Launch of book in Appledore this week telling of the river pilots of the Taw and Torridge.

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THE dangerous challenging job of guiding ships along the rivers Taw and Torridge is revealed in a new book being launched on Friday in Appledore.

… and the pilot was Long-haired Jan tells of the days when fast rowing gig boats – hence the name ‘pilot gigs’ - competed to be the first to land a pilot on visiting vessels.

In the days before modern navigation a pilot with local knowledge was essential to guide craft through the treacherous currents, shoals and hidden sandbars of the estuary to the commercial quays of Bideford, Yelland and Barnstaple.

The launch is taking place at Appledore Social Club on Friday from 6-9pm, with author John Whitlock on hand to sign books or chat.

John can trace his line back through generations of Appledore pilots, fishermen and sailors and although he now lives in Essex, he still has plenty of family and friends in the fishing village.

Gazette readers may recall he told how his grandfather John was one of the men lost in the 1921 sinking of the steamer Stevenstone, when photographs of the vessel surfaced in Barnstaple Rotary charity shop.

His great grandfather, Alfred ‘Giley’ Evans, was one of the first six licensed pilots on the rivers when Trinity House took over the service in 1923.

This and the fact so little was known about such men, inspired him to write the book:

“I kept stopping and starting on this book and it is thanks to Councillor Andrew Eastman and his wife plus my cousin Josephine Sims, all from Appledore, who kept pushing me on to finally finish it,” he said.

“Alfred Evans’ father, George was chief local pilot for about 60 years, losing a young son on one pilot trip in the Taw. Several gigs and boats were lost over the years and pilots were drowned so it was a dangerous job in many ways.”

When Trinity House took over the risk lessened, but remained – two pilots had a lucky escape in the 1950s when a ship ran them down in the river, cutting their wooden boat in two. Fortunately they survived.

In 1988 Trinity House ended the service and local authorities took over. Today, Bideford harbourmaster Roger Hoad is the current pilot.

Copies of … and the pilot was Long-haired Jan will be available at

Appledore Social Club on Friday and soon from local outlets.

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