A Wee Bit of History

Off and on, in 1967, 68, 69 & 70, I worked the San Francisco waterfront as a marine electrician troubleshooter while going to University. Then, there were still the freighters owned by big shipping lines, the cruise lines, and a lot of the old Victory ships coming and going from SF. I worked on all of them before they were no more. This was during the Vietnam war. In the early years, I saw stevedores and longshoremen working the docks, down in the holds, troubleshot the boom winches, the radars, the steering, emergency generators, …, engine room stuff. Worked on the first Sealand and Sea Train ships (They were the first container shipping lines; really just converted/extended old freighters). Both were in and out of Oakland. In those days, most ships were steam turbine propulsion, had boilers and steam turbines. Sea Train used turbine electric propulsion, so I got to work on the voltage regulators, etc. Worked for Sealand for a couple of months one summer.

Sealand and Sea Train were the beginning of the end for the old lines such as Pacific Far East, State, Grace, American President, … . Now, of course, both Sealand and Sea Train have long been swallowed up. The Port of San Francisco has long been gone over to Oakland. Oakland’s a railhead and that’s important. Better trucking access, too. In the early days, they did load the containers with cranes. Then an outfit (PACECO) in nearby Alameda invented the Portainer and the rest, is as they say history; or at least a beginning. Portainers, used a lot of new technology, were very fast. Even in those days, turn around time was less that 24 hrs. Still was with the first generation behemoths. Why bother going ashore? Six months at sea, he said; they would pay me ton to sign on and a hell of a salary. Alcoholism and divorce thrown in.

The old freighters weren’t really all that big. The Ever Given pushes the boundaries for behemoths. Perhaps a bit too much? Turns out there’s an insurance limit, and, it seems, maybe a 47 ft draft problem. Loaded, the athwart-ship wind load for her is huge, and desert wind storms blow hard. Still, the turnaround time is probably less than 24 hrs. The car haulers coming in here to Richmond carrying 2-3,000 cars; moor and begin unloading in less than an hour. Likewise with the casting off. Total in and out the Bay turnaround time is less than 16 hrs. Appears no one bothers going ashore.