Reflection on 2020: Rhys Davies – Marine Pilot Apprentice

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To say that 2020 was an interesting year is an understatement. In October 2019, after spending the first year of my apprenticeship based on the Humber region, I became a father for the first time. This was quite a challenging period to say the least as I had to get to juggle learning a new pilotage district, preparing for the upcoming authorisation as a pilot, and the end point assessments to complete the apprenticeship.

In February and March 2020, just as we were about to attempt the first of our exams, the Covid-19 pandemic began to take effect across the world. By mid-March, all training was suspended as lockdown took effect. Many other apprentices were put on furlough, however, myself and my colleague, Josh were kept on, in order help drive pilots to and from ships. It was decided to utilise the ABP pool car that is kept at Cardiff QA house, in order to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus to all of our pilots. As you can imagine, this change was a difficult one, especially as we were both so close to the end of our training, but it was the right thing to do, especially at a time when many factors about Covid-19 were still unknown, such as how quickly it is transmitted, how infectious it is and the precautions we can take to protect ourselves.

We spent from March until July 2019 driving pilots to and from ships, and as there was two of us, we worked on a “week on, week off” basis. As time went on, and taxi drivers began to clean cars properly and put up plastic screens etc, we were being utilised less and less. Times between jobs were also spent working from home, preparing our “Bridge books”, which is a document of all the accumulated knowledge that we have learned about the pilotage district in which we operate. This also forms part of our final assessment. This was also a good opportunity for self-study and preparation for the upcoming exams.

As the summer drew into Autumn, and Covid-19 cases began to skyrocket once again, there was a worry that we would be tasked with driving the car again, further delaying our authorisation and end point assessment, although thankfully, this was not the case. Whilst it was a useful thing to do, further delays at the point would have seriously impeded our career development, especially now as we were both tantalisingly close to completing.

On the 14th December 2020, myself and Josh took our final written exams in Swansea port office, and then were authorised as South Wales Pilots, and were taken on as pilots as of the 1st January 2021.

How did ABP support you during this time?

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented some challenges, especially with regards to how we are to complete our apprenticeship. The biggest challenge we faced was how would we be able to complete the end point assessments. With the severe restrictions on travel, completing these assessments became impossible, and contingency plans had to be drafted, and approved by all parties involved. It was thanks to “out of the box” thinking, and South Wales pilots giving up their free time off rota, in order to be recruited by the EPA establishment, which enabled us to complete our end point assessments. The written exam was completed at Cardiff, the Oral exam conducted over Microsoft teams, and the practical exam was conducted by one of our own pilots who had been briefed as to the requirements of the assessment criteria by the EPA organisation. The South Wales pilots were asked to assist us with these assessments, and I was astounded by how many who volunteered to give up their free time in order to get us through these assessments and onto the team. This year has thrown up so many obstructions and problems which need to be worked out, but as a team, we were able to adapt to, and overcome these as they came up.

Another way that we were supported by ABP was during the months of driving the car for the pilots. This proved to be a good opportunity to meet and build relationships with other pilots who you may not meet very often, and in retrospect I think it was a good opportunity. I recall discussing various scenarios with several pilots to see what their opinions would be, and how they would approach an individual situation which I had found myself in when on an act of pilotage, and these discussions were very constructive. It was a mighty shame that we were not allowed to accept tips though.

Were there any positive aspects to 2020?

The lockdowns did mean that I was able to spend far more time with my son, especially during the first lockdown which has resulted in me building a much better bond with him than I thought would be possible. I will always be grateful for this, as I realise that not many fathers will be given such a luxury.

The other positive that I have taken from 2020, is that I learned the value of having a good team around you. Whilst we do not always see each other on a day to day basis, months can pass between conversations. This pandemic has shown the strength of the marine department of South Wales ports, and I am sure the situation is the same all across the country in each of our ports. Everyone is willing to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to help each other, and to offer advice and support. As mentioned earlier, during the End point assessment, several South Wales pilots took time out from their leave in order to come to work and conduct examinations, meetings, and assessments to ensure that we were properly examined and assessed ready for our authorisation. For this, we are very grateful.

How have you looked after your wellbeing during the pandemic?

Being a first time dad with an under one year old running around doesn’t leave you with much free time to have to worry about wellbeing! Speaking only for myself, having worked on deep sea ships for the best part of 10 years, the idea of months and months of virtual isolation is not new, so I was able to liken these lockdowns to being onboard ship. There wasn’t a whole lot of difference to be honest (apart from the much better Pizza delivery, WIFI & mobile data than at sea).

What are your biggest hopes for 2021 and beyond?

In the short term, I hope and pray for the vaccines that are being approved to be effective, and for the world to return to some semblance of normality. Being able to visit family and friends without being afraid of transmitting the virus, being able to embrace family members for the first time in ages and just being able to take my son out for the day, without being afraid of an invisible killer. However, with that being said, going forward into the future, I believe that this whole pandemic should serve as a wakeup call to humanity, in terms of how we do business, how we interact with each other, about how we appreciate what we have and do more to look after it.

Applications for ABP’s Apprenticeship Programme are open until Sunday 21st February. Find out more and apply here.