"Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
It used to be that my favorite place to crew change was off Corpus Christi, TX.
Alas, times have changed.
Please welcome Calcasieu Pass Anchorage off of Lake Charles, LA to the top of the list for fun places to
die in a horrible maritime
accident crew change.
It started of innocently enough. A quick text message: “Ok everything is set for a launch off lake charles. Take your Dramamine its gonna be 4-5 feet. Tug will be underway so they can make a lee.”
Now there is a long running rule in the maritime world that whenever you get a forecast from our friends over at the National Weather Service you take the forecast numbers, add them together, and what you end up with will be the actual wind and wave conditions. In this case, add the 4-5 foot wave forecast to get 9 footers. Not surprisingly, that was just about right. This crew change made the Corpus crew changes look like a piece of cake.
Our choice of launch boats for this venture was a 36-foot catamaran style police/dive boat. Think party barge on steroids.
|Pontoon boat. a.k.a. Party Barge.|
Considering the sea conditions it was about as smooth a ride as we were going to get. Except, of course, if you happened to factor in the 100-foot+ offshore supply boats that were tied up next to us.
If you add in the ton of grub that we bought, 7 of us going to the boat, 2 crew members for the launch boat, it could be said that space on board the launch was at a premium. Half of us were inside the cabin, the other half got to sit outside on the stern in the weather. Which, in retrospect, was kind of handy, had the Chief Engineer decided to lighten the load by getting rid of any food that he had eaten that day. I think we may have even made it out to the jetty entrance before the guys outside were soaking wet.
Once outside the jetty the ride didn’t get any better. The guys outside didn’t get any less soaked. And the chatter about the Chief chumming for the fish seemed to diminish more and more the longer the ride went on. And when we got in the vicinity of the tug, the friendly banter ceased altogether.
It was immediately clear that this was not going to be an easy crew change.
Even with the tug underway and trying its best to create a lee in the winds and waves for the launch boat to come alongside, we all knew that wasn’t going to happen. The tug’s rubber fendering was coming out of the water so high that if the launch came alongside it would have crushed the boat, and anyone that happened to be in the way, as it came crashing back down.
Plan B was instituted.
The other crew then had to rig a pilot ladder over the side for us to try to scramble aboard the barge that way. Hats off to the pilots who have to do the transfer from a pilot boat to another vessel and vice versa every day. It is no easy task. Timing is everything. It might even be the ONLY thing. Because if your timing is off, and the boat surges at the wrong time, it is truly ‘GAME OVER’ for you. You are either getting crushed, going into “the drink”, or any other number of situation that can only end badly for you. It happens every year where pilots have been killed or severely injured in transfers to/from pilot boats. Our only hope was not to become one of those statistics. With 7 guys going on, and 7 guys coming off the statistics weren’t on our side.
I didn’t have a chance to observe the whole operation. My job was to get onboard the barge, scurry back to the tug, go to the wheelhouse to relieve my guy of steering the boat, and allow him to scurry back to the barge in order to get aboard the launch. All I know was that some arrivals and departures weren’t so graceful.
Full disclosure: Mine was one of those not so graceful ones. The timing was right. The grip by one of my hands on the Jacobs Ladder was suspect. I swung to the right, holding onto the ladder with one hand and one foot, as the other foot and hand searched for something to grasp on to. I lost style points for that one. But, I managed to regain a solid grip and climb aboard the pitching barge without being mangled by the launch. Bonus points for that.
|One Foot? No!|
|One hand? Not how it is suppose to be done!|
After that, for me at least, it was just trying to keep the boat pointed up into the seas as the other crew got aboard the launch. I heard more style points were lost during that procedure. Even more point were lost during the transfer of our grub and the other crew’s personnel effects.
When we got aboard the launch there was a GIANT cooler that we loaded all of our grub into. When we got to the boat and we realized that there was no way we were going to go alongside the tug we had to institute a new plan to get the cooler with said grub aboard the barge. The only way to do it was to use the barge’s crane to pick up the cooler and swing it onto the barge. Now, picture a small boat, alongside a larger boat, both pitching a rolling at different rates. Add to that a giant metal hook at the end of a cable at the end of a boom swinging at a completely different rate. Imagine trying to attach this giant metal hook to a cargo net containing a cooler with a ton of food without getting knocked out or killed with all of the aforementioned issues. It took more than one try. Once aboard, the food was replaced with the off-going crew’s luggage. Once again, a cargo net with a giant cooler, loaded with stuff, attached to a cable, at the end of a boom, was attempted to be surgically lowered onto a small pitching boat from the deck of a larger pitching boat. This too, took more than one attempt.
In a way, I’m happy I was in the wheelhouse and missed most of it.
I hate doing stupid things.
Even more, I hate watching other people doing stupid things.
In terms of stupid things, this crew change was way up on the “Stupid Shit-o-meter”!