One of the most experienced pilots serving in UK waters is to retire after pioneering the passage some of the largest submarines in the world in and out of Plymouth.
Ministry of Defence employee Chief Admiralty Pilot Joe Lovelady has overseen the safe passage of thousands of military, auxiliary and commercial craft, including the vast nuclear deterrent Vanguard Class submarines, in and out of Plymouth waters during his 41 years.
Having previously served for five years with the Merchant Navy Joe has spent the latter 14 years working for the Queen’s Harbour Master (QHM) as chief pilot at the Long Room port control station at Stonehouse ensuring the safe passage of Royal Navy vessels in and out of Devonport Naval Base and of other ships. He retires at the end of November to spend time sailing his yacht and taking on part-time consultancy work.
Joe has worked his way up from working as a tug master on the much smaller tugs to shepherd submarines and ships into the naval base, to overseeing as the Chief Pilot the entire operation of assisting the largest vessels in the Royal Navy such as aircraft carriers and US Navy warships.
His biggest challenges were planning, training and executing the movement of the 150-metre-long strategic deterrent submarines. When the submarines came to Plymouth for the first time to be refuelled and given a three-year overhaul, special training had to be given because of the sheer size, including using a dedicated computerised training simulator and practising in Loch Long, Scotland, with submarines to give their captains confidence in the operation.
Joe said: “The highlight of my career has to be bringing the V-Class into Plymouth for their first entry. Not only are they bigger underwater than anything else that visits, but Plymouth is a very complex port. Adding to the challenge of navigating the narrow entry to the naval base is the twisting channel and the varying tidal conditions. I always say to commanding officers that if they can manoeuvre ships in and out of Plymouth, they can manage any port in the world. Once I’d brought HMS Vanguard in we had a template for the resources and manpower for Victorious to follow. I had experience in Barrow where they build the V-class and used that down here.’’
Joe has now trained two more pilots who have carried out two V-class moves. Throughout the complex moves the captains remain in charge, but the pilots are the local experts. When the submarines need moving without the power from their nuclear reactors, the pilots are in charge. This is also a complex task with only a metre clearance when transiting Basin and dock entrances.
Joe says the most memorable and different event was supervision of the sinking of the former warship Scylla by the national Marine Aquarium as a dive site on in Whitsand Bay: “It was another major operation. But counter to every instinct, it was concerned with sinking a ship rather than keeping it afloat. We had to ensure it was fit for sea – but that it also sunk as planned. My job was to ensure the MOD was not liable for anything that might have happened and took leave from the MOD because it was not an MOD project.
“When we took the ship under tow out of Plymouth Sound, my orders from QHM were to keep to the side of the channel, so if it sunk then it would not block the passage of vessels. It all went smoothly. The ship sunk exactly where it was planned.’’
Joe said: “I feel very lucky to have been able to been working during such an exciting time, not only have I piloted every vessel from small super yachts to giant aircraft carriers, I have also been at the beginning of seeing V-Class here. It has been a very special time with great colleagues.’’
Joe’s dedication extended to delaying his retirement until he had helped train enough pilots without leaving the team short.
Commander Carl Necker, Queen’s Harbour Master for Port of Plymouth, said: “For over 40 years, predominantly as an Admiralty Pilot, but also in the roles of tug master and harbour control officer, Mr Joe Lovelady has consistently delivered expert assistance to the commanding officers of ships and submarines of all nations, throughout one of the most navigationally challenging ports in Europe, in all manner of environmental conditions. A consummate professional and true gentleman, he has been an exemplary Chief Admiralty Pilot throughout his tenure; I wish him all the very best for the future.’’