How Do They Do It?

Monday 18 October, 7:30pm on Five

This factual series lifts the lid on the incredible engineering behind everyday life. Presenter Robert Llewellyn is on a quest to understand the extraordinary engines, machines and structures that form the backbone of 21st-century living. This week, Robert focuses on two transportation giants – the largest container ship in the world, the Estelle Maersk, and a classic amongst American trucks, the Peterbilt. It is a warm July morning in southern Spain, and the year’s plum crop has ripened. Fifty workers start the harvest and eventually fill their buckets with over 40 tonnes of fruit. The produce is then taken to a packing facility for grading and sorting, destined for a Danish supermarket over 1,500 miles away. The plums are placed in a cold-storage lorry that contains a high-powered air-conditioning system. The fruit is delivered to the port of Algeciras and placed aboard the Estelle Maersk, one of the largest container ships in the world. At 400m long and 56m wide with a 157,000 tonnage, the ship is four times the size of the Titanic. Regularly loaded with some 11,000 containers, the vessel is powered by the largest diesel engine ever built, which generates an enormous 110,000 horsepower. The containers are sorted by destination and weight and loaded onto the ship as night falls. The Estelle then sets sail at night, much to the chagrin of Captain Jenson. “It is a lot harder to navigate in the dark – there is no doubt about this,” he announces. Whilst in transit, the containers are regularly inspected to make sure they are cool enough. The boat’s engine room is also constantly checked to avoid catastrophic breakdowns. “It is very rare that I see the sun,” an engine room inspector says. After four days of plain sailing, the crew safely docks the ship with the aid of a harbour pilot, then Danish dock workers use a mobile crane to pick out the container of plums. The fruit is then driven by van to the supermarket. The plums have travelled the length of Europe in five days and are still fresh enough to eat. While marine transport in such giant vessels as the Estelle clearly has its benefits, it is not always an option- especially when moving produce around America. Due to the long distances involved and the extremity of weather conditions in the USA, the lorries used must be reliable and rugged. “You need a truck so fearsome it makes a Hummer look like a Reliant Robin with a flat battery,” Robert says.

About the author

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1