Those of us who have the pleasure of working on the water in Charleston harbor know Rabbit Lockwood by his voice more than his Charleston Pilot Unit 1 call sign.
After 49 years Rabbit is going to retire as a harbor pilot. The Pilots Association, has rules put in place over the years by the State of South Carolina, one of those rules is manadatory at age 70, the rule used to say age 65 but they changed it five years ago for Rabbit
The VHF radio calls between Charleston Pilots and other ships are routine. But if you listen in, especially when Rabbit is on the radio, you can learn a lot, and every once and while there is a conversation that just makes you shake your head or even enjoy a hardy chuckle.
Somewhere on the other side of the peninsula there is a container ship outbound.
Rabbit's voice that of a veteran harbor pilot with a smooth southern accent is announcing that the ship he is aboard is heading towards the Ravenel Bridge and then bound for sea.
The only thing notable about the call is Rabbit's voice, a nice reminder that this is Charleston, that all is well because there is a veteran waterman on the job.
The minutes slip by and then there's another call:
"Charleston Pilot calling the small white sailboat in the main channel just off the Charleston Harbor marina."
The massive container ship is more than a mile away, but at 9 knots it will be on top of the sailboat in just under six minutes. The conversation is one sided, the sailboat radio too weak to reach the other side of Charleston, but Rabbit's voice in loud and clear. As always Rabbit is calm but authoritative.
"Captain I'm the container ship up here by the Ravenel Bridge.... and well, I'm coming your way and just wanted to make sure you saw us."
"Alright Captain thank you for coming in."
A few minutes later:
"Charleston Pilot calling the sailboat..... captain we're getting close and just wanted to let you know we'll need pretty much all of the channel on that side to make our turn"
"OK we'd appreciate it."
About a minute later.
"Ahhhh Captain ..... I though you said you were going cross the channel in front of me?"
"You were getting ready?"
"Yeah, alright then, ........so you think you are ready now?"
"OOOHHHH kaaaay you want to cross now?"
"Roger Captain. You go ahead and cross over to the red side of the channel now."
"Charleston Harbor Pilot Unit 1 calling the sailboat ahead of us."
"Captain, I might be confused....but I thought you said... ok now I see you have turned and are starting to cross the channel in front of me.
"OK Captain.. I just hope you keep going cause I can't stop real fast."
"Captain I don't know how it looks from down there but from up here it looks like your really close, ..... I imagine down there we look pretty darn big and even just a little scary."
Alright captain, thank you, y'all have a good day.
All the while Rabbit's voice never varied, calm as calm could be despite the fact that the captain of the small sailboat was only seconds away from a catastrophe.
49 years of close calls, near misses and idiot boaters and Rabbit I'm sure would just keep going and going, much like that less famous pink Rabbit.
You can read the Charleston Post and Courier's story of Rabbit Lockwood's retirement here.