‘Hidden in plain sight,’ Port of Oakland offers free harbor tours for third year running
OAKLAND — For the third year running, the Port of Oakland on Friday launched the first of a dozen free harbor tours, giving visitors rare, up-close views of one of the East Bay’s most iconic fixtures.
More than 200 people boarded a Blue & Gold Fleet ferry boat at Jack London Square as the sun began its golden-hued decline behind the hills of Marin. Berkeley resident Jason Strauss had seen an advertisement for the tour on a billboard, he said, and jumped at the chance to see the port up close.
“The port is hidden in plain sight,” he explained. “It’s difficult to travel anywhere in the East Bay without seeing it. But it’s also difficult to see it up close.”
He continued: “And, it’s a chance to see how the port works.”
As the boat headed down the Oakland Estuary from Jack London Square, the port’s Robert Bernardo rattled off some statistics: 36 cranes line the port’s docks. Eighteen of those are “deep water berths,” which can be accessed by large cargo vessels.
Some 6,000 truck operators visit the port’s largest terminal, Oakland International Container Terminal, each day, unloading cargo from the approximately 30 ships that come to call each week, he said. Of all of the cargo containers unloaded in the Port of Oakland, 80 percent leave on truck chassis, with trains carrying the remaining 20 percent.
It’s no coincidence that Oakland’s port is focused on container traffic, Bernardo said. That’s a product of one of the port’s early leaders, Ben Nutter, who, in the late 1960s, pioneered containerized cargo, making Oakland the first major port on the West Coast to build terminals for containers, he said. Today, the Port of Oakland is the fifth busiest container port in the country, handling 99 percent of all containerized goods in Northern California.
“Basically, Ben Nutter convinced six Japanese steamship companies to base their operations in Oakland, thus beginning the golden age of container shipping,” Bernardo said, adding that the port at that time also opened offices throughout Asia, Europe and major port cities in the U.S. “He did this through persistent negotiation, careful planning and a good understanding of the political and financial dynamics.”
The port’s story begins much earlier, in 1893, when the city of Oakland wrested ownership of the bayside land from Southern Pacific, a railroad operator. Over time, the port’s authority has grown to include the Oakland International Airport, real estate in Jack London Square, and the Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, the latter of which once served as a naval supply depot and now offers stunning views of the San Francisco skyline and the Bay Bridge.
To learn more about the Port of Oakland, or to sign up for a free tour, visit: PortOfOakland.com. Online registration for the free tours begin on the first Monday of each month.