SURVEYOR'S NOTEBOOK

Maritime Magic

By Rik van Hemmen

There is something almost magic about maritime. Except for, possibly, forest fire fighting (which is not as big as maritime) I cannot think of any industry where there is such a tradition of seamless cooperation as in maritime.

This project was not large by our normal standards, but it clearly provides a picture of what I mean.

Fair Haven, in bed 0530.

Phone rings; it is the Master of the A.J. MEERWALD, the New Jersey State Tall Ship who tells me he is grounded. He wanted help securing salvage. (The reason for the grounding is not important and falls in the “shtuff happens” category. And, as far as solving the problem at hand is concerned, who cares anyway?)

We had a two minute exchange that sort of followed this path:

Everybody safe? Yes.

Where are you? Tip of Sandy Hook.

High and dry? We can walk to shore.

What do you need? I need towing assistance, but am not familiar with local companies.

Do you have insurance? Yes.

Do you want me to be your surveyor? Yes.

Can I call you on this number? Yes.

I’ll call you back.

I check tides. High tide at 1030, wind NNE 10 to 15.

I call  a local salvage company.

A two minute exchange along the following path:

Hi, I got a call from a schooner that is stuck at Sandy Hook.

Hi Rik, we heard. Wooden boat. We normally don’t bother with wooden boats.

I know this boat; it is solid and insured. I am on for Owners. Want me to come along?

That would work.

See you at the berth at 0700.

On the way to the berth another salvor calls and he explains what equipment he has available, if needed. I promise I will tell the first responder when I get on site. (Depth of resources is the game in salvage)

Atlantic Highlands 0700.

Two shallow draft Miller 30 footer RIBs with towing gear and pumps leave for tip of Sandy Hook.

Salvage Master Harold Smith and Owner’s Surveyor are on one boat.

Tip of Sandy Hook 0730

MEERWALD is indeed hard aground, but towing and high tide may get her free again.

Vessel has bridles already rigged.

Salvage Master evaluates situation, makes a few calls and offers contract at 0745.

One minute discussion between Owner’s Surveyor and Master.

Owner’s surveyor signs for Master aboard the towing vessel. The contract is literally one sentence long. Now we are in this together.

0749 first towing line connected.

Additional vessels provided by the salvor arrive on scene.

USCG is standing by. Not needed for salvage, but will jump in when needed for safety or rescue assistance.

Just as a precaution we make a quick pump shift to MEERWALD while we can.

0930 Five vessels connected, monitoring MEERWALD heading.

Larger salvor’s tug on site to assist if needed.

0939 MEERWALD is afloat at the first high tide.

No damage due to efforts to refloat, no damage due to unnecessary delay in response.

Tottenville, Staten Island 1230

Complete tow to berth and complete initial damage evaluation.

No signs of serious damage.

Finish salvage activities and contract; salvor goes home. He will prepare bill and present it for review later.

USCG is waiting. Reports are being made to USCG.

Full damage evaluation starts.

1400 Back at Highlands Marina to get my car and late lunch, and then to office for paperwork.

This was how the problem at hand was solved. All the tools to solve the problem (not just people and gear, but also traditions, and ancient systems, and insurance) were there. All that needed to be done was to take them out of the box and put them to work.

In actuality, in these few hours, there were literally hundreds of communications, plan suggestions, adjustments and re-evaluations by everybody involved. However, not one bad word was spoken, nobody hesitated, nobody dragged their feet waiting for contracts and confirmations, nobody second guessed and everybody did their job and did what was expected of them. Most of all, there was total control of the emergency from the beginning through the end.

Everybody involved said: We got lucky this worked out so well. But only the prepared get lucky. Even if we had not succeeded on the first try, there would have been additional well organized efforts using ever more resources as quickly as possible with hardly any more discussion.

Call it what you want; teamwork, cooperation, goal oriented behavior, synergy, but the way it works is almost magical. And it exists because everybody who counts in this industry lives this maritime tradition.  These projects, big and small, take place all over the world all the time, we never hear about them, because highly trained individuals are simply doing their job.

And that is Maritime’s message to the rest of the world: Focus on the mutual goals of the adventure, and do your job.

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