... to bring up the whites on the side of the ship... if I make the lighter bits between the pier legs lighter then I need to make all of the water lighter or it looks false?
Stamper, your OP version looks reasonably good. It preserves the deep-shadow feeling of the contre-jour
sunset. I was more reacting to Russ' version, as it opened up shadows a bit too much, in an unbalanced way (i.e., ship vs. pier), and made them too contrasty.
Having said that, my version, when compared to yours, is not necessarily better, just puts a different emphasis. As I said, if the title (and presumably the main subject) refers to a ship, than the ship should have a bit more emphasis. If it were about a sunset in a harbor, then the ship could go even into a silhouette.
So, if we want to emphasize the ship, one of the important things is separate it from the background. If you look where the left-corner arrows point, you will see the difference. Also, in the right corner, in my version one can actually notice the flag.
One thing caught my attention in your sentence quoted above: "to bring up the whites on the side of the ship."
My approach to lightening shadows is a bit different: I want to open shadows
, not whites. If anything, whites in the shadows need to be restrained (relative to the rest of the shadows), as we do not perceive things in the shade having the same contrast as when fully lit. "Bringing up the whites" actually increases the contrast in the shadows.
As for the pier: the goal again is not to "make the lighter bits between the pier legs lighter"
, the goal is to open up the shadows
in the pier. And, as you can see, from the attached comparison, it does not need to make all the water lighter. My sky and water is practically the same as in your version, just the pier becomes a bit less muddy and a bit more defined.
Hope this helps.
EDIT: On a side note, my "leaning masts" curiosity has been satisfied by googling the ship and seeing it indeed has slanted masts and chimneys. Phew, I can sleep well again now