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From 'harbor' to 'wharf,' Great Lakes glossary defines shipping

Dec 28, 2019 07:28AM ● By Editor
The 1,004-foot-long Mesabi Miner rides with a deep draft near the Aerial Lift Bridge earlier in December, loaded with a shipment of iron ore. "Draft" — the number of feet that the hull of a ship is beneath the surface of the water — is a term found in the Chamber of Marine Commerce's Glossary of Terms. Photo: Steve Kuchera / [email protected]

By Brady Slater from the Lake County News Chronicle - December 27, 2019

For many folks, "Chandler" is a character on the hit television show “Friends,” and a "metric ton" is the amount of grief a teenager can impose on a parent. 

But for observers of Great Lakes shipping traffic, those terms mean very different things. A "metric ton" is 2,204 pounds of a given cargo, and a "chandler" is a person who sells and delivers supplies to the ore boats in harbor. 

Thanks to the Chamber of Marine Commerce in Ottawa, observers have its Glossary of Terms to turn to in order to understand the wide array of shipping specific vocabulary.

“The reason we created the glossary is because a lot of the industry has its own specific terms, or jargon, developed over decades and even centuries of operation,” said Julia Fields, spokesperson for the Chamber. “It’s a fun tool to translate that language.” 

The glossary debuted in 2011 and made the jump to the Chamber’s new website earlier this year. It’s a popular feature, Fields said, and has been promoted multiple times on the Chamber’s Facebook page. 

“There’s definitely an appetite for it,” Fields said. 

Jayson Hron is the director of marketing for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority and is one of the folks who has benefited from the glossary. He’s been on board that organization for a year in January, and was compelled to learn industry terms such as "stowage," "transship" and what it is a "vessel agent" does.

“The maritime world definitely speaks its own special dialect, with obscure-to-generalist terms like 'cabotage' and 'draft' and 'Plimsoll line,' which quickly become part of your everyday language when you’re immersed in it daily,” he said. 

Learning the language means realizing that not all terms live in isolation, and that some of the terms take on a bigger life. 

“Many marine words and phrases have drifted into general language,” Hron said. “Lefty pitchers are 'portsiders'; people are told to 'pipe down'; rummage sales are filled with 'flotsam and jetsam' — so it’s not an impossibly foreign language to learn. And learning it has been part of the fun. It’s a fascinating world.”

For the Chamber in Ottawa, the origin of the glossary was simple: They were meeting a demand. 

“People who live in the communities around water and see great big majestic ships going by, they’re curious about who’s working on those ships,” she said. “There’s just a natural interest in what’s happening in marine shipping industry.”

So the next time you wonder what the difference is between a "stevedore" and a "longshoreman," you can look it up. (Hint: both are responsible for unloading vessels, but one supervises the other.)

To read the original article and see related reporting, follow the slink to the Lake County News Chronicle.