The pilot cutter ‘Olga’, sailing in the Bristol Channel. U.K.
Built in 1909, she is one of only a handful of Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters in the world still sailing, and is now owned by Swansea Museum, South Wales.
These wooden working boats of the age of sail were used to carry pilots out to ships approaching the British Isles and Bristol Channel ports.
They were usually manned by one man and an apprentice, in addition to the pilot, and were among the best performing, fastest and most seaworthy vessels of their era.
The most dangerous stage of the voyage for merchant shipping was the journey’s end and heading for port. When a cargo ship was spotted heading towards a Bristol Channel port, these cutters would race out to meet her. The first one there got the job of sailing the larger boat in, using their detailed knowledge of local navigation.
Racing westwards to meet the incoming ships, the pilot crews were known as ‘Westernmen’. They worked privately, and a successful pilot could become a rich man, as ship owners and merchants realised that paying a pilot was a small price for the safety of their vessel and cargo.
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