Otho A. Gugliotta, a retired tugboat captain and docking pilot who for 40 years gingerly maneuvered some of the heaviest, largest and most historic vessels to piers in the port of Baltimore, died of heart failure Tuesday at St. Joseph Medical Center.
Captain Gugliotta, who was 69 and lived in Rosedale, retired in 1990.
A docking pilot for the last decade of his waterfront career, he directed in and out of the port a wide variety of tankers, bulk carriers, container ships and passenger liners -- even the tall ships that called on Baltimore for the 1976 Bicentennial.
"He was assigned to dock the Queen Elizabeth II in the fall of 1989 and got sick and was unable to do it. It was a prestige job and was to have been the highlight of his career," said a son, Capt. Kevin A. Gugliotta, also a docking pilot.
The docking pilot -- also known as a harbor pilot or docking master -- takes command of the vessel from the bay pilot who brings inbound vessels up the Chesapeake Bay, directing the tugs that take a ship to its final destination.
Captain Gugliotta's nonmaritime working attire consisted of a heavy coat, warm trousers and a baseball cap, along with a walkie-talkie over which he called orders to the tugboats alongside.
"The tug carrying him would pull alongside the ship, and while it was moving he'd grab the Jacob's ladder and up he'd go. He never wore a nice coat; none of us do, because you get dirty climbing up the sides of ships," said the son.
"Moving a ship in a limited space is always difficult, and when it's windy can be a hair-raising experience, but he was highly regarded as a calm and controlled operator," said the son. "He was so calm, the guys used to say, 'Hey, pump yourself up, Otts.' "
Jasper Mamoliti, a fellow docking pilot who retired after 43 years, said, "He was from the old school and he came up the ranks like we all do. He was a seaman, mate, tugboat captain and finally docking pilot.
"He was a real expert and a good ship handler. After all, it takes quit a bit of skill when you're moving a vessel that stretches from 500 to 1,000 feet."
Born and reared in East Baltimore, he was educated in the city schools and started his career working on taxi boats in the harbor. During World War II, he served with the merchant marine aboard Liberty Ships in North Atlantic convoys.
He worked as a tugboat captain for the Curtis Bay Towing Co., and later Moran Towing, before becoming a docking pilot with the Association of Northern Chesapeake Docking Pilots.
He was a member of the Seafarers International Union of North America and St. Clement Roman Catholic Church, where a Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday.
He is survived by his wife of 48 years, the former Mary C. Ketchum; two other sons, Keith A. Gugliotta of East Baltimore, and Brian A. Gugliotta of Rosedale; two brothers, Charles Gugliotta of Catonsville and Phillip Gugliotta of Glen Burnie; two sisters, Anna Lombardi of Rosedale and Frances Gray of Glen Burnie; and six grandchildren.
Memorial donations may be made to St. Clement's School, 1216 Chesaco Ave., Baltimore 21237.