by Jerry Blair & J. Greenberg
-- 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