Many captains who come into port haven't been here before, and they're unfamiliar with the currents and the hazards. My job is to guide them.
I worked on an Exxon oil tanker for four years after college. I was chief mate at 25, but then I went to law school. My firm gave me an office overlooking Portland harbor, and it was the worst mistake they ever made. On the side, I started doing safety inspections on ships, and I would go out with sea pilots on a regular basis. I soon realized the law wasn't for me.
I began apprenticing with sea pilots (though I also went back to Exxon to pay the bills). There were three in Portland then; they hadn't brought on anyone new in 25 years. As an apprentice, I did 250 trips in two and a half years.
Now I work for 10 days on 24-hour call, then I get 10 days off. On a typical day, I can have up to six different jobs. For a typical job, I climb from a 70-foot-long pilot boat onto the rope ladder of a 1,000-foot ship. It takes some leaps of faith. Sometimes you just jump for the ladder and hope you end up where you should. It can be dangerous, but I try not to think about it.
Every job is different: The same ship handles differently based on the wind and the currents. My reflexes have to be right on. To be so wrapped up in my work is wonderful. I never experienced such rapture as a lawyer. I love going out at 3 a.m., when the sky is all stars and no one is awake but me. The peace and beauty are incredible.
A version of this article appeared in the Table of Contents - May 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.