Friday, March 14, 2014

Tragic Sea Story

As I write this post, we are underway from Nederland, Texas headed for Corpus Christi, Texas. If the present plans hold out, we will be dropping anchor just offshore of the entrance to Corpus on the evening of the 14th.

In the past when ever I would hear we were headed to this part of the State, I would always think to myself, I better charge my camera battery, because the waters off the coast are filled with dolphin.

That won't be my first thought any longer.

When I was home a few weeks ago, I received a phone call from my boss. After taking care of some boat business, he wrapped up the conversation by saying, "Hey, did you hear we lost Steve off the Gen 3503?" ( Steve is a tanker man whose barge was named the Gen 3503. )

My first thought was that Steve quit. My second thought was why would my boss mention this to me? As nice of a guy as Steve was, people in this industry quit all the time.

Then I had just the worst feeling. I asked, "What do you mean we lost Steve?" His reply, "The tug and barge was anchored off Corpus Christi last Friday. When the rest of the crew woke up the next morning, Steve was missing."

The Coast Guard were notified, and they searched the area for 2 weeks before giving up.
Just the worst news imaginable, and very unexpected. Strange would not suffice as a word to describe this situation.

I didn't know Steve intimately, but I knew him. We worked together for short periods many times over the years, when our tug would be tasked with pushing his barge around for a while. We worked together another time when our units were both in the shipyard at the same time, in Brooklyn. He and I went out to lunch together.

Steve was my age, 58, or maybe a bit older. He's work on barges all his adult life. The guy felt as at  home on his barge as you do in your house. He new every nook and cranny of that steel monster.
The questions keep coming. Since he was on the barge one day when he went on watch at midnight, but wasn't there any longer when his relief woke up at 6am, we can only assume he fell over the side.

But how is that possible? He wasn't at sea in rough weather and slipped over. That would be understandable. He was at anchor in flat calm sea conditions on an almost windless night. He wasn't a new guy who didn't know the hazards of being near the edge of the barge no matter what the weather. He was a seasoned pro. A tug and barge lifer. There are more questions than answers I can tell you that.

It happened not too far from the location pictured below. (This was taken today as we approached the same offshore anchorage.)

Since the incident, I have talked with the guys who work the barge I am presently with, and no one has an answer, except the obvious one.

During the investigation, the Coast Guard reviewed the video recording of the barge on that day. That barge has 4 cameras that monitor quite a bit of the deck of that barge, but you guessed it, there are some blind areas the camera can't see.

The video shows Steve, walking around on the deck at various times during his watch. The last thing captured on the video is Steve walking over to one of the "blind spots."
He has never been seen again after that.

Is it possible that Steve, while in one of the few blind spots, slipped and fell over the side? Yes.
Is it probable? Not in a million years if you ask me.

Is it sad that Steve obviously went over the side? It is. What's even more sad is imagining the extreme torment he must have been experiencing, to think that his only course of action was to end his own life, if that's what happened. What was he thinking when he laid his head down on his pillow for the last time? How terrible those hours must have been.

Every mariner who had the pleasure of meeting Steve will forever have questions about what happened in that anchorage that night.

Dolphin won't be the first thought that jumps into our heads any longer when we think of this anchorage.

The whole crazy story is just so tragic.


beth said...

it's such an odd thing and i feel like i should share the first thing that came to my mind….

that he was possibly diagnosed with cancer or something equally as bad and didn't want to live with all of the decisions that come with a diagnosis…..

it's all so very sad…whatever it is.

Busy Bee Suz said...

My heart goes out to Steve's family and his co workers. Mindboggling. I've never understood suicide because I see what it does to the family. I pray that Steve was in a good place at the end of his life....really, what a beauiful place you are in right now. Embrace the beauty and hope for the best. be safe

Vicky said...

Oh I can't imagine. The pain - mentally, emotionally, that Steve perhaps was enduring- and now the rest of you who worked with him- and his family… I always say everyone has burdens that they carry and we don't always know what they are called, but we all carry them. Thinking of you...

Joey said...

Such a sad post. So sorry. Pain is so unpredictable and can stay so hidden. My cousin spent her life fighting her demons but you would never know it until she couldn't fight the good fight anymore and took her life. While this may not be the case, I guess that "saying" that pops up frequently on the social networks is so true...Be kind to everyone. You never know what kind of battle they are fighting.

Wayne (Woody), whatever said...

Wow, that is so sad in so many ways, the saddest, in my mind, are the unanswered questions.

Formerly known as Frau said...

Very sad and heart aches for his family.

Jerral Miles said...

Mark, once more (setting aside the respect for tragedy implied in the BLOG post) I find myself wanting to take you by the nape of the neck and insisting that you are an exceptional writer... and exceptional writing begins with exceptional thinking done by an exceptional mind. You've got me here knowing I have to know the rest of the story... which is exactly what a writer does with fictional situations as well as with this very real, tragic set of events. Wow!

sharon oler said...

Very sorry, very sad ....

dcpeg said...

I'm so sorry. My gut reaction was the same as Beth's. Something tragic hit him and he couldn't handle it. I wish he'd been able to talk with someone, but . . .