Our recommended read this week is a piece published by Hakai Magazine titled The Secret Language of Ships.
For the story, author Erin Van Rheenen and photographer (and tugboat engineer) David Webster Smith hit the water of San Francisco Bay to learn about and document in exquisite detail the “signs and symbols on the sides of ships tell stories about an industry few outsiders understand.”
(Hakai Magazine) – Approaching the container ship in San Francisco Bay, the tugboat looks like a pit bull puppy chasing an eighteen-wheeler. When the vessels are an arm’s length apart, the ship’s mate throws down a line. Now leashed to the ship, the tug can push and pull it around the bay. Big ships can’t easily slow down or maneuver by themselves—they’re meant for going in a straight line.
Tugboat crews routinely encounter what few of us will ever see. They easily read a vessel’s size, shape, function, and features, while deciphering at a glance the mysterious numbers, letters, and symbols on a ship’s hull. To non-mariners, the markings look like hieroglyphs. For those in the know, they speak volumes about a particular ship and also about the shipping industry.