Oceans of Opportunity

saved by the snail’s pace

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiWell, a fresh new project kicked off yesterday, and is proving to be a much needed refresher in underwater welding. While I’ve had a few small welding projects here and there over the last several months, this project is putting it all to the test.

In the water at 0730, then burning rod after rod after rod, until lunch, then more weld, weld, weld until about 1600. This 7-8 hours/day of in-water time is slated to continue for the next two weeks…some serious bubble time.

While welding has its inherent risks – namely playing with electricity underwater – it is incredibly peaceful. Underwater welding requires very careful and controlled body positioning, and acute focus. Conditions inshore are bleak at best – often silted out to near blackness – will only an inch or less illuminated at the work area from the arc burning. All efforts and attention is placed on this arc, making very slow maneuvering passes over the work area to join steel with steel. Welding is done one inch at a time, quite literally. Slow, slow, slow is the name of the game…it takes a true artists touch to be an effective wet welder.

Among the most important elements is preparing the work surfaces. Clean and flat steel that butts up tightly makes for the best welds. This prep work often takes more time than running a bead itself. This project’s challenge is removing a hard epoxy finish that is coating pier pilings. One in every few chips easily, with a  small blisters in the epoxy making way for more aggressive chipping with a  hammer. In other cases, it’s a fight to remove this coating which quite frankly, was intended to never be removed!

My day wrapped up eloquently today – a good reminder of the privilege it is to find my working work underwater. Just as I was chipped out for the day, and could barely swing the hammer enough to do much of anything effective, I saw a whelk on the piling. He was in my work area, so I plucked him off of the piling. Beneath the shell was an area of epoxy that was thin enough to scrape away to bare steel. The snail saved me. It appeared that his scraping away at algae on the piling wore through the epoxy paint just enough to make it manageable. If only I could chew through the epoxy like the snail!

To top off that small piece of environmental saving grace, just as I was wrapping up my weld at that spot, a small ctenophore drifted slowly in front of my weld shield. For just an instant, that small one inch work area became a portal to an underwater universe. The bioluminescent ctenophore was brilliantly back lit from my arc flash – just gorgeous.

Then I mucked my way back to the ladder and called her a day. Moving at a snail’s pace may not be such a bad thing. With welding, it’s a must. This will be a long one.

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