The last flight of the Midnight Eagle

Greetings gentle readers, this article is about one of the last diving jobs I did for Torch. After reading it you will understand why it was one of the last jobs I did for Torch.

Torch like all pipe laying companies wants more barges, so they build the "Midnight Eagle". A suppose great and majestic Dynamic Positioning Barge. State of the art in every way.

The problem is, when you go state of the art, you don't buy your equipment in the bargain basement. Case and point. Instead of building a barge, they bough an old cargo hauler. then they realized that it was not going to be buoyant enough for what they wanted it to do, so instead of being smart and building or buying one that would fit their purpose, they got another cargo hauler and sunk it and then welding it to the bottom of the first cargo hauler. Now to the un-enlightened that might seem like a smart fix. but now that made the Midnight Eagle slightly top heavy. But the bean counters that were in charge of the project didn't worry about that. After all they were not going to sail on the thing.

Next thing the bean counters thought, "wouldn't it be nice to make this a Dynamic Positioning barge. Which in itself was not a bad idea. Dynamic Position vehicles are just a joy to ride and work on. But my definition they are really big vessels that can take rough seas. Not little cargo haulers that are being transformed into pipe laying barges. The other fun little factoid that went into the mix was they did not buy brand new DP thrusters. Oh no, not Torch. They bought the thrusters off a fairy that was condemned out of Chicago. That in itself was not bad enough. But the German company that made them went out of business. Then some other bright individual thought wouldn't it be a cool idea to make this thing into a spool barge as well as Dynamic Positioned? Nice idea wrong vessel. A spool barge needs to be able to change out the spool after it has laid out the pipe. But the Eagle was too small to put the massive crane on it that was required. Trust me people it gets better.

So here we are, we have our new Dp Barge. As we were told, it was state of the art in every way. That maybe so, 20 years ago. But for this new pipe laying barge we need at top of the line dive crew. How I got picked for this nightmare I will never know. Maybe I mooned the fates or something.

When we arrived at the docks at Port Arkansas Texas, after an miserable 18 hour bus ride. What we saw was really unbelievable. The Midnight Eagle actually looked very nice. But then again looks can be deceiving. All the dive equipment was there but, it was not set up. Which meant to yours truly, instead of reading and catching up on the newest video that was released. The rest of the divers and I would be busy trying to get things in order.

As we pulled out from the docks, (I always loved that part of the job) and we were heading out in the canal. Some of the divers and I were giving a rare treat for our forth coming journey. A speed boat full of very nice ladies passed us and every one if them flashed us. When something like that happens to you in the beginning you know your going to have a good time. Boy were we mistaken.

Once we were in deep water. We were informed by the Barge Captain that the divers were going to have to be the ones that installed the DP Thrusters. Now a job like that is a miserable one for a diver. So in all fairness it goes to either the newest hired diver, or the diver with the least experience. That happened to be a diver named Pat Lindsey. Pat like myself was retired military, but unlike myself he did not have the good sense to go into the army. That's right Pat was an Air Force Puke. Pat was what we called an imitation diver. Meaning he was a tender in another dive company and bought a hat and hired on at this company claiming to be a diver. We knew that, everyone in the diving division knew that. Everyone except for the bean counter that hired him.

As we threw Pats unhappy butt into the water to install his first Thruster. The weather started picking up. The barge started bouncing a little bit. One the dive radio we started to hear some really strange noises coming from Pat. But he finally finished installing the thruster. As he was climbing the latter he opened he freeflow on his brand new dive hat and blew big chunks of lunch out of his exhaust. Now we knew what the strange noises he was making. It seems that the newest diver that Torch had hired get seasick really easily. That was a site I could have lived with out seeing.

So now all the thrusters are installed and operating. We are under way. Things seem be going along nicely. That is until we hit the sand bar that was clearly marked on the map, and bent two thruster shafts. Total time under power before we struck the sand bar, 90 minutes. So we are looking at having to remove the thrusters and be towed back into dock, and be sent home until special shafts can be manufactured because the company that makes is went belly up.

Second time returning to the dock after an 18 hour bus ride back to Houma, 24 hours of waiting for the phone and another 18 hours back to Port Aransas. We are ready to send Pat back down to install the thrusters and puke all over the deck again.

We are under way, the breeze is blowing nicely. We had to build A Frames to launch the dive stages but, it gave the tenders something to do. Pat Lindsey, for some reason could not remember that he wasn't a tender anymore. So he was out there working on the deck helping, or I should more honestly say annoying the tenders. Must have been an Air Force thing.

The tenders were launching the dive stages to test them, to ensure that they would not get caught in the thrusters. They gave Pat a real easy job, just to hold one of the guide ropes. The rest of us divers were on deck checking out our diving equipment and checking on the other various life support equipment that we would be relying on. When the Lead Tender told Pat to come up hard on his rope. Pat leaned way over the railing to pull up on his rope. Unfortunately for us his pants didn't travel with him. That's right, from that point on Pat Lindsey was known as Butt Crack Pat. There are few things in life that we all could have lived without seeing and Pat's butt crack was one of them.

Tenders by nature are notoriously evil people. They are very good at getting even with people that annoy them. They after all basically control all aspects of a divers life. The have access to all his diving gear, and basically have the run of the boat. After what is now to be known as the "Great Butt Crack Incident", little signs started appearing all over the boat. On Pat's bed, appeared the words "Butt Crack Rack". On his dive hat appeared "Butt Crack Hat". On the door of the dive shack appeared "Butt Crack Shack". In fact the tenders took it to the extreme of changing the B-52's song "Love Shack" to "Butt Crack". Now and then I would pass by a tender and hear him singing the song "Pat Lindsey's got a butt as big as a whale, stick a mast in the h*** and we can set sail" after that I would leave very quickly because the visual of that would be too much for me to handle.

Torch was not through surprising us though. Now it is not unusual for a barge to lay down pipe and sled it under the mud at the same time. In fact unless it is a big pipe it is common practice. But Torch unveiled it's newest toy for the Midnight Eagle. It was a hydraulic sled. Which of course they claimed was their own design. But anyone that has been in the diving business for over a year would know that it is just a know off of another sled design called the "Mud Bug" Torch just changed enough stuff to keep from getting sued. Basically this sled had wheels that would grip the pipe as it cut a trench for the pipe to fall in. Except for the Mud Bug all the other sleds that we have encountered have rollers that guide the sled. But with this new and improved sled we were told it did not matter where the barge was because barge position was not a factor anymore with sledding on the eagle.

We were operating in 153 feet of water, which means that anything over 10 minutes meant decompression. There were 8 divers on the eagle now. Being this was a new sled meant that only the most experienced divers would set it. That meant Jay Knox. Todd Zellers and myself.

Jay went down and marked the pipe at touchdown (Where the pipe touches bottom). Todd went down and put the sled over the pipe. I went down and mounted the sled over the pipe and verified that the rollers were indeed grabbing the pipe.

Now that all sounds cool and exciting right. Well in fact it was pretty fun, and it went real smooth. That should have been the red flag right there. Setting a sled can be and sometimes is a very hairy operation in deep water. For some reason a sled that behaves itself on the surface turns into a real monster in deep water. The seem to want to do their own thing instead of what you want it to do.

Now the genius that they brought on board to run the hydraulics did not have a clue about running a sled. Oh he knew everything that there was to know about hydraulics. But on a sled is suppose to travel on the bottom at so many feet per minute. If it travels too fast it does not cut a ditch deep enough and the pipe does not get buried deep enough and you get high pipe which is not a good thing. That means that any idiot in a shrimp boat can drop an ancre on it and damage the pipe, and cause a gas or oil leak. And woe be to the company that claimed to have buried it and in the investigation it is learned that it is highpipe. Well the Einstein they brought on, did not know feet per minute travel all he knew was Gallons Per minute traveling to and from the sled.

While Einstein is trying to figure out through some complicated mathematical formula how GPM equals to FPM on the size of the wheels that were installed on the sled. The rest of us are watching the exhaust bubbles from the airlifts on the sled getting closer and closer to the barge. Then we watched the first of the airlift stacks brake the surface of the water, then the other, then we all watched in amazement as the sled walked up the pipe and rammed into the stinger that was laying the pipe.

Now a sled ramming into a stinger is a totally unheard of thing. One because this stinger was out of the water. and two because a sled is not suppose to be able to do that. But that is not the worst of it. Because the sled was at the barge all the water and airhoses and hydraulic hoses were in a big jumble on the surface. Can you guess what happened next? That's right all those hoses got sucked into the DP Thruster tearing up the shafts and the transmission of the DP Thruster, and cutting all the hoses.

Once the sled lost all it's hydraulic power we watched it tip over like a dead bug and fall off the pipe, because the wheels did not have the power to hold it up any more. Slowly watching the sled sink to the briny deep was also when we noticed that the other 3 DP Thrusters were not doing what they were suppose to be doing. Which is holding us in position like they were supposed to do. I guess the sled caught the DP operators by surprise too. Instead of maintaining position we were traveling backwards. Ever hear a stinger and pipeline scream. Twisted metal makes a really eerie noise when it is bending like it is not suppose to bend. Nothing like pretzeling a pipe to cap off the day of listening to Butt Crack song.

So basically with travel and everything, we spent 154 hours, laid 300 feet of pipe, damaged 2 thrusters, learned a new song about butt cracks, and lost a sled and turned what ever pipe we laid into new wave art.

So remember next time someone tells you that something is "state of the art" remember it is as only as good as the people who operate it. Is it any wonder why I decided to change companies?

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Comment by Kenneth Schneider on March 19, 2012 at 9:21pm

 I wish you would have gone back I would love to read another chapter of this stuf it is priceless.


Comment by liz vazz on August 19, 2009 at 6:05am
I love reading your stories really i do! lol Ive been there where it looks good and runs great on land, is a wh*** different story in the water! KEEP EM COMING ! thanks liz

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