Pilot is a rare surviving Grand Banks style schooner and is an eligible candidate for the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1924 by J.F. James & Son in Essex, Massachusetts, she is 154’ of remarkable maritime craftsmanship. Originally commissioned by an American syndicate as a racing vessel to compete with the fastest sailboats in the world, she was later purchased by the Boston Harbor Pilotage and put into service for over fifty years, becoming the longest serving pilot ship in the American history.
Pilot almost didn’t get built.
Designed by the renowned W. Starling Burgess, Pilot was intended to race and beat Bluenose, a foreboding Nova Scotia schooner and the fastest boat in the world, for the International Fisherman's Cup. But due to the disappointing results of the 1923 race, in which the American boat Columbia was out-sailed, and the previous year’s defeat and disappearance of the boat Puritan, both financed by the Manta Club of Gloucester, the race was called off—and funding for Pilot ceased, just as the J.F. James and Sons shipyard neared her completion. Pilot’s death knell almost rang, but, luckily, the Massachusetts Pilot’s Association caught wind of her berth.
In order to navigate harbor waters quickly, meet larger ships at sea where the waters proved more foreboding, and also provide crew members, who might stay on ships for weeks at a time, with habitable conditions, pilot ships needed to be fast and maneuverable, with easy motion and amenities. Much of the Massachusetts Pilot’s Association’s fleet comprised ships with recreational pasts, acquired once their owners tired of them. This class included Grand Banks topsail schooners, the exact type half-built in the Essex, Massachusetts dry docks. And so Pilot was completed with funds from the Massachusetts Pilot’s Association, and on September 30, 1924, the Christian Science Monitor announced her launch.
With no need for a spacious fish hold, Pilot sported a large engine room in middle of the ship, where the fish hold might have been for slow-speed navigation, or for when the wind blew in the wrong direction. A forward and aft compartment accommodated eight pilots, five apprentices, the engineer and the cook; 17’-18’ “yawl pilots” occupied her deck. To allow a low main boom to swing freely, the pilot house was lowered. Otherwise, all the graceful lines Burgess drew were masterfully carried through to Pilot’s construction, and she was put to good use.
From 1924 through the World War II, Pilot functioned as the “No.1”—as it was emblazoned across her sail—ship in the Boston fleet of pilot boats. During WWII, she was commandeered by the US Coast Guard. She made over 1,300 trips, moving “troop transporters, freighters, tankers, and ‘explosive ships’ loaded with tons of concentrated hell fire,” as an article from the October 14, 1945 issue of the Boston Globe phrased it.