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Barges glide across bar for New Carissa removal.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

COOS BAY - Gary Gilmore found the perfect vantage point to watch the giant jack-up barges ease across the Coos Bay bar on Saturday. He was perched atop a Charleston hillside with a full view of the bay and the beach where the now fabled shipwreck, the New Carissa, has sat for more than nine years.

The barges slipped into the bay with ease and glided toward the swingspan bridge that connects North Bend to the North Spit and then beneath Highway 101's McCullough Bridge, while Gilmore and dozens of other residents who came with binoculars and cameras to greet the ships at different points took the chance to utter what has become an oft-repeated maxim in Coos County:

"I think they ought to leave the thing out there," Gilmore said. "But it's kind of interesting to watch."

The more that's revealed about how Titan Salvage of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., plans on hacking the New Carissa into pieces, the more interesting it gets.

The barges didn't go to the ship on Saturday. Instead, they went to a dock in Coos Bay, where crews will overhaul machinery and assemble the six giant legs that will propel each barge above the crashing surf that now pounds away at the rusting stern of the New Carissa. The legs will be assembled at port, then positioned on the 170-feet-long Karlissa A and Karlissa B barges and moved to the ship, where the legs will be plunged 30 feet into the sand, lifting the platforms out of the water so that crews can safely cut apart the nearby ship.

The first "milestone," said Phil Reed, Titan's director of engineering, was to get the barges here before April 1, and in good condition. A quick check Saturday revealed no significant damage on the journey. The next challenge, once the barges are ready for deployment, is to get them to the New Carissa in one piece. That requires a weather window, with swells of three feet or less. Then Titan will build a staging area on the beach and a Tele-pherique, an aerial tramway, to ferry workers to and from the platforms and shore.

Then begins the fun.

Plan A is to employ six hydraulic "pullers" equipped with chains whose links are composed of 3-inch diameter steel, to yank the ship out of the sand, bit by bit, and cut it apart. Titan will carve as much from the deck of the ship as possible before they move to "lift and cut, to lighten the load.

Whether the New Carissa will budge remains to be seen, however. This is the stubborn stern that wouldn't be towed back when it first beached here in 1999. Since then, it's only sunk deeper and deeper into the sand. It's now buried 40 feet - 20 percent submerged.

More math: the stern is estimated to weigh 1,200 tons. Each of the hydraulic pullers can yank 300 tons, which puts their combined might at 1,800 tons. Plenty of gusto for the dilapidated old Carissa, right?

Maybe. There's no way to know how much sand fills the ship's hull, adding more dead weight to that initial figure of 1,200 tons. It's not just a matter of picking up a heavy object, which Reed is quick to acknowledge, but what remains of the big ship is stuck.

Still, Plan A is the most palatable, Reed says. By cutting pieces from the top of the New Carissa, the pullers should have enough power to at least budge the ship enough to expose more of it, cut more, and then pull again. As it's lifted out of the sand, Reed expects more sand to fill in beneath it, so the next pull begins with a new starting point.

"I'm pretty confident," Reed said.

If that doesn't work, however, Titan will have to resort to what state officials once intimated was the foolproof, fallback option - cutting the ship off at the sand line and leaving what's mired in the sand where it is. But that's actually a more difficult task than a successful lift-and-cut, because it'll mean working in the water - the breaking surf.

Since it's too dangerous to have crews operating in and underwater, cutting the ship off at the sand line would involve using the pullers again, but in a completely different way. The same burly chains that will be used to try to yank the New Carissa out of its spot would then be wrapped around the bottom and slid back and forth, acting as a saw. The pullers would munch into the ship's bottom by tugging one end of the chain and then the other, using the friction to slice the stern's top off. Ships are halved this way, Reed said. But "chain cutting" is not easy, and it's not the preferred option.

Asked if Titan has ever completed a task quite like this, Reed offered two examples, but said neither presented exactly the same challenges as the New Carissa. One involved raising a ship that had sunk to the bottom of the ocean - Titan hooked its chains to the bow and pulled it to the surface - and another was to recover a crane from a sunken barge and then dismantle the stuck craft, since it couldn't be refloated.

If the weather doesn't cooperate, or other unforeseen problems arise, the job may not be finished this year, Reed said.

"As much as we love Coos Bay, we don't want to be back next summer," Reed said. "But I could definitely see us coming back. It's difficult to know how many days its going to take."

Asked what the toughest part of the job will be, Reed said, "Hanging over the ship in a basket, with the wind blowing and the waves crashing on you, trying to cut a piece of steel. But I won't be doing that part."
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Title Annotation:City/Region; The plan calls for salvage crews using an aerial tramway to yank the ship out of the sand, bit by bit, and cut it apart
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 30, 2008
Previous Article:Breaking the mold.
Next Article:BRIEFLY.

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