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Wal*Mart is fixed in all our vocabularies, but a related term –panamax–is not. Conjugations of panamax could be postpanamax and ultrapanamax. Are you wondering if I’ve lost my mind or if you’ve opened the wrong blog?

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Meet Bellavia, outbound from Port Newark toward the Narrows, around 66,000 tons dwt, panamax size. Plainly stated, anything larger could not pass fully loaded through the Panama Canal, given the current dimensions of that Canal. In case you haven’t counted, abaft the bridge those containers–each recently a trailer pulled by a truck on the turnpike or interstate–are stacked 13 wide by 7 high above the deck by 4 long. In other words, what you see there is a stack of 364 containers.

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The lighthouse just forward of Bellavia marks Robbins Reef. Before reaching Robbins, it will bear off to starboard for the Narrows. The shadowy tower to the right of Robbins light is the HSBC Bank in Brooklyn.

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Dredging the Kills is critical to the flow of commerce through the port of New York, which mostly means the ports of Elizabeth and Newark, currently the third largest port in the United States. Vessels like Bellavia draw around 35 feet.

Huge and deep you might say, but the ubiquity of cheap goods made in China sold in Wal*Mart and other retail stores is made possible by the lowered costs of shipping on vessels of ever increasing size. Consider Carsten Maersk built in 2000: containers are stacked 17 wide, 14 deep over the keel. If all the containers it can carry were placed end to end, the line would stretch almost 30 miles. Carsten Maersk will never travel through Kill van Kull into New York because it’s just too huge: 1130 feet long, it draws 45 feet of water. Its propeller has a diameter of 30 feet. At 25 knots, it burns 10 tons of fuel per hour.

It’s shopping season, so as you buy cheap stuff made on the other side of the world, think cheap labor and cheap shipping; think Panamax.

Expected sights on the East River include tugs and barges, small private sail and motor boats, yellow water taxis, and sludge tankers. But it’s the unusual that delights me; it’s one of my reasons to live in New York City.

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Who would expect a float plane to operate regularly off the East River?

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Who would expect an island named for a former Secretary General of the United Nations? See the sign to the right center at the base of the vertical structure.  This is looking east toward Queens.
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Who would expect the water under the Manhattan Bridge to be filled with kayaks and small motor boats? Why are they there?

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Is the circum-navigation swim marathon around Manhattan more than just urban legend? Enrollment for 2007 is now open.

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Graves of Arthur Kill

Click to order your copy of Graves of Arthur Kill, by Gary Kane and Will Van Dorp. 3Fish Productions.

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Seth Tane American Painting

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