Diary of a Stevedora Part 4

lowering in

Day 5
I almost ‘missed the boat’ this morning because I was so busy taking photos of the stevedores being lowered into the sea. It was a bit swelly, so I was more than keen to be lowered into the bottom hatch today. Before we headed out to sea I told Coon that I was torn between wanting to help and getting in the way and he encouraged me to join in. Woo hoo! So today I did, and really felt like a part of the team.


Eventually I noticed a strap had been attached to the wall to make it easier to climb between the middle and lower decks. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it, especially during my efforts to get upstairs yesterday, so I asked if it had been there the whole time. Someone told me it went up after I had climbed up, so I can only assume I looked as awkward as I felt in my mountain climbing expedition yesterday! I must admit I feel humbled with the way everyone has looked out for this very green greenhorn, although I am told that they do this for everyone who has just started…if you heard a pop today, it was the sound of my ego deflating yet again.



When the ship is loaded, the thick red straps are left around the cargo. However, as the Stevedores use a hiab crane, the straps are sometimes too long for lifting and need to be wound around the load several times for safe lifting


The last of the freight in the middle part of the hatch was lifted out by mid-morning. I am truly in awe of how effortlessly the Stevedores work out what is the best way to send it to shore. For example, there were a lot of large bags of cement and some long steel bundles. In order to ensure the load remained balanced, two bags of the cement were placed in the lighter first, with the metal resting on top. I discovered that because of the weight of these cement bags, only four could go in a lighter at a time. One pack of steel girders was removed from a lighter at one stage, and I was told that the safety of the lighterage workers was paramount. If they don’t feel the load is safe, then it has to be changed or adjusted, as they have a gut instinct for this. I admire the mutual respect everyone has for the skills and knowledge of each group working the ship.



Cement is only ‘single lifted’ due to it’s weight. Heavier loads are placed at a 45 degree angle for more stability.


The further under the deck we went, the more important it was for communication between us, Cody, directing the crane and Danny to avoid any mishaps. Todd and Ryan were on the middle deck, sorting straps and nets, dangling the ‘eyes’, so the nets could be pulled down easily by those of us below. The speed at which the rest of the group worked, without losing their sense of humour and remaining safe was awe-inspiring. 


Drill and Ritchie alternated driving the forklift. As I said earlier, a lot of cargo gets displaced or becomes damaged while in transit, and the skill required to adjust it, so there is no or little loss, is amazing. I think you need to see it to understand how this is achieved, words just are not enough. The care of the freight is vital, and at times, one of the stevedores’ would patch something with plastic in an attempt to save further leakage.


There was much joking and teasing as the lower deck was being cleared. Whoever said men can’t multi-task hasn’t watched these guys work.



There isn’t much room for error when you are below deck


The communication between decks is amazing

split_level_this one

The hiab crane can lift 8200kg when only extended 2.5m. At full extension of 14.9m, the crane can only lift 1220kg.

I realised today that I haven’t got a single photo of me being on the ship, so I asked Drill to take one, while I was taking a break. I don’t like having my photo taken, so I refused to look at the camera. He took the shot just as Lew called me a poser, which made me turn of course! (I bet you can’t guess what I was about to say as the pic was taken…☺)


As we went further under the deck and had more space, the nets were laid out in the open space instead of the middle deck. Today I learnt that if a load is really heavy e.g. cement, the net is placed in a 45° angle as that gives it more stability and strength, whereas lighter freight is placed in the middle, well actually four squares in…okay, now I am just showing off some of my new understanding of the process.


At one stage Cody asked us how many containers were left. He received four different answers, much to my amusement. I said to Coon, ‘perhaps you should have asked a bookkeeper to count.’ He asked me how many I had counted, and I replied ‘none, because I’m not bookkeeping today…’


stuck below deck

When it rains, the top deck is closed until it has passed

The ship was rocking a fair bit all day and apparently the swells were interesting from topside. We didn’t notice it much, until we were preparing to leave the ship. Once we were on the lighter, I looked up to see a mini tsunami heading for us! The crew on the ship were videoing the big waves, and most likely the expression on our faces as the wave headed for us. Cody assured us it had been like this for most of the day. It was an interesting ride into the pier; I now have an inkling what surfing must be like!


As I stepped onto shore, and out of this awesome adventure, I was a bit happy with what I have accomplished this week, and a little disappointed it was all over. It has been a life-changing experience! I have always had respect for the Stevedores, but after this ship I now have a clearer understanding of what they do and how it is accomplished, and my respect has increased tenfold. Thanks for such a memorable week and thanks for all you do!



Diary of a Stevedora


Part 3


Day 4


We are back at Kingston for day four, and the sea was pretty pleased to see us. It was giving us really big waves! Norfolk Islander’s sense of humour is unique, and we all had a chuckle when a couple of the guys went to the bow of the lighter and recreated the famous Titanic scene as we surged up and down.


With all those big waves, today I was grateful to be netted to the lower depths of the ship. I even managed not to get myself caught up in the nets like the other day. Although in honesty, I had sat down on the first day and learnt that if you go down standing up, its way easier to step off, than to roll off the pile of nets after you hit the floor!


I spent most of the morning on the mid level taking photos and notes. I could see there wasn’t much room to move down there and it was safer if I stayed out of the way. The lower middle section was full of the really heavy cargo, like wood, metal and fibrolite. Although they are pre-strapped from the freight loading, sometimes it isn’t viable to use these straps, as they were interminably long. The ship has two large cranes for loading and shifting containers, but a smaller hi-ab crane is used by the stevedores, with a maximum reach of 10 feet, which at that stretch only gives them 2 Tonne lifting capacity. The long straps were either wound more times for stability and strength, or the heavy duty straps used yesterday were employed. Danny definitely can’t see this far into the ship, so Cody was on the deck, using hand signals to indicate direction to him, while someone in the hold used hand signals to direct the lifting. Cody also pointed out which bits of freight suited the space left in the lighter.



Todd, on the middle level, throws down the nets and straps


A load of timber coming up from the hold

Some of those loads were so bulky and heavy, it was awe inspiring the way the Stevedores working on the best way to lift it safely and efficiently. I have to say there is a real art to it. Tag lines were attached to all these loads as there was a definite need to guide them safely out of the hold and onto the lighters. Although some loads of metal and timber have metal strapping around them, apparently when they are moved, there is a danger they could just slip out, so the straps were wrapped around the metal and not through the strapping, as I would have imagined.


I moved out onto the top deck to take photos, sliding though the half hatch and coming up the ladder. I was hoping to get some shots of the bigger picture as freight came up. I even managed to find the ladder easily with my newfound ‘yellow’ knowledge. Unfortunately, when I decided it was time to go back down, and I spied the yellow strip, threw my legs over to discover there was no ladder there. I ended up having to squidge about four feet to it. Later I realised the yellow system only works if the deck hasn’t been moved! Duh.


Coming down and through the half hatch was a bigger challenge than I expected, and its just lucky I can laugh at myself!


in the hatch 11
in the hatch12


I desperately wanted to go down to the lower section once there was a bit more space. Leaning out to take downward photos just wasn’t working for me. I watched the guys going up and down plenty of times, but I have learnt in my short time as a stevedore that if they make it look easy, the chances are it definitely isn’t! Barefoot I will climb almost anything, but I swear my feet grow 15cm when I wear shoes or boots. After sidling up to the edge for an hour, I decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt it. All I will say is it was an interesting experience, and when I finally got down, I felt as if I had done a triple somersault with a flying flip. I stood there briefly waiting for resounding cheers or, at the very least, applause….nothing; no one even noticed…sigh.


However, climbing back up afterwards was a mission in itself with my two left feet which felt as big as a circus clowns shoes. There were a few places you could get a toehold, but I seemed to be too clumsy to use them. I got there eventually, thankful that everyone was probably to busy to notice how umma oola (clumsy) I was.


Every stevedore on every deck has a job to do
in the hatch2

Sometimes the crane operator needs a bit of help from the forklift

Today I even managed to fight off a few of the guys so that I could remove the empty nets from the hook, I am definitely starting to feel like a stevedora! Actually, I didn’t have to really fight them too hard, I would signal to Danny on the crane that it was ‘mine’, and if that didn’t work I simply gave them the Nobbs’ death stare and they would then back off!

Where the middle hatch floor is painted metal, the lower one is wooden, and, also slippery when it rains. The forklift was lowered from the mid-section by the crew and the large ships crane. Unfortunately, my position wasn’t the best for taking photos.

Kyran and Keanu, at the top would grab the tag lines and guide it to the lighter guys, who would then help with the optimal placement. Todd stayed on the mid floor, laying out the nets or placing the various straps so they were ready for use.

I did manage to help with a few freight nets, when some of the palletised cargo was being hoisted out of the hold, but most of the time I tried to stay out of the way and used it as an opportunity to take more photos – only 139 today!

The sea became too rough, so work was called off in the early afternoon. I decided to go through the half hatch to the deck and thought it was a great idea to do this wearing my backpack. Bad idea! Those thin stairwells are definitely not Quasimodo friendly….and that’s all I have to say about that!

I managed to go down the stairs onto the lighter again today, and once again I was grateful for the help. I was even more thankful to be lifted out of the lighter onto the pier. I was looking at those huge waves crashing and pondering my chances before Coon suggested it.

It is looking like there will only be one more day of unloading and I can’t believe how much I have enjoyed being a part of it and how much I have learnt. I am soooo lucky!


The forklift being lowered to the lower deck once there was enough space

Diary of a Stevedora Part 2


…The continuing story of my adventures as a Stevedora….Part 2.

Day 2
Day two was a fizzer as, although we had switched to Kingston, the sea was just as choppy on that side of the island. No unloading today.

Day 3

On day three we were back at Kingston, with only ‘moderate’ swells. It was a beautiful morning, with some heavy showers in the afternoon, that certainly put a damper on things; like my jacket that I had left in an exposed place on deck. Today we unloaded the last of chilled/frozen goods before heading down the hatch to the first of the lower decks.

A truck on the top deck, which required double loading (two lighters tied together), was lifted off on the other side of the ship by the crew, using one of the big cranes. It was beautiful to watch and went absolutely perfect. And yes, that was one of my videos of the day.


Now hang on a minute, I forgot to tell you the exciting part of my day. I climbed the ladder onto the ship today! I am thinking practise makes perfect, and I have a long way to go. However, as I had been ‘placed’ on the deck via a net the other day, I was a bit disorientated and ended up doing a tour of the ‘side deck’, pausing to take photos, so it looked like I meant to go that way. I learnt today that anything painted yellow indicates a ladder, and when you are looking for yellow paint, its surprising how many you can find.


There is no designated lunch time for the Stevedores, there is always someone working while anyone is eating…

Once the deck was completely unloaded, we moved to the bow of the ship while the crew moved a container off the hatches. Watching it being moved out of the way by the huge ship’s crane was a fraidy experience as it swung all about, even though the seas were being relatively kind to us.

As the hatch cover rolled along and compacted into a recess at the bow of the boat was awesome to watch, and extremely noisy! Technology is amazing, isn’t it? I was expecting the stevedores to have to manhandle each hatch, so this was a pleasant surprise….and explained why the container had to be moved first.

Today I helped for a while laying out nets for freight but decided there was a fine line between helping and hindrance and restricted my ‘helping’ to when it was needed. Instead I took about 200 photos and a couple of videos. I am in awe of Ritchie and Todd, the forklift drivers, who manoeuvre effortlessly in such small confines. The stevedores work as a team without having to give instructions to each other.

The hatch was about one third open with a third each side of the opening. There were some vehicles and lots of pallets of freight. I decided to play it safe and stay put until there was enough space for me to avoid being in the way.

The crane operator can’t see in the hatch most of the time, so hand signals and loud voices (which I don’t have) are helpful during this process.

Some of the extremely long pallets were brought up by ‘straps’. I asked about the difference in the strap colours and learned that they could carry between three to five Tonnes. I know you won’t be as excited about this as me, but apparently, the amount of stripes running down them indicates the weight capacity. It also has it written on the other side, but lets face it, being able to count stripes and sound like you know what you’re talking about is an added bonus!

Some pallets had moved or been damaged in transit, with a few having to be repacked by hand. Watching the guys work out how best to ‘right’ some of the pallets with minimal damage was interesting. With the use of strops attached to the pallet and ‘ceiling’ of the hatch, freight was encouraged to move to a more accessible position for the forklift, or to straighten up. It was surprising to see that some of the palletised cargo only had minimal plastic wrapping around them, which meant that when the pallets had shifted due, I assume, to rough seas, the corner of another pallet had punctured some of the goods. The guys did what they could to stop the flow and avoid any more spillage before lifting it out to the lighters.

With heavy rain, the floor became quite slippery and it didn’t seem to matter how much grip you thought you had on your work boots, you still went for a quick slide. I prefer to call it my ballet practise.

Every time someone stood or sat next to me, I asked them about their history as a stevedore. Their experience ranges from this is their first ship to 43 years’ experience. Some had always wanted to work on the ship from when they were lads, some followed in their father’s footsteps and others just enjoyed the challenge.

When it was time to leave and go to the lighter, we ‘slid’ through a half hatch, found a ledge in the half light and then climbed a metal stair through a narrow space to get to the side deck.  This was a bit of a challenge, especially as its quite dark, and you’re doing it by braille until you get to the top. I was quite proud of myself for climbing down the ladder into the lighter today, almost by myself. I can’t take full credit as I was guided on the way down. As much as I have always considered myself able to do whatever the blokes can, I have been grateful for the assistance and help I have received today.


Now I haven’t mentioned ‘sea legs’ at all. I don’t get seasick, thankfully. To me the swell is similar to rocking to your favourite beats. My land legs seem to be okay, however, I have noticed that as I type this up at the end of each day, my laptop has begun to dip and sway! 


Sometimes, creative and ingenious tactics are called for to straighten fallen pallets with minimum damage to the freight


Anthony, the Tally Clerk checks off cargo as it is unloaded. 


Pallets can slip and slide during transit


See the yellow marks on the deck? They indicate a ladder to the side

crane and lift20102020

This is the view from the middle hatch. As you can see Danny can’t see, so communication is extremely important between decks.

My Awesome Adventure

Diary of a Stevedora

Southern Tiare

Like everyone, I have always watched the ship unloading. Like some, I always thought it looked relatively easy from the safety of the shore. This week, I had the opportunity to witness what the Stevedores and Lighterage staff do, up close. At one of our Stevedore meetings, it was decided I needed to come out and observe what happens out on the ship, so I had a better understanding of what unloading entails. It has been a fascinating, exhilarating experience as well as a huge learning curve.

Day 1
When I arrived Duncan (Coon), the Stevedore Supervisor, showed me where to find a lifejacket, which was a lot thinner than I imagined. We had a Toolbox Meeting, where the weather conditions and safety were discussed.

I must admit that first step off the pier into a swaying lighter was a challenge, as it was something I had never done. I hurriedly jumped in, not realising it was a lot deeper than I anticipated.

The water was a bit choppy when we arrived at the ship, and the guys effortlessly bounded up the ladder, while pulling themselves up with a rope in each hand. It looked so easy when they did it, but alas, not so when I tried it! After three failed attempts, which I am thankful was not being videoed, I was relegated to being lifted on board with a net. My pride suffered greatly, just saying… However, pride is a lot easier to fix than broken bones and, as I was told, ‘Safety comes first!’

The first order of business was taking the vehicles from the top deck. With very little room to manoeuvre, I was impressed with the efficiency of the Stevedores and Ritchie who managed to move in tight little spaces without any mishaps. The wind wasn’t very strong, but coupled with the swell of the sea, some vehicles swung around. The guys had it all under control as they, and the lighterage boys, lowered them safely into the lighter below. Full kudos to the Danny, the crane operator, who did a sterling job.

Next on the to do list was the unpacking of the chilled and frozen containers, which are done first as unloading them later in the day puts them at risk of thawing out. While the containers are travelling from the port to Norfolk Island they can become pressurised and seal tightly, so innovative ways of opening them is called for.

The nets are a lot heavier than they look from shore. They need to be laid out flat by someone prior to setting them up for the pallets (they arrive in bundles and are craned aboard). Each net has a rope with a loop on it in each corner, called an ‘eye’, and is attached to the crane hook when it is ready to be offloaded.

Some containers were packed solid and were, at times, difficult to forklift out, especially as some of the pallets can become damaged in transit or are packed for value of space than ease of access. A few pallets had burst their plastic cover on the way over here and had to be hand packed before being whisked away by the forklift. I have often heard those rumours about how they are treated during unloading is an issue, but I have personally witnessed that this is not the case. All care is taken to preserve packaging and goods.

All goods are checked off a manifest as they are unloaded by the Tally Clerks, Gary and Anthony.  There are two Tally Clerks and it is their job ensure that nothing is missed, or missing. They also take note of any damage that has incurred.

I was impressed with the way everyone watches out for each other and alerts anyone who may not have noticed an obstacle in their path or heading their way. A true demonstration of teamwork.

After a while the sea became too rough to safely transport the cargo from ship to shore, so unloading was called off for the day. Some of the Stevedores got directly into the empty lighter waiting below, and some accompanied me in the net. Having seen the swell, I decided it was not in my best interests to argue that I wanted to ‘be just like a stevedore’ and jump into the lighter, so I experienced the thrill of being cargo for a brief moment in time!

At the pier, we were held as still as we possibly could by the crane operator and two others holding a line from each end of the lighter. If you are expecting me to say I stepped onto the pier with aplomb and skill like the Stevedores did, I will not disillusion you by telling you the truth…

It was a fascinating first day and a huge learning experience. When asked if it was as I had imagined it would be, I replied that it was a lot more complex and precise than I thought, and harder work than you are led to believe looking from shore. The work that goes into continually pumping out the cargo so that everything flows smoothly is incredible and, although I only saw a small part of the work the Lighterage guys do, I realise how lucky we are for our ship workers.


Sometimes you need to get a bit creative…


The two different kinds of net used



 – To be continued –


This morning I was thinking about marriage and relationships…

For the sake of this post I will refer to marriages, long term relationships and defacto relationships of any kind as ‘marriage’ or ‘relationship’, or I will end up wasting way too many words and you will all lose interest, if you haven’t already ☺

Marriage is a day job; its a day-by-day job where you are on call 24 hours a day. There  are no ‘days off’, or ‘sick days’, included for when we are just ‘not feeling like we want to participate’.

When we agree to be a part of someone’s life, this is what happens…

Two people come together, they each have a suitcase full of hopes, expectations, dreams, ideals, beliefs, opinions and disappointments. As a couple, it is important to begin their relationship with a ‘shared’ suitcase, instead of two separate ones. To be able to move forward and have a successful relationship, all the contents of these bags need to be emptied out, inspected and either released or kept for the future.

This can be really tough. If we have been hurt in the past, it is difficult not to bring those hurts with us, even though we know they could have a detrimental impact on our current relationship.

As we unpack our dreams, there is a chance that our life partner doesn’t have the same goals, so we may both be required to compromise in some way, and that’s okay. When we become ‘two’ on this new life path, we need to be aware there will always be adjustment and change.

This brings me to my next point. We are continually changing and evolving. You are both not going to stay the same forever. It’s impossible. Think about your day yesterday, did something happen that changed your perception of life in general? It could be something as simple as not being able to buy your favourite bread, someone pulling out in front of you on the highway and forcing you to veer away to avoid an accident, or as heartbreaking as finding out someone is no longer a part of your life. These events change you, every single day. Next time you might go to the shops earlier to ensure you get your bread before its sold out, you will drive more cautiously on the highway, especially where your near miss occurred, or emotions of sadness, regret and love may rule your days for a period of time. Every event that occurs in our lives change us irrevocably. We can never go back to who we were, due to these daily outer influences.

When people talk to me about their relationship to me and say, ‘They have changed, but I haven’t’, I gently point out that this isn’t true. The only way for this statement to be partially true, would be to lock ourselves in a room with blank walls and not live our lives…and even then we would change….we would be bored, hate the colour of the walls or even learn how to fashion a key so we could break out….and all that will create change!

In a relationship, we make choices each and every moment of every day. We decide whether to listen to our significant other, whether to take a specific action or whether to walk away. Even doing nothing is a choice, although sometimes this isn’t the right one, as it can lead to the breakdown of the relationship.

As we change, sometimes we grow apart, we don’t see things in the same way as the other person anymore. We can’t relate like we used to. If we relate a failing marriage to a job, we stop ‘clocking in’ every day, we try to take ‘time off’, or call in sick. This compounds the situation in ways that can prove irreconcilable.

Some relationships can weather this storm and eventually, after change, compromise and clearing of the air, the couple can move forward with a stronger foundation.

Sometimes the damage runs too deep, but they stay together, clinging to the belief that staying together is more important than being happy. The impact on their children, if they have any, can affect their future relationships, believing that the dysfunctionality of their parent’s relationship is the norm they should aspire to.

On rare occasions, one of them can feel there is no way out, except to ‘exit permanently’, which creates a scar on those they leave behind.

Others decide that being true to themselves is more important than the way their relationship looks and separate themselves from the situation. This can be a mutual decision. Although this is also traumatic for all involved, at least there is also a possibility of happiness for each of them.

There is no right or wrong solution. There is only our personal choice. Sometimes we save ourselves by leaving, and sometimes we save our relationship by staying. We mustn’t worry about what others may say or think about us, as this can affect the actions we take, and, at the end of the day, those people aren’t living our life. They are viewing it from the outer edges, without any inside knowledge.  Our choice is exactly that, our choice.

Love and life can be extremely complicated. There are no easy answers. Anyone going through a difficult time in a relationship needs to weigh up what is important, what isn’t, and what needs to happen next.

We only have one life, this is not a dress rehearsal. We can choose to make changes and be happy where we are in this present moment, or take steps to make happiness a priority in whichever direction we choose.

So take a moment today to look at your relationship…are you ‘clocked in’? …do you need to be more proactive? …are you listening? …are you participating? …do you need outside help? …how do you feel about where you are at this present moment? …what steps can you take to improve your relationship? …are you still carrying a combined suitcase? …what are you prepared to do to make things work for you both?

Only you know the answers to these questions. Only you can make a decision for you. Only you know what you truly want to do

with Love, Respect & Integrity