Liverpool Pilots Retire. Another End of Era

Liverpool’s “Class of 1960”

May and June of this year saw the retirement of the last three serving pilots of the 1960 Liverpool intake of apprentices or “Boathands,” which was the legal, ‘Bye-Law’ term for trainee pilots.

The three retired on their sixty-fifth birthdays. with John Curry retiring on 26th May, Stuart Wood on 20th June and Geoff Rafferty on 27th June..

There were six successful candidates from that 1960 Autumn interview and of the other three, David Temple sadly died at an early age in 1991, Simon Fearnett transferred to the Humber in 1988 (from where he has since retired) and Alan Green retired from Liverpool in 2005

The interviews were held at the purpose-built Pilot Office on Canning Pier Head to the South of the Liverpool Landing Stage on the famous waterfront and the interview panel consisted of Master Mariners, Pilots, the Superintendent of Pilotage, not to mention the ‘Marine Surveyor and Water Bailiff!’  How daunting was that illustrious gathering to a sixteen year old!

A White Star Liner, M.V. “Britannic” was making a flood-way approach to the Landing Stage when an excited John Curry rang his parents to inform them that he had been accepted into the service.

After medicals, enrolments and other interviews, which we all seem to remember we attended as a group, we were placed as cadet-officers with shipping companies to gain sea –time prior to being called into the Service.  John sailed with Clan Line to India and Australia, Stuart sailed with Brocklebanks to India and Geoff with Elder-Dempsters to the West Coast of Africa.

John curry 2

A young John Curry plots his future course

Within the following year we were called to commence training as apprentice pilots who crewed the four pilot vessels, which ran an efficient but costly Pilot Service for the Port of Liverpool.  The apprentices were cheap labour on the very low wages, which they were paid. Eventually, this four vessel system became too expensive, being less efficient than a fast launch service which eventually replaced it.

The Class of 1960 then worked their way up through the system to become Third Class licensed pilots during 1968 and 1969.  All six progressed to become First Class pilots five years later.  These six licences provided extras to cope with the busy trade, and brought the numbers of Liverpool Pilots to 185.  Sadly, the trade-bubble burst in the early seventies with the advent of the ever-increasing size of tankers, and the advent of containerisation the latter for which Liverpool was ill prepared.

The six quitted themselves manfully through both good times and extremely bad ones. During the over-manned years of the late seventies and early eighties, four, went off to “pilot in the sand” as we used to call piloting out in Saudi and other foreign parts, thus proving to many, that piloting is first and foremost having the ability, skills and knowledge required to be a ship-handler.  Geoff and John stayed on in Liverpool.

With the1988 Pilotage Act, we faced another new era.  An era of ‘employment,’ a state, which Liverpool Pilots resented from day one and vowed to fight their way out of.  This was eventually achieved in the summer of 1997.

This period also involved the necessity of “appropriation” (choice pilots) for the depleted numbers in the Service since an ever-increasing number of companies wished to avail themselves of this facility. The ‘big one’ of a number of appropriations which Stuart was to hold being Shell, and for Geoff and John, the ‘big one’ being Atlantic Container Line.

We also involved ourselves in the politics of pilotage.  Stuart becoming a Representative during the “Battle Years” when Liverpool fought its way back to self- employment and John served as Chairman of the pilots’ committee during the twelve  troubled years of employment.

Lpool pic 2

Liverpool Tugs salute Stuart Wood on his retirement pilotage act on the MT “AQUA”

All three also involved themselves in many activities outside pilotage.  Stuart, amongst other activities, with sailing and sail-training.  He also gained a pilot’s flying licence for light-aircraft and has become involved with local radio.  Geoff amongst his other activities has become a fount of knowledge on animal husbandry and is also a very competent furniture restorer.  John has a Joint-Honours degree in French and German and has taught at the University of Liverpool.  At present, he is the Lifeboat Operation’s Manager at the Hoylake All-Weather Lifeboat Station.

The last of the Class of 1960, mourn the loss of their dear friend and colleague David Temple.  They themselves hope, however to enjoy long and happy retirements enjoying life after having served in a job, which brought each of them a tremendous amount of heartache, a whole lot of unbelievable fun, but above all, a great sense of job satisfaction for a job well done.

Lpool pic 1

Stuart Wood (left) and Geoff Rafferty on board Geoff’s last ship, Helga Spirit

john curry 1

John Curry ‘signs off ‘from the V.T.S. and his career, outward-bound, clearing the main-channel aboard M.V. “Atlantic Compass,” which he and his wife, (who was on board with him), left in New York.

We wish all our serving colleagues, quite simply:  “Good Ships and many of Them!”

John Curry.  Liverpool Pilot, RTD.

Stuart Wood’s retirement was also covered by the Liverpool Daily Post in an article published on 8th June 2009 at the following link:

SW last trip Aqua 1

Stuart Wood on his last pilotage passage

LtoR: Second Pilot, Adrian McLoughlin, SDW, Captain Soyalp.

Sw Aqua flagStuart receives a signed H flag from Captain Soyalp

17 Responses to “Liverpool Pilots Retire. Another End of Era”

peter gorry
June 10th, 2010 at 18:36

Hi I looked up the website after seeing the tv programme as I Knew that my childhood best friend David Temple went on to be a pilot (about 1960) on the Mersey, I lost touch when we went to different secondary schools,and was upset to read he had died in 1991.
We lived in Rudyard Rd, Knotty Ash, and I knew his brother John,also a pilot.
Our great passion was swimming at Dovecot Baths, and often went twice a day in the summer holidays.


Hayley Temple
September 16th, 2011 at 12:34

Hi Peter,
Not sure if you’ll get this – I am Davids daughter and would love to hear more about his childhood!


Stuart Wood
November 13th, 2011 at 17:53

Hi Hayley,

Thought we’d lost you. Care to get in touch?



Peter GorryDog
April 13th, 2012 at 09:15

Hi Hayley, I can help with some info and a couple of photos. If you would like to e mail me
it’s a long time ago now and you can probably tell me a lot


Peter GorryDog
April 13th, 2012 at 09:17

Sorry, correct e mail, all lower case


Hayley Temple
April 24th, 2012 at 15:56

Hi Stuart!! Yes would be great to get back in touch!


John Royle
March 10th, 2016 at 12:54

My wife’s gt/gt grandfather,William Lancaster was a Liverpool pilot in charge of No.9 pilot boat in the 1840/50/60s.He was also president of the Liverpool Pilot friendly Association? which seemed to be a benelovent organisation.
Could someone tell me if there is a photo of him somewhere and any details of his career?
John Royle

November 17th, 2016 at 10:18

On the maritime museum web page “In Safe Hands”, there is a picture of a punt approaching the Edmund Gardner. In the punt, on the right is a teenage lad.
Does anyone know who the boy is, or who took the photo?
Regards, Barry.


November 22nd, 2016 at 14:10

The following reply is from retired Liverpool pilot, John Curry, who’s featured in the above article :

The ‘bow lad’ is Raymond Smart. He transferred to Southampton in 1989.
The PIlot on the left, is the late Ron ‘Tiger’ Smith, who died of cancer at a relatively young age.
The young PIlot to starboard is Bill ‘Tizzy’ Owen.


Ann temple
February 19th, 2017 at 17:26

Dear haley i,ve jus seen you message on the website your father was my brother in law would be pleased if you get in touch


Ann temple
April 4th, 2017 at 15:08

Would yo u please get in touch sometime i have a few questtions to ask


Gordon Hughes
September 27th, 2017 at 13:34

Hi, I was interested in John Royle’s post. By 1881, according to the 1881 census, my g-g-g-grandfather, John Scott, was the Master Pilot on Guide Boat #9. I also have a transcript of his service record from the Liverpool Pilotage Authority. He also served on Boats 5, 11 and 8. I’d love to know whether there are any photos, records or further information available. I had another g-g-g-grandfather Mark Hudson, who served on Boat 5, but was drowned at sea in 1840 whilst trying to save someone who had been blown overboard in a gale.

June 18th, 2018 at 21:20

Just to say a big thank you for the memories I treasure working on pilot boat no 1 sir thomas brocklebank as a humble galley boy working alongside Harry and Burt 2 years of a life i loved.. and a crew that helped me to keep those memory’s captain Eggleston captain mack just wish I could go back in time ……ARNIE


Helen Evans
January 8th, 2019 at 13:57

Please could someone let me know whether there is somewhere I can look up relatives who have been pilots on the River Mersey in the 1950s and 1960s? I am tracing family history and Herbert Harrop from Wallasey was my Great Uncle.
Any help appreciated.


Carolyn Pilling-Dean
April 10th, 2019 at 10:29

i have been trying to trace someone connected to my Grandmother’s family history who was also a pilot on the River Mersey – sadly not the link to your Great Uncle – and I wondered whether you got any help from any website or archives giving lists of past pilots from the 1920’s onwards. Would be interested and grateful for any information.
Hoping to hear from you.
Carolyn Pilling-Dean


Gerhard Hirschfeld
May 29th, 2019 at 10:48

Dear Sirs and Ladies! My Grandmother in former times is Elisabeth Carthew, she lives from 1779-1857. Her father was a Pilot in Liverpool. Is there anything known of him? It would you!
It would be veray friendly, when I would hear from you.
Yours scincerilly
Gerhard Hirschfeld


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