Throngs of spectators on River Street received an early holiday treat last week.
The crowds in downtown Savannah had the chance to see Georgia Ports Authority’s four additional Neo-Panamax cranes transit the Savannah River, while draped in a 50- by 100-foot American flag.
Flying the Stars and Stripes as the cranes make the journey to the Port of Savannah has progressed over the last few years, Senior Director of Operations Dan Rohde said.
Rohde, who has been with GPA for nearly 17 years, has accompanied the past four batches of ship-to-shore cranes along the river route to Garden City Terminal, the largest single container terminal in the Western Hemisphere.
On his first trip in 2009, Rohde included a 4- by 8-foot flag that he tucked inside a backpack. But since there isn’t a way to easily scale the massive cranes, the logistics of unfurling Old Glory proved more difficult than anticipated. Also, because of the scale of the machines, the modest flag wasn’t easily spotted.
“We can do better,” Rohde said after that first jaunt.
Last year, Rohde brought along a flag that had been on display during former Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Garden City Terminal in 2013. That 20- by 38-foot flag was certainly more visible, but Rohde had something special prepared for last week’s shipment.
Since the 130-pound flag that flew last week couldn’t easily be raised from the deck, engineers outfitted Savannah 41 (the forward crane on the ship) with pulleys and halyards before it left China in preparation for the supersized flag.
Rohde said Dockwise representatives are in charge of ensuring the cranes clear all possible hurdles during transit, but he has been included in the last four deliveries.
He added that any time there are close tolerances — such as transiting a channel or clearing a bridge — Dockwise sends its expert. The representative can generally be found at the end of a boom or top of a crane.
“There’s lots of calculations done going up to it, and there’s a whole transit plan that’s reviewed and approved with the River Pilots and U.S. Coast Guard,” Rohde said. “We know we have plenty of clearance, but they like to have an observer up there just to make sure.”
Although rain threatened to dampen the pre-Thanksgiving arrival, the skies cleared as the SWAN approached Savannah. Because GPA received four cranes in 2016, Rohde said the logistics were still fresh in everyone’s minds.
“This is the second batch of the taller cranes. The fact that it was only done a year ago makes it a little easier,” Rohde said. “The weather cooperated, and we literally had done it just 11 months ago.”
GPA’s next shipment of Neo-Panamax cranes, while identical in dimension, will present a unique situation. Rohde noted that the size of heavy transport vessels has grown exponentially over the last 15 years, allowing more cranes to be moved simultaneously.
In 2020, six Neo-Panamax cranes — bringing Savannah’s fleet to 36 — will arrive aboard a single vessel, a first for GPA. Rohde said the arrival will present some challenges, but it’s nothing GPA can’t overcome.
And Rohde is likely to request a front-row seat for that delivery as well.