On a regular basis, the Porthole takes the pulse of its natural habitat, the Saint Lawrence River. There is no better way to get started than to meet with marine maritime pilot Simon Lebrun, who knows the Saint Lawrence like the back of his hand. You will see that being a sailor man doesn’t have much to do with Popeye’s life.
The Porthole: Mr. marine pilot, could you tell us about your profession?
Simon Lebrun: Piloting is the highest specialization in the marine industry. My job is to ensure the safe passage of the ship from point A to point B.
TP: What makes the job interesting?
SL: I live in the Old Montreal and I enjoy the contrast between the noisiness of downtown and the quietness of the St. Lawrence River. I feel really lucky to come in or out of the city through the most beautiful gate there is, the Saint Lawrence. The River brings us an extraordinary perspective of our port city. Each of my 135 yearly trips is different: the ships and crews are never the same, the weather conditions change constantly.
TP: What kind of people do you meet on the River?
SL: Before meeting people onboard ships, I come across the port workers such as the longshoremen, tug masters and pilot boat captains. The port is the economic lung of the city and thousands of people depend on it on a daily basis. Then I get to know hundreds of crew members coming from dozens of different countries, whom I meet on board the 135 ships I pilot every year. It would be rare not to have one or two meals on board and most of the time, the food is really good. Traditional cuisine is often on the menu when sailing on ships from India, the Philippines, Ukraine… such a pleasure to discover typical dishes from various cultures!
TP: How are the landscapes?
SL: Gorgeous! Lake Saint-Pierre looks almost moon-like in the winter, when it is entirely covered with ice. The Sorel islands remind us of Amazonia in August for they are so verdant and dense. From Lanoraie to Varennes, the closeness of the channel to the coast makes us feel like we are sailing in people’s “front yards”! Every little stretch has something different to offer.
TP: Does a sailor man look like Popeye?
SL: Unfortunately or fortunately, sailors men look less and less like Popeye, and captains rarely look like the captain of the Titanic! Ships are more and more specialized and it takes captains, officers and crew members with very high skills to navigate and manage them.
TP: What is the most unusual thing you’ve ever transported/seen on a merchant ship?
SL: I have piloted a ship loaded with 32,000 tons of sugar for the Lantic factory, which is equivalent to 8 billion sachets of sugar or one sachet for each person on the planet!
TP: Isn’t marine transportation polluting?
SL: If we compare transportation by truck, train, and ship, according to the distance run for one ton of merchandise and with only one litre of fuel, we get very interesting results.*
Truck = 75 kilometres
Train = 181 kilometres
Ship = 312 kilometres
Moreover, it would take 870 trucks to replace only one ship loaded with 25,000 tons of merchandise. Can you imagine the number of traffic jams avoided here? Marine transportation is efficient and clean, and it is a great tool for sustainable development.
*Source: Saint Lawrence economic development council