Have you ever seen something “a million times”, only to realize later that you have not seen it from all perspectives?
Earlier this month, I enjoyed a rare opportunity to take a free “Working Waterfront” boat tour offered to our community by the Port of Seattle. I like to think I know my home city well, but apparently my self-guided explorations and observations, nonetheless, left room for me to learn!
It was an overcast Saturday morning as our tour departed from the small marina on the downtown waterfront. Rain threatened, but I called its bluff and hurried to find a seat on the top, open-air, 3rd-level deck. This turned out to be a wonderful vantage point in that we had unobscured views of everything we passed by or under. It was also a great choice as the tour guides/presenters were up on that deck.
Our tour boat headed along the waterfront and then into the east, and later the west, channel of the Duwamish River. We passed amazingly close to huge container ships, and later beneath enormous gantry cargo cranes. We learned that the white ones are newer and much larger than the orange ones. If I understood correctly, the white cranes unload the New Panamax cargo ships (the largest ones that can barely fit through the Panama Canal). Technical details aside, from a purely visual perspective, the cranes on our landscape are gradually changing from orange to white, as more of these larger container ships come into port.
Our tour guides – who were actually employees of the Port, the Coast Guard and other organizations such as the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition — did an excellent job of explaining what we were seeing as we toured, and they also addressed bigger picture issues, such as toxins and pollution in our waterways.
One of my most positive takeaways from the tour was seeing one of our state ferries being refurbished and repainted in a local shipyard. The huge upper deck was completely shrouded, one of the steps being taken to eliminate any potential contamination to the waterways. Hopefully all shipyards and boat owners take similar precautions.
I was also glad to see and learn that so much of the Duwamish River has been cleaned up and rehabilitated for wildlife habitat in recent years. The presenters pointed out estuaries and other little spots that we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. There is a Peregrine Falcon nest on the underside of one of the bridges that I travel over frequently. As well, one of the presenters pointed out an Osprey nest perched precariously on the top of a utility pole a little further south.
I have many impressions from the “Working Waterfront” Port tour – the diversity and scale of what I was seeing, the juxtaposition of old and new, and insights gained by seeing familiar things from a different perspective. The visual sights ranged from small industrial operations and businesses, to parks, to the huge terminals and port facilities, not to mention all types of vessels.
A final glance from the shore, after our tour boat was docked in the marina, perhaps best sums up the experience – in the foreground: tribal canoes, a fireboat, sailboats and pleasure boats; in the background: a cruise ship, tugboats, cranes and container ships.