"A ship ran right into the Riverview a few years back," said Antioch native Richard Burke, a veteran river watcher. City Manager Jim Jakel is watching too, and he makes the same observation. A woman from Pittsburg, there with her granddaughter, talks about the time an ocean-going ship ran aground in Pittsburg.
The Cabo is dead in the water, its engines cut, seemingly drifting toward shore, as two husky tugs struggle against its inertia. Powerful engines throb to turn the screws to churn the water to change the ship's course.
The tug Keegan Foss - named for the great-great grandson of the founder of Seattle-originated Foss Maritime - pushes at an angle against the Cabo's starboard bow.
Photos by Harry Stoll
The CSL Cabo, foreground, and the Karolina dance a pas-de-deux.
A secret "Whew" comes from the tugs that act as if they had it in control all along as the Cabo parallels the Riverview and the fishing pier and the black of the hull starts to move by, riding on the red paint of its waterline.
From ashore it seems you have to tip your head back to take in its immensity. Burke is snapping pictures. Photos will make it look like it's ready to enter one of the city parking lots. The camera lies, of course, but it's the truth.
Jakel and another observer liken the passage of the Cabo to the scene in "Armacord" where Fellini creates the ocean liner Rex roaring beautifully from the dark sea to astonish and overwhelm the small town.
In 1998, the Cabo had a cadet from the Ukraine who in four years became an oiler, then a wiper and then a fourth engineer. Maybe he went to sea after reading the works of countryman Joseph Conrad, who wrote of wipers and oilers toiling in the suffocating scald of the engine room with the giant throws rising up in anger then plunging down hotter than the hinges of Hell.
The Cabo's DWT (dead weight tonnage) is 31,000, meaning that's how many tons of gypsum it could bring from Santa Rosalia on the Sea of Cortez to the mysterious docks between here and Stockton.
As the Cabo is squared away, another ship appears aft and toward mid-river, moving at a brisker pace. It's the Karolina, under her own power - another red, black and white creation coming out of the haze. As with the Cabo, she has a blunt white superstructure abaft and abeam. Four tall yellow towers for taking and discharging cargo rise from the deck. The Karolina is a supermodel carrying a load of liquid fertilizer to the Port of Sacramento.
Both the Cabo and the Karolina fly the Liberian flag. As the two craft are abeam one another, the aft tug cuts free. Now, the Keegan Foss pushes hard on the bow, pushing it toward midstream where the Karolina approaches. Surely they know the other ship is there. Don't they have cell phones or semaphore flags? Or an Aldis lamp with its shutters sending Morse code to one another telling each other avast,
But as the Karolina glides by, its red water line barely visible due to the load of fertilizer, the reflected yellow towers shimmering deep in the river, it will be well clear of the clumsy Cabo, which now is coming about.
The Cabo continues to be dogged by the tugs as it passes parking lots, the gull pilings behind Antioch Lumber and approaches Fulton Shipyard. The camera catches it as being very close to the city water intake in the white house, catches it headed for the towers of the Mirant power plant and tells another story about how damn close it came - but it was close enough.
A curling cloud of black smoke comes from the Cabo's stacks but the screws are not engaged and the propellers are still. The Keegan Foss and her mate are still in charge.
Somewhere around the bridge it docks and unloads its gypsum. Burke said it's probably at Domtar, a firm that makes sheetrock. Domtar was bought by Geogia-Pacific, and their Wilbur Avenue plant has a sign that reads "G-P Gypsum."
The location of the docks is a tantalizing mystery, but the main thing is these ships passed through simultaneously, a special performance as part of the attraction of the river. All shows are free.