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burn baby, burn…

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiThree and a half hours later, I surfaced from what was my third dive of the day. As I surfaced, I thought to myself, “seven hours spent in a dark, muddy hole was how I spent this fine Wednesday…just another day at the office”.

Today’s project was to remove a 30 foot length of steel sheetpile along a shoreline that at one point was used as a bulkhead or barricade for some unknown purpose. These steel sheets are driven into the bottom, and interlock such that they create a solid steel wall with a firm footing into the seafloor…the stuff is everywhere, and is a diver’s dream – constant need for inspection, repair, installation of cathodic protection, and when its lifetime has ended – demolition.

In cases where these sheets don’t just pull out with a crane, diving is required to burn the steel off at the mud line so that no shards protrude from the sand and create a hazard. In today’s instance, with the sheets right up on the beach, an excavator dug me a ten foot hole adjacent to the sheets so I could stay underwater while burning. You see – the process of using exothermic cutting torches requires electricity, and lots of it. Being only partially submerged creates a void in the insulative capacity of the surrounding water and ‘whack!’ you get electrocuted…yes, it hurts.

So, down in the hole I go. No tidal exchanges to keep the water cleaned out…pitch black, luke warm misery all day. I made my cuts by feel, being careful not to position any part of myself in between the torch and the ground lead for sake of avoiding 175 amps of DC crawling up my neck. My only visual reference for 7 hours was the tip of the torch – a pen thick diameter rod that at 10,000 degrees when lit, creates a concentrated yet aggressive white torch flame – even against the black slurry.

Sounds unpleasant, but there is an art to the whole process, and that is where I find an appreciation for this madness. Back to it tomorrow….

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