Much of the one billion dollars in revenue that makes its way through the Morehead City port each year is on those huge hulking cargo ships and getting them to the port safely can be a tricky task.
While navigation can be fairly straight-forward for a captain on the ocean, it becomes a different story when reaching channels, much like the one leading to the Morehead City port. That's where the harbor pilots step in.
While most folks in Eastern Carolina are sleeping -- harbor pilots Bill Baily and Andrew Midget are skimming across the Morehead City channel to meet a cargo ship on the edge of the Beaufort inlet.
Their job is to offload one pilot, climb on board, get to the bridge of the ship and assist with guiding this several hundred foot ship through the potentially perilous channel.
Captain Bill Baily says, "Right now the channel is in the worst condition I've seen it in in my whole career. It's changing rapidly. This past year has seen a significant change. Some of our issues we try to keep an under keel clearance, and depending on the condition of the channel, we certainly have shoals on both sides of you. One of our responsibilities is environmental. We have a national park on the Shackleford side and we've got the busiest state park in North Carolina on the west side with Fort Macon.
Over the course of the two hour process Baily calmly makes commands. The ships mate responds at the wheel and the ship, as gracefully as it can, responds in turn.
The truly impressive work comes closer to port. That's where the tugboats come in. At one point two tugs are pushing, one at the bow and one at the stern. Below the ship members prepare to dock by tossing lines to port handlers. When it's all said and done -- the 586 foot ship hauling rubber all the way from China -- comes to a rest.
Captain Baily says, "It takes everybody for a ship to come in from sea and to the port of Morehead City to either discharge or load its cargo.
Baily says that the Morehead City Pilots Association guides in around 150 ships annually, down from around 300 in years past. He says that's because of ships getting bigger.