Handling Goliath is all in a day’s work at the ports
The lift that takes you to the top of the crane at Ports of Auckland is not like most elevators.
There’s no smooth marble floor, no polished stainless steel handrails or music playing softly in the background.
Instead, there’s just enough breathing room for two, a loud grinding noise and a small window to watch the wharf dropping away beneath you.
At the top, it takes time to get used to walking on a metal grate, the height and slight swaying sensation.
But it’s actually not so bad.
The crane is Goliath – a suitable name for something almost 100 metres high and weighing 1300 tonnes.
Below is the port, with thousands upon thousands of containers lined up like neatly organised yellow, red, grey and brown Lego blocks.
As jobs go, it doesn’t get much more exciting than zooming along the boom of a crane, lifting and depositing containers of precious cargo.
But as he jerks backwards and forwards along the boom, driver Rae Williams says the novelty has long worn off.
“It’s still one of the better jobs though,” he says.
He expertly lines up the “spreader” above each container, using only his eyesight and a manual control to lock it into place and lift it on to the wharf.
From there it will be picked up by a straddle driver and placed in the right stack of containers.
It only takes five minutes for a newcomer to start feeling motion sick, but Rae will do this for two-and-a-half hours before shifting to the deck of the container ship below us to work as a foreman.
Stevedore tutor Ed Haretuku says there is a limit to how long each driver can work before concentration becomes an issue. He has been working at the Ports for more than 23 years, starting as a labourer in one of the Auckland Harbour Board’s stores.
When the company became Ports of Auckland in 1988 he was a supervisor at Bledisloe Wharf and has since done everything from being a team leader to a fulltime crane driver.
He remembers as a child being driven past the port and seeing big yellow machines at work.
“I always said someday I’d like to do that.”
Now Ed is in charge of selecting and training the young men who apply to become stevedores and crane drivers each year.
He says they hand pick the drivers after at least two years of working on the docks and getting to know the business.
He says cool-headedness is a must.
“They usually stick out,” he says.
“Their demeanour is what we look at. You can do an awful lot of damage up there.”
He’s had his share of hairy situations, including unloading priceless America’s Cup yachts.
“When it’s someone’s multi-million dollar cabin cruiser, you don’t want to damage it.
“It can be quite stressful.”
He says even lifting standard containers requires constant concentration.
“You don’t know what’s inside so you try and treat each container the same – very gently.”
Over the past two years Ed has been the driving force behind changes to the safety procedures for port workers and has developed a height safety system he says is second to none.
“Working at heights is a biggie,” he says.
“And working on board a ship is one hell of a dangerous environment. It’s right up there with Iraq.”
He says there are always some who are going to push the envelope in a male-dominated workplace.
“We’ve changed the culture basically,” he says.
In the next few months Ed will be getting out of the office to spend some time refreshing his skills as a crane driver.
He says that suits him just fine.
“If you’re not doing it fairly regularly, you’ll lose it,” he says.
Day at the office: Trainer and tutor Ed Haretuku used to dream of driving cranes.
Sky high: The crane named Goliath in action at Ports of Auckland.