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The Crosby Star tows the last section of the Golden Ray past the VB 10,000 and heads toward Brunswick and the East River.

With the tugboat Kurt Crosby pushing and the Crosby Star pulling, a dry dock barge carrying the last big chunk of the shipwrecked Golden Ray slid past a crowd gathered early Monday afternoon at the end of the St. Simons Pier.

Stretching to more than 130 feet above the barge’s deck, the 4,000-metric-ton Section 4 of the shipwreck slipped by the crowd to muffled cheers that the Curt Crosby’s captain answered with a horn toot.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Carol Shermerhorn, a St. Simons Islander who joined about 100 or so folks on the pier for the final spectacle in the Golden Ray salvage saga.

“It wasn’t a pretty sight. I’m excited to see it leave. I’m happy.”

And so the last visible vestige of the Golden Ray disappeared from the St. Simons Sound after 1 p.m. Monday, more than two years after the 656-foot-long vessel overturned in the water between Jekyll and St. Simons islands.

Even Gregory “Crab Man” Roberts put down his cast net and left his traps untended long enough to come see the hulking chunk of steel depart for the East River in Brunswick. Roberts was there in the dark morning hours of Sept. 8, 2019, when the Golden Ray capsized on its port side while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,161 vehicles. A federal investigation would later reveal that the Golden Ray was top heavy with cargo and light on ballast, causing it to overturn after a routine starboard turn from the Brunswick River into the St. Simons Sound.

“Might as well take a look,” he said, leaning against the railing as the dry dock barge and its huge cargo briefly eclipsed the view of Jekyll Island on the opposite side of the sound. “The first time I saw it, it was heading out. I’m glad it’s gone. I saw it when it went down and now it’s going away.”

Guided by the tugboats, the barge carrying Section 4 chugged up the Brunswick River, beneath the Sidney Lanier Bridge and into the East River to its berth at a dismantling site off of Bay Street in the city.

The end came 11 months after Texas-based T&T Salvage commenced with its plan to employ the towering VB 10,000 crane vessel to power a cutting chain that tore the Golden Ray’s steel carcass into eight sections for removal.

At the pier, Rhonda and Steve Howell wondered at the view between the islands sans a gargantuan half-submerged scrap heap. The couple retired to St. Simons Island from Atlanta in 2020, by which time the shipwreck had become a fixture.

“Since we’ve been here, it’s always been here,” Rhonda Howell quipped. “I haven’t seen the sound without it.”

Steve Howell could not resist.

“I can see clearly now the (Golden) Ray is gone,” he chimed in, commandeering the Johnny Nash hit about rainless days. “But, yeah, we’re ready for a new view.”

Not so fast. The scene on the water of the sound is anything but pristine in the absence of any view of shipwreck remnants. The salvage site is still surrounded by a 1-mile-perimeter environmental protection barrier (EPB). And the golden arches of the 255-foot-tall VB 10,000 still reach into the skyline overhead.

Salvors still have plenty of work to do. On the sea floor inside the EPB’s mesh netting sits an untold amount of vehicles and other large steel ship pieces that shook loose during the cutting and lifting of the sections.

Cranes and crews will have to fish all these chunks of junk from inside the EPB and load them into container barges to be hauled away. Only then will still larger cranes move in and concentrate on removing the EPB itself.

The mesh netting and oil retention boom on the surface of the EPB are supported by 80 piles, each 140 feet long driven in pairs halfway into the seabed.

But the VB 10,000’s work is done, said U.S. Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command. The workhorse of the salvage operation, the multipurpose crane vessel has powered the cutting chain that separated the sections, hoisted severed sections of several thousand metric tons each and placed them onto barges.

Built for dismantling unproductive oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, the VB 10,000 will soon return to its home port in Sabine Pass, Texas, Himes said.

Unified Command’s oil pollution and debris cleanup teams will maintain patrols of the water and shorelines for the indefinite future, Himes said.

“The next stage is to remove debris that has accumulated inside the EPB,” Himes said. “The VB 10,000 will depart before we begin those operations. We will maintain our pollution response resources around the barrier and along the shoreline throughout the debris removal.”

Meanwhile, visions of the Golden Ray will be around for a while longer.

Section 4 and its immediate predecessor, Section 5, will now command an imposing presence on the East River in Brunswick. The two sections comprised the Golden Ray’s midship and bore the brunt of impact when the Golden Ray capsized into the sandbar beside the shipping channel.

Engineers determined the damage to Section 5 and Section 4 was too great to risk transporting the sections whole to the Modern American Recycling Services (MARS) facility in Gibson, La.

The six previous sections of the shipwreck all have been transported whole via barge to MARS. Section 6 and Section 3 departed Wednesday on a 10-day journey to MARS aboard the 400-foot-long barge Julie B.

Section 4 and Section 5 will be dismantled into chunks of several hundred tons each at MARS’s temporary setup at 615 Bay St. on the East River in Brunswick. The more manageable smaller chunks will be transported in container barges to Louisiana.

Karl Degaris of Fernandina Beach, Fla., and his girlfriend Leslie Rodgers of Brunswick took a quick selfie from the pier railing with the salvage wrap-up efforts as backdrop. It was not unlike the selfie Degaris got with his adult daughter two years ago, when the entire length of wreckage filled the background.

“It doesn’t even look like a ship anymore,” Degaris said to Rodgers.

Moments later, it looked even less so.

“It was definitely an eyesore,” Rodgers said. “And now it’s gratefully gone.”

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