The Shipping News
Produced by Jerry Blair & J. Greenberg


Pittsburgh, California -- 9 a.m. Steve Roberts has just taken control of the freighter Quinn J. Steve's a bar pilot, one of only 59 in the state. On call 24 hours a day, they're the only ones qualified to guide these massive vessels through the Delta.

At Pittsburgh, Steve boarded the vessel the same way his colleague did: clambering up the hull on a rope ladder with the ship still in motion. On the helm, the Philippine crew follows his instructions to the letter, placing their faith in his exact knowledge of these waters. He'll take the Quinn J. to its final destination at California's "Heartland" port: the Port of Stockton. For 70 years, it's been an essential means of delivering cargo to the region and exporting its goods to the rest of the country and the world.

Today, the Port of Stockton is a sprawling complex. 7.7 million square feet of warehouses either operated by the Port or leased to tenants. It connects to all major highway systems, and all these facilities are served by two transcontinental railroads. Stockton's success is due in part to a decision made decades ago about the kind of cargo it would handle. By avoiding the general shift to containerization in the 1960s, Stockton flourished by courting bulk products such as rice, lumber, fertilizer…and cattle feed.

That's what the Quinn J. is hauling, all the way from Argentina, as it creeps through the Heartland on its way to port. By 10:30 a.m., the freighter is deep into the Delta. The expanse of San Francisco and San Pablo Bays has given way to the narrow meanderings of the San Joaquin River.

The Bar Pilots were founded in 1835, and their importance grew as the size of the ships bringing cargo in and out of the Valley began to strain against its shallow Delta channels. Even today, there are mishaps. Just four days earlier, the freighter Cefalonia ran aground.

Some 45 miles north of Stockton is California's other inland port, Sacramento: five berths, a 200 rail car terminal and the ability to handle and store bulk commodities. One of the mainstays of success for both ports is agriculture, particularly rice. Early on agriculture was the magnet drawing commerce to the Valley. Shipping ultimately opened up exports to international markets.

It's a testament to the ports' stability and efficiency that we tend not to think of them until something goes wrong. A recent dockworkers strike impacted many of the Valley's key industries. Fortunately, the strike was short-lived, and the state's ports are thriving again. But greater concerns remain in the wake of 9/11...

By 12:15 the Quinn J. is preparing to enter the shipping channel to the Port of Stockton. She's joined by two tugboats to help keep her out of harms' way in the narrow entrance to the strait.

Both Valley ports are looking toward a future of expanding horizons. The Port of Stockton is celebrating its 70th anniversary, looking for new opportunities in the expanding bulk shipping market and exploring automobile shipping. It hopes to expand employment opportunities over the current four thousand. The Port of Sacramento sees possibilities in regional passenger shuttles and container barge systems, while expanding its mainstay of agribusiness.

At 1:55 in the afternoon the Quinn J. is moored fast to the dock in Stockton. Her cranes already coming to life preparing to offload her cargo to awaiting rail cars…


Steve Roberts
California Bar Pilots Association

Stephen Canright
Curator, SF Maritime National Historic Park

Richard Aschieris
Director, Port of Stockton

John Sulpizio
Director, Port of Sacramento


The complete text of New Valley Episode 201 - Planes, Trains, and the Shipping News...


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