Great Island Quay (with the wooden jetty on the left), Sonny used to collect a number of pilots from the jetty in order to drop them alongside a New Ross bound vessel, he also dropped them back to the quay if the ships were outbound. All locked up now, but the old quay remains accessible
Morning Star II, Sonny’s pilot boat at Cheekpoint in the 1990s. Photo courtesy of Catherine Heffernan White
Walter returning in the Crofter to Ballyhack after a pilot exchange in 2019.

Tomás Sullivan of Cheekpoint took over the Pilot Officer role and although the Crofter was available, the new management of the port in New Ross ( Wexford Co Council) decided on getting a different boat, which they called the James Stevens presumably after the lifeboat of the same name which was based at the then Rosslare Fort and assisted in the rescue of the SS Mexico in February 1914.

James Stevens

According to the Marine Traffic website, JAMES STEVENS (MMSI: 250013635) is a Pilot Vessel and is sailing under the flag of Ireland. Her length overall (LOA) is 12 meters and her width is 4 meters. Originally built as a Mersey class lifeboat, (the first model was built in 1988). The site describes her as being “Designed to be launched and recovered from a beach via a launch and recovery tractor and carriage, she can also be launched from a slipway or lie afloat.The Mersey was introduced into the RNLI fleet in 1988 and the last Mersey class lifeboat was built in 1993”

James Stevens is based in New Ross and travels down and up the river to make the pilot exchanges. The Port of Waterford had a similar arrangement many years back but it was discontinued. So we will watch that practice to see how viable it is.

James Stevens passed me by at Ballinlaw on the River Barrow Saturday 23rd September 2023. Tomás Sullivan at the helm. The chap waving was an English writer named Mark Ashley Millar who is involved in a fundraising event called the Harbour Master Sailing Challenge at the time.
David Maloney and Tomás Sullivan stop off for a chat at Piltown on their way back to New Ross, Saturday 23rd September 2023

Obviously there is a lack of detail with this post, including photos, but I plan to add to it as and when I can. I’d particularly like to get more detail on the history of the craft.

My first bit of video of the James Stevens passing Morans Poles, following a pilot transfer with the inbound Wilson Thames, Tuesday 21st March 2023. A stormy evening on a spring high tide

I occasionally write small pieces for my own record that I publish on the blog. These are a way of keeping a record for myself and a very different style to my monthly heritage blogs. So if you came across this and wondered what the heck…please look at my normal stuff before rushing to judgement

Childhood memories of the Cheekpoint pilot boat

A picture paints a thousand words they say, and that was
proven yet again recently when Catherine Heffernan posted to the Cheekpoint
Faithlegg and Coolbunnia Facebook page. 
The photo was of the Morning Star II, the pilot boat that operated from
Cheekpoint when we were children and it brought the memories flooding back.

Morning Star II photo from Catherine Heffernan White

My Uncle Sonny returned from sea in the early 1970’s and
took up the role of pilot boat officer from the village, servicing the port of New Ross.  His boat the Morning Star II was
a familiar feature, and it was rare that you wouldn’t find Sonny standing on
the quayside waiting for a boat, or in my Aunt Ellen’s house having a cup of tea in between boats.

The Cheekpoint pilot boat serviced ships entering or leaving
New Ross. Because of our location at the point where the three sisters meet, the Barrow, Nore and Suir, and the junction to the two port, Cheekpoint was a logical choice for such activities.  I can’t say I have yet discovered when the practice started but I do recall a photo, below, which depicts a pilot officer house, where pilots waited on ships from the late 1800’s, and I’m guessing it was at least for most of that century.  Hobblers would have been to the fore prior to that.

Pilot House in the left corner of photo, AH Poole

New Ross pilots
departed outgoing ships at Cheekpoint, or joined incoming ships to pilot the
ships up through the Barrow Bridge to New Ross. I’ve blogged about the difficulties caused by the bridge before.  It also marked the point where the Waterford
pilots took over.  Hence a Waterford pilot relieved his New Ross counterpart and took the ship to the mouth of the
harbour, and was then relived of his duty and taken to Dunmore by the Betty
Breen.  They also obviously performed the
reverse role.

Of the pilots themselves I can only remember a few.  The New Ross pilots of the time were my Uncle John of course, and Mickey Duffin, Kevin Barry of Fethard and a Dutchman who I can only recall a smiling face and a smell of cigars.  Of the Waterford pilots  Willie Hearne, Pat Rodgers, John Whitty and the Walsh brothers and come to mind.

What made the whole affair so memorable was that Sonny would regularly take us children aboard the Morning Star II when he was going out to a ship.  We’d be hanging around the quay, fishing for flats
with sprat bait, or playing rounders or soccer on the village green.  Sonny would give the nod and we would
carefully hop aboard and sit on a small midship deck that housed the inboard
engine.  The Morning Star was no more
than 22 feet long, but beamy, and a whole gang of us could easily sit in
Local and visitor alike were taken aboard and away the whole
party went.  We were always the happier if the pilot was coming from Ross and had to
be dropped to the Island Quay, at Great Island. 
It made for a longer trip.  Or
other times the Waterford pilot might be put on an outgoing ship, the New Ross pilot come
aboard, and then away to an incoming ship, which he re-boarded to take to New

Pilot boat Crofter working at Cheekpoint this week

The scene was familiar to
me from an early age.  Ship sited at
Ballinlaw, coming towards the Barrow Bridge. 
Sonny would slip the painter from the ladder at the quay, negotiate the salmon
punts moored at the quay, cursing a floating anchor rope.  As the ship came though the Bridge, Sonny
would get into position, lining up with the bow of the ship and approaching at
an angle to close the gap.  As we neared there was always
a flutter in my belly, the ship which looked small at the distance, rearing up
and glaring down upon us the nearer we approached.  Always a curious smell, particular
to ships a mixture of food, diesel oil and cargo such as fertiliser, oil or

The ladder was down at the ships
side, two deckhands waiting at the gunwale of the ship.  We come alongside, Sonny gunning the engine
to maintain position with the ship, the pilot deftly hops upon the jacob ladder and
ascends, something none of us would probably ever choose to do.  Sonny casually looking
around, seemingly oblivious to the anxiety we felt, would he fall away from the
ship coming close if not under the churning propeller astern, would we be
sucked beneath the side.  Then having being relived
in the wheelhouse, the New Ross pilot would be seen sauntering down the side of
the ship, leg out over and onto the ladder, and waved off by the crew.  Once he had a foot aboard, Sonny with a deft
touch on the wheel effortlessly drew the Morning Star II away and departed from
the ship.

Pilot climbing the Jacob ladder

My preference was for going alongside tankers, which rather
than a high side, had a railing and you could see much more of the ship and her
fittings. The NO SMOKING sign seemed strangely out of place on a ship, as
everyone I associated with ships and pilotage smoked, well, with the exception
of Sonny. 

All in all a magical era.  A time when health and safety and all manner
of regulation were yet to be devised and jobs to oversee them yet to be created.  In some ways it was a bad time for children.  We know that from the various scandals that
have come to light.  But it was also a
great time to be a child, when we had freedom, were left to create our own entertainment,
when parental fears, screen time and mobile devices were yet to suck up so much of children’s time and

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