Crew performs hull of a job
By Winston Ross The Register-Guard
NORTH BEND – As an homage to the cone-shaped hat he wears while straddling the deck of the New Carissa’s hull, Bruce Jeter has earned the nickname “Tin Man.” But it’s a different kind of metal that Jeter has learned to conquer in the weeks he’s spent aboard the old wood chip freighter: rusting steel.
With the gun clap echo of his ax reverberating into the morning mist, the Tin Man pounded away at the ship on Wednesday, rattling rust loose from the deck behind the former engine room, sending course particles skittering down into the sea. Sometimes he uses the fine edge of the ax blade; sometimes the blunt end.
A cutting torch prefers a rust-free surface, explains David Parrot, managing director of Titan Salvage, the Florida company that’s taking the ship apart, piece by piece. Jeter’s methodical work clears away patches of rust to ready it for the torches.
“We had Bruce on painting, and he hated it,” Parrot said. “So obviously he’s found his niche in bashing rust off of steel.”
There are plenty of ways to carve a niche on board the quickly disappearing ship, if the jobs themselves are somewhat unromantic. Eric “Rabbit” Hickey, David “Scrap Pile” Greco and Eric Woelfel know their way around a cutting torch, carefully drawing lines in the ship with the aid of an oxygen-fueled propane flame, scrambling about the New Carissa’s tilted frame and dissecting it.
Woelfel sliced a line straight down the starboard edge of the ship on Wednesday, then cut more strips to intersect that line in preparation for the deck’s eventual demise. The stern itself shields the crew from inclement weather, so it’ll be spared until the last minute – which is fast approaching.
Removal of the New Carissa is going swimmingly, Parrot said, thanks in large part to the precise positioning of the jack-up barges and the tram Titan built to ferry workers and equipment from shore to the jack-up barges that serve as platforms for the massive project. The rig allows workers to keep carving apart the ship even when the fog or the wind would prevent a helicopter flight.
More days on the job means more of the ship sheared into pieces. Parrot said 15 percent of the wreckage is gone now, and he expects in the next two weeks that enough of the New Carissa’s extremities will be stripped from the hull to allow the jack-up barge’s giant hydraulic pullers to latch onto the stern and yank it far enough out of the water to cut apart the sections now submerged in the surf and sand.
“It’s going great,” Parrot said. “We didn’t expect to get this far this fast.”
As the cutters worked above water, diver Billy Wehnes dropped into the shallows to the north of the wreck, where a submerged crane is mired in the sand. Attempts to pull the crane free with hydraulic force were unsuccessful, so Wehnes manipulated a super-hot oxythermic torch beneath the surface, which sent smoke and Wehnes’ spent air bubbling out of the water.
“It burns at 18,000 degrees (Fahrenheit), which is hotter than the sun,” salvage diver Mike Murphysaid. “It cuts through wet steel like glue.”
Balmy weather allowed Titan to scrap its plan to use a 17-ton tank workers freed from the ship’s stern as a cofferdam to blunt wave action from the crane demolition. Instead, crews hauled the tank aboard a third barge, bound for the wrecking yard, and Wehnes worked unabated.
Even up close, aboard a jack-up barge, it’s a little hard to imagine that the task is really being completed. For nine years, the ship’s rusting hull has sat wedged in the breaking surf, unchanged but by the relentless crash of the ocean upon its deck and the almost undetectable but constant erosion of salt and wind coupled with barnacle growth upon the 1,200-ton frame.
The state has consistently promised to get this “junk” off the north spit, but even as Titan’s barges moved into position alongside it, there’s something hard to fathom about the New Carissa’s removal. It had become as much a part of the landscape as the lighthouse at Heceta Head.
However surreal, it’s happening, and it’s happening fast.
New Carissa shipwreck story.