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Seattle Sketcher

An illustrated journal of life in the Puget Sound region by Times artist Gabriel Campanario.

July 16, 2010 at 6:13 PM

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Operators crane to see, stack 'cans' at port

Posted by Gabriel Campanario

portone071310m.jpg

July 13, 10:54 a.m. Cargo ship Maersk Kawasaki is being loaded at Port of Seattle's Terminal 18.

The staggering line of port cranes at Harbor Island draws my attention every time I drive by. They hulk like giant mechanical dinosaurs wrangling colorful Lego blocks. I've always thought the longshoremen who operate them must enjoy one of the best views of the city, perched 100 feet above the ground.

But I learned they actually don't have much time to take in the scenery. Matt Ventoza, one of about 100 union members who perform the job, said they have to remain bent over to focus on the "cans," the 40-foot containers they lift on and off the cargo ships. On a good day, Ventoza said he moves up to 40 containers per hour.

The job requires a lot of hand-eye coordination and concentration. "You have to be patient ... you can't get frustrated," said Ventoza.

It's also a tough job to get. He started working as a casual in 1978 and it took him 15 years to join the union, which has just under 600 members. He's been operating a crane only in the last two years. Other jobs performed by longshoremen range from clerical tasks to driving the trucks that carry the containers or the top-pick ups that load them on to the trucks.

This is the busiest time of the year for the longshoremen, who also have to load and unload more than 200 Alaska-bound cruises that operate from the Smith Cove Terminal. Like this one I sketched after my visit to Terminal 18.

portcrane071310m.jpg

July 13, 11:19 a.m. A 40-foot container, which can weigh up to 26 tons, is lifted by a spreader beam controlled by the crane operator. The crane cab where he sits slides back and forth to move the containers on and off the vessel.

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July 13, 11:58 a.m. Another cargo ship, the Vancouver Express, is being loaded at Terminal 18.

portthree071310mjpg

July 13, 12:46 p.m. To reach the crane cab where the operator works, I had to climb a narrow open ladder and take a ride on a tiny lift. I rushed to finish my sketch before my fear of heights would take over.

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