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Our History: Al Krier’s Historic Pilot Boat

Their histories range long through the story of mankind. Over Homer’s storied wine-dark seas, in the crowded bays of Asia, on the shores of the New World, small boats hurtled out of their harbors, their mission to intercept incoming ships looming on the horizon. They were a common sight in the ancient world and for millennia thereafter until as recently as a century ago. These were pilot boats in earnest competition to bring large ships safely in and out of port.
Numbering in the thousands, ubiquitous and diverse, pilot boats measured as long as forty feet, others as short as six yards. Once serving military behemoths, giant container ships, freighters and fishing boat, they are now in retirement, replaced by larger and more sophisticated vessels. But pilots are now finding new lives as lobster and crab haulers. Others are pure pleasure boats. Still more have been transformed into colorful party boats, status symbols popularized by television icon Martha Stewart. They continue to give their all for their new captains.
One special pilot has been selected to head up the Palm Coast Holiday Boat Parade, now in its 40th year. The Parade is considered the largest boat parade in the state of Florida and attracts thousands every year to view it from the shores of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The last helmsman for this pilot was Palm Coast community stalwart Alois Michael Krier who died last year in his 86th year. Al was well known to Palm Coast not only as an activist for its citizens, but also as a weekly presence on its canals enjoying the pleasures of his Herreshoff Pilot, its small bell ringing as Al announced his presence to the houses he passed every day, often stopping to say hello. As his daughter Roseanne Dunn says, “He never met a stranger.”
Of the more than 20 boats Al owned over the years, the final boat was an 18-foot Herreshoff Pilot named “Pilot 49” because it was the 49th such boat built. Says his son Joe, “He liked to keep things simple.” Through the years he had boats named “BOAT,’ “187,” and “LBA” which stood for ‘Last Boat for Al.” “We knew that wasn’t true,” says Joe.
He had bought the Pilot fifteen years ago, having spotted it not at dock, but under water. The boat was raised and the ruined engine was swapped for a Volvo Penta Diesel. The Pilot became Al’s primary nautical transport and was a staple in the Palm Coast Holiday Boat Parade.
When the Palm Coast Yacht Club named the 2023 Parade in Al’s honor, his family decided to donate the boat to the care of its membership. It is now in St. Augustine undergoing a restoration by All Source Marine that will give it a new mission as the first sailing emblem of the Club and a symbol of the Parade as its lead boat for as long as the Parade continues to run.
Al’s 1974 Pilot is an important part of American boat-building history. The Herreshoff Manufacturing Company of Bristol, Rhode Island, was established more than 150 years ago. Among the company’s clients were the Vanderbilts and Whitneys. After the company’s went out of business in 1947, Nowak and Williams, also of Bristol, assumed the manufacture of Pilots until its demise in 1980.
The vessels were built to be durable and serviceable. At first glance, the boats look clunky, scarcely the vision of a sleek millionaire’s yacht. An exaggerated high prow dominates its profile. According to Mike Dolan, owner of All Source Marina, who is restoring the boat, “It is most efficient not on the plane, that is, not skimming the surface of the water, but by charging right through it.” This extends the line of the hull on the water line offering the boat more buoyancy and greater speed and improves its performance in rough water.
Primarily distinguished by yellow or red paint, the boats were also identified by the word “Pilot” on the hull. Common navigation lights were supplemented by a round white light and below a red light. The mnemonic “white cap, red nose” was used to remember the lights’ configuration as the captain’s white cap and his red nose because of the copious amounts of alcohol that were supposedly consumed waiting for business.
The Herreshoff Pilots carried “un-stayed masts,” the sail secured only at the top and bottom of the mast. Many sailing experts agree that the freestanding sail reduces the load on the hull, thereby further increasing the boat’s propulsion.
The captains did not sit to navigate. They stood. Chairs were not used because they would reduce the ability to move about the small deck and inhibited vision of the surrounding seas. Joe Krier built stools for the Pilot, but his father preferred not to use them, or, if someone else was at the wheel, to recline contentedly in the bow.
Now in the enthusiastic ownership of the Yacht Club, the boat is in all-hands mode for its restoration and maintenance, from its fiberglass hull to the top of the mast which will now be fitted with a new eight-foot sail emblazoned with the club logo. Finishing work on the teak fittings will be provided by the woman affectionately known in Palm Coast as “the Boat Girl.” Jennifer Fallon is doing the work gratis.
The boat soon will be graced with a formal name. But its most important hallmark will be the bell still hanging just outside the cockpit door next to the wheel. On December 9, it will be ringing loudly as the boat leads the Parade out on to the Intracoastal Waterway, a tangible memory of Al Krier, his spirit very much alive.