Conclusion of the Sea Daddy Saga
And we would have deserved it. We went over the line, but that is what those lines are for.
The Wachs saw is a hydraulically driven circular saw that ran on a geared track that went around the pipe and would drag the thing along this cutter. There was another cutter that you could use in a non-flammable situation that had a burning torch. They walk around a section of pipe underwater and do a very precise cut, such clean cuts that you can almost see your reflection off of them.
The diver had made the final hookup [on the articulated “stinger” pipe which trailed the barge], had burned a couple of holes at the end of the pipe that he could rig so they could hook up the crane and start recovering the section of pipe. Then they lashed it to the side of the barge with chains and they went to cut off the first stick and made the cut, when they should have deployed the Wachs saw, but they decided to use the burner and the fire got good enough inside of the pipe—this is an oilfield pipe-laying barge—and coughs this ugly shot of flaming phlegm and the genius hoses it off the deck into the water, which had a quarter to half inch of live oil floating on the surface. Of course all the wooden bumpers on the barge are all burning, the water is burning.
We are 20-30 miles of the coast, in sight.
It’s flaming up and the fire we were interested in, which was the barge fire, was basically in the middle of the barge. We were in the rear of the barge so the fire had to work its way to us. There is the little control shack in which I’m sitting, next to hundreds and hundreds of pressurized gas bottles, which would all explode, flammable and non- flammable and you’d blow a chunk out of the barge, You would lose structure, the crane might collapse, the potential for real disaster was there.
All of the ship personnel are running for the standby boat and almost capsizing that. The standby boat is a tugboat and a lifeboat. We were short-handed, any one you are calling for assistance is piling on this boat, which is likely to sink.
I’ve got all the divers in the rescue capsule, looking out through their port at the flames coming at them and they were very quiet, had nothing to say, all these atheists in the fox hole suddenly seeing Jesus. It wasn’t going to go quick.
They’re in a rescue chamber which had flotation on it and you crane it over the side, assuming the crane was still working. So what you wind up with is they are floating around in this thing and they would have to stay at pressure.
They can’t come up quick, so they’re there for the ride, since the standby boat, which would ordinarily save it, was fixing to get capsized. Very likely they could have been left there alone with us in the bottom and/or swimming for our lives.
The Boss generally sat in the captain’s office, with a huge picture window so he could see the deck. He was sitting there reading something. He had this huge, native-made, ornate chair that he sat in, kind of like a throne, in his underwear and t-shirt in the AC. He’s the skipper. The various supervisors would come up into the office and sit in these inquisition chairs and ask for permission to do what they wanted to do and he would yay or nay it. He was a petroleum pontiff.
Now this situation was so bad, that Silas, his servant came to him and said, “Boss, your better put your pants on for this one.”
The skipper was a large individual, a big guy. I could just picture him in his britches. The sight had to be far more egregious than that Brit in the daisy dukes.
The tenders are going around getting the missing hoses that had been being used to run an air-powered water pump. They recovered the hoses and setup and were fighting the fire on these batter boards from the deck. I was just monitoring the presence of the fire. It had gotten to us—just about time to kick them [the divers in the pressurized habitat] over the side and start worrying about us surviving.
At home I have these little tags that are all shriveled from fire, which were all attached to oxygen hoses. The tags were melting and the hose was next and then you would have had a horrible explosion.
I kept the duct-tape tags, with a flag sticking out. Those were our tags, little chunks of duct tape were melted and burned on one end of our tags, the melting and burning that would have melted the jacket of the high pressure hose that the gas was traveling through and that would have led from one thing to another. Once the outer jacket was burned away the hose would begin to loose integrity and burn and that would have been the point of no return. We didn’t quite get there and I didn’t want to forget that, so kept my trophies to this day.
But the tenders put it out.
I can laugh about it now.
We were all glad to see it put out.
I can’t think of a single extreme sport that would get that extreme for you. You could go out on a mountain bike and scare yourself to death—but this was some big monster-piece-of-shit that could eat you.
But there was still the fire on the water.
The coon-ass guy in the anchor tower recognized that the barge was blocking the wind, so he started cranking the barge and we pulled away and the big pile of oil fire sailed away. You can’t make this blanket condemnation of coon-asses, because some of them are pretty slick. The guy that decided to burn the pipe instead of using the Wachs saw was a coon-ass, and the guy that read the wind and got us out of there was a coon-ass.
The wind was blowing in the right direction and just wasn’t quite our time, I guess.
(c) 2017 James LaFond