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.)
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.