Never, in my life, did I think I would ever see a supertanker up close. Why would I have reason to? They are behemoths of the sea, ever seen on TV, but never seen in person, by the ordinary man.
Yesterday, however, Syahidah, myself, Fintan and Tiarnan, got to see the Diamond Hope, a Very Large Crude Oil Container ship, a VLCC, commonly known as a supertanker, at rather close quarters.
Superintendent Ashish Washti and his wife Priyanka, friends of ours, were kind enough to invite us to the shipyard in Tuas, in Singapore. As a Superintendent, Ashish is responsible for the ships that come into the dry docks for repair and maintenance: the Diamond Hope was one such.
We had to bring our passports and id, for overview at the checkpoint. There we were issued with passes - and the ubiquitous safety helmets.
We also underwent a safety talk on how we should conduct ourselves in the shipyards. The children didn't get helmets - mainly because there were none to fit them. That made me uncomfortable, but I knew why there wouldn't be any for them: why would there be, when only adults work there?
We walked past the checkpoint, with Superintendent Ashish and his wife, Priyanka, onto the shipyard proper.
I looked ahead and saw giant structures looming in the shipyards: huge, cavernous warehouses, towering cranes and the bulk of ships the like of which I have never seen. They were like floating cities.
We approached the nearest such giant: the Diamond Hope. Now, I cannot find the words to relay to you the impact of seeing just how large that ship is. It towered above us, to a height that would at home in the centre of any city...but that is not what gave it the sense of dwarfing us, by its gargantuan frame. It was its length, too, that defied belief. It stretched up above us, to a truly unexpected height...but it also stretched off into the distance, so far that one could not determine exactly where it ended, in the encroaching gloom - for it was evening.
Superintendent Ashish came out with some statistics, as he brought us down below to the floor of the dry dock - which was actually quite wet. This only emphasized the height of the ship, which we were now able to see from its base to its summit (the language of mountains appears appropriate).
"It is 330 metres long...and at sea it would sit 18 metres deep in the water." A ship a third of a kilometre long.
Fintan and Tiarnan were relatively quiet, perhaps awed by what they saw, their necks ever craning upwards to see the giant "mega structure" above them.
Ashish led us under the ship...something I was reluctant to do at first. You see the full weight of this ship (which Ashish said was about 100,000 tons, when empty, with an extra 300,000 tons when full), was resting on concrete pillars on the floor of the dry dock. These burdened pillars carried the full weight of the ship perhaps five foot eight inches off the ground.
I bent, therefore, to go under, questioning, even as I did so, how long it would take me to run to the side, should anything suddenly sound like it was beginning to give.
The underside of the ship was of cool steel (at least it was cool to the touch) and its paint was much worn, over the years. Ashish explained that the whole outside of the supertanker had just been cleaned with water jets at 3,000 psi. That explained the absence of barnacles.
There was a crunch beneath my feet and a smell of the sea. Ashish said something about "singapore worms" which are only found in Singapore and which had accumulated on the ship.
We took a picture there, crouching beneath a supertanker, a full 100,000 tons of steel above our heads. It was a relief when we got out from under it.
Then we walked the entire length of the ship - a third of a kilometre, across the wet floor of the "dry" dock. As we neared the end, we could see the propeller and the several stories high rudder. The size of this machine is something that cannot be imagined, but must be experienced.
It should also be remembered that we were in a dry dock - an area from which the sea had been pumped out, so we saw the full size of the ship - not just the bit that shows above the water. I felt humbled before it and really quite impressed by what engineers have achieved. To be able to build something that large is simply astonishing. If that ship had been stood on one end, so that it was vertical, it would be among the world's tallest buildings - that is how large it is.
We saw then, the sea wall. It was a little unnerving to stand before it, knowing that just beyond it lay the sea. I remarked that if anything went wrong we would be in trouble, with a nod to the wall. Ashish reassured us by pointing out that there was a double wall beyond. That, however, didn't stop water leaking through it in various places. It made one feel quite vulnerable to know that I was perhaps 20 or 25 metres beneath sea level at that point.
We left then and went up to the surface again, via a darkened staircase that climbed up along the side of the dry dock, near the ship's propeller.
Our final sight was a view of the ship from alongside it, from the vantage of a steel staircase that gives access to the ships, across what looks like a precarious gangway suspended many stories up in the air.
We climbed our particular staircase, which had open sides at each floor to allow gangway access, and became ever more insecure as we rose. In my left arm, I held Tiarnan, who quietly watched everything with great interest. He was much more comfortable than I was. It just didn't feel safe to be so high up and so unenclosed. Finally we were somewhat above the level of the ship and I could see the vast, complex, industrial machine stretched out before me. Then I looked down to the floor far below. Suddenly, I didn't want to be walking across any gangways, over such an abyss. Luckily, we were on the wrong staircase: this one didn't have a gangway. That decided me: I wasn't going onto the ship today - it was too dark, too tall and too atmospheric of some science fiction film in which a robot from the future could be expected to turn up at any minute. It just had an eerie feel to it.
I think the sheer scale of the vessel has a psychological effect on any who near it. People just feel so small and insignificant when set alongside it. It also didn't feel very safe. Though this was largely a product of the unfamiliarity of this most industrial of settings.
We climbed down. Solid ground felt very good beneath my feet.
When we came to the correct staircase, I had already decided against going up and we called it a day: that part of the visit would take place on another occasion.
Both Fintan and Tiarnan came away with a deep impression of the supertanker and the shipyard in general. It was the most unusual of lessons they could have had.
We relaxed later in the ambience of the Raffles Marina, which seemed an appropriate place to dine, among the yachts.
It was there that Tiarnan brought home to me how much he observes what goes on around him. You see, as I showed him the yachts in the harbour, he said: "Yacht!" I remembered, then, what he had said as we stood beneath the VLCC (supertanker): "Ship!" He knows the difference between a ship and a yacht.
It was a good night - and one that I doubt my children will ever forget. The Diamond Hope is quite simply the biggest man-made mega structure they have ever seen.
Now, I really know what "supertanker" means.
On a whim, I asked Ashish what was the value of the Diamond Hope: "250 million US Dollars".
I will have to upload a picture of the Diamond Hope, sometime, to give you some idea of what it was like.
Thank you Ashish and Priyanka for a most unusual experience.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eleven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and four months, and Tiarnan, twenty-one months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html
I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)
Labels: Diamond Hope, Fintan, Mega Structure, port, shipping, Shipyard, Singapore, Supertanker, Tiarnan, Tuas, VLCC