OBITUARY: Former harbour pilot 'never afraid of a challenge’

By Nick Knight   |   Editor   |
Tuesday 30th January 2018 3:30 pm
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SKILLED SHIP HANDLER: Captain David White. ()

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A WELL known and respected former Teignmouth harbour pilot has died after a short illness.

Captain David White, 72, lived in Bishopsteignton and also piloted ships at Torbay, Exmouth and Dartmouth, where he later became the harbourmaster.

He will be best known for his great skill as a ship handler and pilot, guiding more than 175 vessels into Dartmouth alone. In Teignmouth he earned the nickname White Water White, as he was always able to bring ships in despite heavy seas in the approaches. 

One of his  Teignmouth colleagues recounted: ‘He was definitely a "can do" man, and never afraid of a challenge. He recognised how the size of ships plying coastal trades was changing, and how important it was for Teignmouth to handle the largest vessels that could safely enter the harbour. 

‘With the help of his expertise, several times we broke the record for the largest ship ever to enter the port. He was never reckless, just confident in his knowledge of the port and his ability as a ship handler. 

‘He was always keen that the port should maximise its potential and he believed that deepening the channel was the way forward – something that is now proving to be correct.

‘He had quite a sense of humour. I asked him to take me on an act of pilotage and he deliberately chose a complete rust bucket for the experience. When we got on board I was horrified to discover that the rudder control wasn’t functioning and messages had to be relayed by radio to a crewman in the stern compartment, who had to follow David’s instructions blindly. 

‘My heart was in my mouth as we turned round The Point but needless to say, David berthed the ship faultlessly. He certainly demonstrated his ship handling skills that day.

‘He loved his job and was always helpful and enthusiastic. He was someone I trusted and a pleasure to work with.’

‘As the Dartmouth pilot he did not think twice about bringing the large cruise ship The World into the river, despite the need for it to be turned outside the castles, and brought in astern as it was larger than the 182m limit for turning in the river. 

‘He was always calm and remained unflustered even when there were surprises. 

‘Capt White had a distinguished career as a professional mariner. He began his maritime career with Shell Tankers UK Ltd through an apprenticeship release scheme with Plymouth Nautical School. In 1973, he moved to the Red Funnel Group in Southampton, working on the ferries and hydrofoils. 

In 1979 he became a self-employed marine pilot in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear. Following the miners strike and downturn in trade, he looked for another pilotage vacancy, and found one in Teignmouth in 1985.

He was company secretary and treasurer of Pilotage and Marine Services Teignmouth, and also became a  pilot for Dartmouth in 1992. He was serving as the senior pilot when he was appointed harbourmaster in 2005 and retired in 2010, but continued as senior pilot and joined the board of the harbour authority and was a key member of the group to publish a pilotage plan for the port.

Capt White, who died of pancreatic cancer, leaves a widow, Sue, and two sons. His funeral will be held at Bishopsteignton Parish Church on Thursday, February 15 at 2pm.

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