An interview with Harbourmaster Ron Taylor

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This interview with Harbourmaster Captain Ron Taylor was first published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966

"I should like to see a yachting marina come into being as soon as possible. I feel that no more time should be lost as each successive summer brings more embarrassment to my department in trying to accommodate the ever-increasing number of visiting yachts."

A forthright statement from a man not given to mincing his words — Captain Ron Taylor, Jersey's Harbourmaster.

Expert yachtsman

When Mr Taylor, an expert yachtsman, took over the top position at the harbour on 1 January 1965, one of the tasks he set himself was to try to improve the lot of sailing enthusiasts. One of the things that had to be done — bringing mooring dues to a more realistic figure — brought him under heavy fire.

"But how can you provide additional amenities and facilities without money?"

Twice winner of the Jersey Round Island race in his 25 foot racing sloop, Swallow, he is keenly aware of the improvements needed to foster local sailing and to encourage foreign boats, and a start has been made.

Bonne Nuit harbour has been dredged — for the first time in about 90 years — and, after an interval of 60 years, St Aubin's harbour is also being cleared. A floodlit pontoon has been provided at No 5 berth for visiting yachtsmen, the two main local yachting harbours are floodlit and additional mooring space has been provided at La Folie.

Mr Taylor is not the type of man to sit back and admire his achievements. He looks forward to the day when additional lights are provided on the dangerous south-east coast.

"A marine power cable to the Demie des Pas light, which would increase the candle power by several thousands and make the provision of an electric fog signal possible, would he a good start."

To be able to control and maintain the smooth running of the harbours it is essential to have an intimate working knowledge of the sea and its many moods. Mr Taylor has such ability and he learned it the hard way — on the sea.

At the age of 15 he started his apprenticeship on board the Jersey Pilot boat and in August 1939 he went to sea for the first time as an ordinary seaman on the collier Norman Queen.

Wartime

In those days life at sea was tough, but just a month later the seas were to become black and unfriendly under the shadow of the swastika, and seamen were called upon to do even more. The men of the Norman Queen slept on tiered bunks in the forecastle. They had to provide their own bedding — a hessian sack filled with straw — known as Donkey's breakfast. Eating arrangements were on a do-it-yourself basis.

"Coal dust got everywhere — you breathed it and you ate it".

Mr Taylor is unable to conceal the enthusiasm and drive he has for work. After leaving the Norman Queen he exercised this zest.

"I signed on as many different types and sizes of boats as I could to gain experience for when I returned to Jersey".

Recognition in the form of promotion followed. He became an Able Seaman and, during his time on shore, studied hard for his Mate's Ticket and then his Master's Certificate.

Shortly after leaving the Norman Queen Mr Taylor learned that she had been attacked by German E-Boats and the master and a number of the crew were taken prisoner. A narrow escape. But not so close a shave as the time his life was saved by a cut of the cards.

The year was 1942 and his ship, the Lerwick, was sailing from Freetown, West Africa, with a cargo of iron ore for Ford of Dagenham. It was a rough journey, and the ship's engine was giving trouble. Speed dropped and subsequently orders came from the senior of the naval escort that the ship, which was unable to keep up with the convoy, was to proceed independently to Bathurst for repair. The painfully slow journey home was completed without incident and the ship was dry-docked in the Tyne.

Watch duty

The need for "keeping watch" will never be forgotten by men who served in the mercantile marine — but the watch duty on board the Lerwick when she sailed again was broken by the late arrival of a young lad who had been celebrating his coming of age.

There were three men to share the watch and they decided to cut cards to determine who would be first. Able Seaman R Taylor was one of the three, and at 14.10 hours on 13 January 1942 he was steering the ship. The look-out on the wing of the bridge was the boy who had just become a man.

"We were just off Whitby in the North Sea when a plane flew across the ship. She picked us out of the convoy because we were one of the largest targets. Four bombs were dropped; the first and fourth missed, but the second and third were direct hits in the engine room. I was protected by concrete slabs around the wheelhouse. The look-out on the unprotected wing of the bridge was killed. It could so easily have been the other members of the watch or myself."

The ship sank, but after 45 minutes in the water the survivors were picked up by the destroyer Winchester and landed in Scotland. On this brief trip Mr Taylor slept in a hammock lent to him by a Guernseyman. On another occasion the ship in which he was serving was used as a target for German bombs but, although they damaged plates, all were misses.

Jersey appointments

Mr Taylor was appointed Second Assistant Harbourmaster in September 1945, and some months later became First Assistant. Four months later, after passing as a First Category Pilot — and gaining invaluable knowledge of local rocks and tide streams in the process — he became Deputy Harbourmaster.

His knowledge of local waters serves him well in his capacity as president of the Pilotage Examination Board and also in deciding what action must be taken in sea rescue emergencies.

The responsibilities of the top man at the Weighbridge offices are considerable. He is in charge of the administration of the seven Island harbours, maintenance of lights, buoys and beacons, control of shipping entering and leaving the port, allocation of cranes for loading operations, maintenance of harbour buildings, and the implementation of fishing regulations, including the investigation of reported poaching by foreign vessels. In addition to all this, Mr Taylor takes a major role in emergencies and the work of the Sea Rescue Centre, which is housed in the Harbour Office.

As a man who has made the sea his life, Mr. Taylor has some very definite views about it.

"As long as you treat it with respect it is a friend, but try treating it with contempt and it becomes a cruel enemy."
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