03 October 08


Some things will never cease to amaze me about ships and the sea. Brilliant blue waters and perfect nights with stars all the way down to the horizon are two of them, but some ports are quite amazing as well.

To get to the port at Shanghai you steam up a river for several hours following in a long line of ships heading up river with you and every minute or two you meet a down bound ship headed for sea. All the while you are following in the line of big ships you are passing and meeting small coasters. These little freighters rarely stay in the traffic lanes and when you meet them off shore it often seems like no one is on the bridge since they never seem to obey the rules of the road. Some time I'll have to put together a photo study of these coasters. What they lack in size they make up for in character; they all look old and well worked, niceties like painting over the rust streaks or fixing failing deck machinery are often lacking.

Chinese Coaster

After several hours of transiting the river in Shanghai you reach your berth along side a dock that stretches into the distance disappearing in the orange, industrial smoggy haze in both directions. As far as you can see in the haze are containers, gantry cranes and ships. The port is only making money when ships are along side the dock so your arrival will often be timed with the departure of another ship. When we arrived another ship our exact same length was just pulling off the dock, so with only 30 meters ahead and astern of us (as a comparison, the Maunawili is 217m) we slide in along side. Before we were even finished tying up the ship the gantry cranes were already rolling into place and beginning to pluck containers off the ship, dropping them onto trucks to be whisked off to the container yard. As many as six cranes may be working a ship like this at a time and each is moving 30+ containers an hour for a total rate, upwards of 180 containers an hour (the ship carries around 2000 containers total).

Shanghai Cranes

Cargo here doesn't stop for anything sort of a typhoon (see my 29 September 08 entry), rain or shine, day or night, cold or hot cargo is worked. At night the lighting is dramatic and the bustling energy seems concentrated as your attention is focused on the illuminated working areas under the cranes. I know the same activity is going on in the daytime but at night it just becomes that much more present.