I have a weakness for bad lyrics, and 18th century sea chanties like The Saucy Sailor Boy probably take the prize. If you live here in San Francisco, you can take the kids (or just your own self) to Hyde Pier for monthly (and free) Sea Chanty Sing-a-Longs. You’ll get hot cider if you bring your mug.
I can’t say if the sailor boys (and girls) aboard these container ships are saucy. But you can get a better idea of what constitutes these weeks-long trips by reading this blog post about Martin Machado, a guy who regularly works the runs from Singapore to New York. One of the hazards: Celine Dion and fisherman porn.
The vhf radio, which here is not regulated like in the states, becomes a constant source of entertainment and misery at the same time. Some ship will transmit a Celine Dion song for way too long, then the audio from a fisherman’s favorite porno will pierce the airwaves.
One of the bennies:
While on watch on the bridge there is nothing but time to think, listen to music, stargaze, swap stories with the mate on watch, and just take in the scenery. As the coastal silt drops, the water becomes the most vibrant blue you can imagine. Further offshore you begin to see thick clumps of Sargasso Weed, flying fish, whales, and occasionally huge pods of dolphins.
In the Middle of Middle Harbor – Port of Oakland
I took these shots during a walk at one of my favorite bay-side retreats, Middle Harbor Shoreline. I like it because it’s a rich mix of habitat and commerce, and still relatively unpopulated. And I’m pretty sure that revealing this spot to the small readership of this blog won’t endanger my solitude.
Middle Harbor exemplifies the nature-against-technology juxtaposition I treasure. In spite of the oily hazards that invariably ensue* from mixing nature and shipping, I still see it as hopeful — yet another piece of San Francisco’s original wetlands reclaimed and used in the heart of heavy industry.
* Middle Harbor Shoreline was one of the areas where I found the most oiled birds during the Cosco Busan rescue efforts. Although a boom stretched across the mouth of the park, birds oiled elsewhere in the bay, found sanctuary in the alcoves of this park.
Middle Harbor Shoreline is part of the East Bay Parks system. It’s 38 acres of green created by the Port of Oakland — on the site of the former Oakland Naval Supply Depot. According to the East Bay Parks site, “the surrounding 665-acre seaport is the fourth busiest container port in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world. It includes 25 active deepwater berths and 33 gantry container cranes. This adjacent seaport handles 98 percent of all the containerized cargo that passes through California ports.”
Walking the pathways, you can hear the flapping of cormorants and calls of shorebirds in the tidal flats — and then, the rumble of container ships and tugs, firing up to pull away from their berths. The cranes looming more than 200 feet above the water are often cited as George Lucas’s inspiration for the Imperial Walkers — a story I heard Lucas denied but which is apparently true.
It’s always sobering to walk among this volume of containers and contemplate your own contribution, however big or small, to the endless stream of global commerce. It’s akin to visiting a landfill, with its fetid piles of refuse. It tends to convert you in an instant. Moving near the Port of Oakland changed my own paradigm. I make better choices now, considering the larger ramifications of how far that item traveled and what it entailed in terms of human and environmental costs.
To get an idea of ship volume in San Francisco Bay, you can see time lapses of traffic in and out of the port at BoatingSF.com. The site has a map that tracks AIS transponder data to show movement of vessels in and out of San Francisco Bay. For some more online reading about the Port of Oakland and its container ships . . .