Showdown in St. Simons Sound: Mega-Crane Vs. Hulking Shipwreck
By LARRY HOBBS, Brunswick News of Georgia
(Feb. 20, 2020, reprinted with permission)
Huge. Gigantic. Towering. Imposing. Colossal. Soaring. Yeah, throw humongous in there too.
A person could wear out a thesaurus trying to capture the depth and breadth and overall scope of the VB 10,000 but still be left speechless when the ginormous barge crane is finally in place over the shipwrecked Golden Ray, rising high into the skyline between the resort islands of Jekyll and St. Simons.
T&T Salvage will use this Thor’s Lego set of a structure to cut the 656-foot-long ship into slices that it will lift onto awaiting barges. The VB 10,000 will arrive sometime after construction of the 33-acre mesh-net environmental protection barrier. This barrier will surround the vessel to catch any debris that shakes loose during the cutting process, particularly any of the 4,200 vehicles inside its cargo hold.
Unified Command plans to begin construction of the barrier today and complete it before the end of March.
“We hope to drive the first pile and begin construction of the EPB (barrier today),” said Coast Guardsman Nate Littlejohn, a spokesman for Unified Command.
The VB 10,000 will arrive sometime after completion of the environmental barrier. Two tug boats will see to the VB 10,000’s delivery to local waters, Unified Command officials said.
“The VB 10,000 will not arrive until all on-site preparations are made for cutting and lifting,” Unified Command said in response to questions asked last week by The News. “The system will transit from the Gulf of Mexico when it is needed.”
Chances are we will not need Unified Command to notify us that the VB 10,000 has arrived.
At 240 feet high, the arching structure of crisscrossing steel girders will rise higher than the clearance of the Sidney Lanier Bridge. The Sidney Lanier Bridge has a clearance of 185 feet, although its support columns and cable stays rise to 480 feet.
Also, it is yellow.
"The color and shape of the trusses on VB-10,000 have prompted comparisons to the famed McDonald's signature Golden Arches," according to a Wikipedia entry on the crane barge.
The crane is 314 feet wide, greater than a football field’s length. It is nearly as long, stretching 277 feet, according to Unified Command. The center arch forms the support for heavy lifting. The arch has a “hook height” of 178 feet.
Each barge is fortified with four 1,000 horsepower thruster engines. These help the VB 10,000 maneuver and keep it in place during lifting and cutting operations.
It is capable of lifting up to 6,800 tons at a time.
Built in 2010, it is owned by Houston, Texas,-based Versabar. Its homeport is New Orleans, La. It is designed to dismantle oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
The VB 10,000 is the largest lift vessel ever built in the United States, according to Wikipedia.
The Golden Ray lies overturned in St. Simon's Sound near the intersection of the Intracoastal Waterway. (Photo courtesy of Brunswick News)
It will cut the Golden Ray into eight pieces with a monstrously long 4-inch chain saw, which will be fed underneath the sunken port side hull of the half-submerged ship. Sawing back and forth from each side of the VB 10,000, it will cut up through the hull until separation is achieved. Each piece will be wrapped in material prior to cutting to help contain the contents inside.
T&T Salvage intends to make seven cuts. Once cutting starts, it cannot be stopped until completion. A single cut could take up to 24 hours.
It will be noisy, Unified Command has warned.
A system of sturdy steel brackets will be evenly-spaced and welded onto the exposed starboard hull. Chains from the crane’s overhead winch system, attached to the brackets, will then lift each freshly cut section. The VB 10,000 will maneuver a short distance to an awaiting barge, which will haul the piece away, Unified Command officials said.
Each section cut from the Golden Ray is expected to weigh between 2,700 and 4,100 tons.
The VB 10,000, as well as the barges, will enter the work area through movable gates in the barrier.
Pounding in the 50 to 80 support piles for the mesh barrier will be the Weeks 526 and the Weeks 531. These two “barge cranes” belong to Weeks Marine, the Cranford, N.J., company that has been subcontracted to construct the environmental protection barrier. Each of these “crane vessels” has a maximum height of 271 feet when its booms are fully raised.
The cranes will pile-drive the 140-foot-long metal pipes roughly half their length into the sound’s sandy bottom. The 48-inch in diameter pipes will be placed in pairs, one inside the mesh netting and one outside. Each pair will be joined by a brace at the top for added support.
“And it’s going to be noisy too,” Chris Graff of Gallagher Marine Systems recently explained about the pile driving. “We want people to realize that.”
Federal Aviation Administration clearance was required for both the Weeks cranes and the VB 10,000, Unified Command said.