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BOB CURTIS: It's always best to seek guidance

By Herald Express  |  Posted: October 11, 2012

CERTIFICATE OF VALOUR: Harbour master Capt Paul Labistour presents Stuart Crang with a Certificate of Valour. Back, from left, Tim Deacon, Capt Bob Curtis and Cllr Vic Ellery Andy Styles TQAS20120928E-002_C

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RECENTLY, I was invited by Jerry Carter, managing director of the local shipping agents, to meet with two American gentlemen from (SAIC) Science Application International Corporation.

Their aim is to produce information and guidance for captains of US ships, both navy and merchant, who might seek a safe anchorage, in unfamiliar waters.

On a fact-finding mission to complete a survey of various ports in the UK and Europe, they'd included Torbay in their agenda.

In this age of technological weather forecasts, where, by pressing an electronic button, mariners obtain predicted storm patterns, covering most ports around the globe, I couldn't quite see the point.

However, after being shown photographs of one of their naval vessels, stranded on rocks in Hong Kong harbour, their concern was plainly understandable. Earning a crust as Torbay pilot for 25 years, the experience from anchoring different size vessel in most conditions came in handy and chatting to the two Americans for an hour made me realise how a ship's master can find it confusing selecting a sheltered anchorage.

Although basically representing the American Navy, their report would be available to all ships sailing under the US flag. Their request for 'local' information, such as the best holding ground, minimum depth of water in different conditions and expected weather patterns made me realise just how much knowledge this old brain had accumulated over the years.

Nevertheless, my recommendation was to advise that ships' captains seek guidance from the port's pilot office.

Even if they didn't actually require a pilot to navigate them into an anchorage, I'm pretty sure there isn't a pilot station in the world who wouldn't offer 'free' advice over the radio.

BACK in July, while millions were glued to the television, watching the Olympics, a ten-year-old Brixham lad, Stuart Crang — without any thought of gold medals or media attention — calmly rowed his tiny dingy to the aid of a couple in distress off Fishcombe Cove.

Young Stuart's basic plan was to assist them by towing their sinking boat back to the safety of calmer waters within our harbour... and his plan worked.

The courageous action of this youngster, not yet into his teenage years, is surely down to parental guidance, his teachers and an inner sense of humanity.

It must have been difficult for the local authority to know how to acknowledge the youngster's brave actions; certainly without his school chums taking the mick.

Children can, at times, react in strange ways against one of their own who's done something different.

However, his headmistress, Mrs Mel Easter, assured me that the whole school was extremely proud of Stuart's instant response to the emergency.

Consequently, on September 28, I was privileged to have been invited by Cllr Vic Ellery, chairman of Torbay's Harbour Committee, when he presented Stuart with an official Certificate of Valour from Torbay Council.

We were impressed how young Stuart took the presentation in his stride. He later told us about being interviewed on the local radio station, filmed by Blue Peter's TV team and invited by the RNLI's to their Poole headquarters, where he spent a day driving one of the latest rescue craft, a Shannon class lifeboat. The grin on his young face told the full story.

During the presentation, I'd watched the expressions of great pride on the faces of his mum and dad, lifeboatman Nigel. This is one special boy.

Later, 'dingy boy' as he's now known to his classmates, together with his friend, Haden Williams, gave Vic, myself and harbour master Paul Labistour a conducted tour of the many different sections of the Church of England primary school.

During the tour, both lads chatted with the confidence of youngsters, years older than their numbered years.

After the classrooms, they showed us the gardens, the chickens, ducks and the veggie plots managed by the pupils.

I couldn't help but be amazed at the mass of colours that seemed to fill each classroom.

Plus, the children we encountered in the different classes, ages ranging from four years to 11, seemed completely relaxed at a visit from strange grown-ups.

I came away from the school, confident that with pupils like Stuart and Haden the future of Brixham is in safe hands.

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