The chain really is moving.
Two weeks after work began to cut off the bow of the shipwrecked Golden Ray, the massive anchor chain tasked with accomplishing the feat has sheared its way through scads of thick steel — advancing from the sandy bottom of the St. Simons Sound to well above the water line.
Powered by the enormous VB 10,000 crane vessel that straddles the shipwreck, the chain has cleared the Golden Ray’s deck on one side and made its way up most of the hull on the other side.
For point of reference in this topsy-turvy saga, the overturned Golden Ray’s half submerged deck faces St. Simons Island and the bottom of the ship’s red hull presents itself to Jekyll Island.
The chain still must clear significant steel reinforcement inside the ship’s bow as well as the hull’s formidable keel.
So, no. Unified Command will not hazard a specific time when this momentous first cut might be accomplished.
“The cutting process is complex — that is the reality,” said Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command.
This is the first of seven cuts in the salvor’s plan to tear the 656-foot-long ship into eight pieces and haul each away by barge. To speed things along, crews have altered the chain’s angle for greater tension and changed out the original steel chain links with links forged of stronger steel. These adjustments have met with success, Himes said.
“We have made considerable progress since around this time last week. But there is a fair bit of structural steel in the keel that the ship is going through. And what people can’t see is the sections the chain is going through inside the ship.”
Each link in the chain is 18 inches long and weighs 80 pounds. The chain broke on Nov. 7, a little more than 24 hours after cutting began. The break was repaired and cutting resumed that night.
Salvors pause frequently now to inspect the chain for weaknesses, replacing worn links, Himes said. Teams of scuba divers help inspect the chain and monitor its progress, he said.
Once the cut is complete, the 255-foot-tall VB 10,000 will hoist the bow section out of the water and then place it onto a specially designed barge for removal. The VB 10,000’s mighty cranes are latched to massive lifting lugs that are attached to the ship’s exposed starboard hull.
When it is time, the barge Julie B will enter through a gate in the environmental protection barrier that surrounds the shipwreck. The VB 10,000 will drop the section into a cradle on the barge deck.
“Equipment to lift and remove the section of the cut remains on standby,” Unified Command said in a statement Friday.
Himes describes the motions of the cut in terms of cycles. These cycles are directed by a system of pulleys, blocks and winches on the VB 10,000, heaving the chain up through the ship by force of tension.
The Golden Ray capsized on Sept. 8, 2019, while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles in its cargo hold.
For more information, visit www.stsimonssoundincidentresponse.com.