It is coming, y’all.
The humongous, gargantuan VB 10,000 is in route as we speak, chugging slowly toward its destiny — a showdown in the St. Simons Sound with the colossal shipwreck of the Golden Ray.
As of Thursday evening, the massive crane barge was deep in the Gulf of Mexico, chugging southeastward somewhere far off the coast of Mississippi, according to MarineTraffic.com. It is being towed by two powerful tugboats, the Crosby Leader and the Crosby Star, holding steady at 5.1 knots.
By mid-July, perhaps as early as July 12, the dual-hulled VB 10,000 could be straddled over the 656-foot-long shipwreck. From there it will do the intense cutting and heavy lifting that is intended to remove the 25,000-ton ship from the sound in eight pieces.
The VB 10,000 left its home port at Sabine Pass near Port Arthur, Texas, at 9 p.m. Monday. After coming up through the Florida Keys, it will trek northward up the Florida Coast. It will first make a pitstop in Fernandina Beach, sometime around the Fourth of July, said Coast Guardsman John Miller, spokesman for Unified Command.
The bright yellow structure of crisscrossing steel trusses arches in the middle at a height greater than that of the Sidney Lanier Bridge’s roadway level (185 feet). The VB 10,000 is 314 feet wide and 277 feet long. With a 178 foot “hook height” in its center arch, the VB 10,000 is capable of lifting 6,800 tons. Four, 1,000 horsepower thruster engines guide the ship in close range and stabilize it during cutting and lifting.
The VB 10,000 is designed for dismantling oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. It is named for its creator, the Houston, Texas-based Versabar company.
Everything is ready on this end. Crews last week put the finishing touches on the massive 33-acre environmental protection barrier that now encloses the Golden Ray. The ship has sat half submerged on its port side since overturning in the sound while heading out to sea Sept. 8 of 2019 with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles.
That mesh net barrier is intended to catch any of those vehicles or other large chunks of debris the fall loose during cutting. Work began in late February on the barrier, which is supported by 40 pairs of 140-foot-long steel piles driven half their length into the sandy sound bottom below. Stretched between these are 28 specially-designed mesh panels, the last of which was installed June 18. Each mesh panel is between 65 and 35 feet deep. A system of oil prevention booms runs along the barrier’s surface, rising and dropping with the tides on floating buoys that are connected to the piles.
Seven thick 400-foot-long anchor chains also are already in place, awaiting the VB 10,000. Cranes drilled holes beneath the shipwreck to guide chains and wrap around the hull in specific locations. A single link in the chain is 18 inches long and weighs 80 pounds. Winches on the VB 10,000 will power the chains as they cut through the hull.
“We say ‘cut’ but it’s really going to be a ripping process through the hull,” Coast Guard Commander Norm Witt of Unified Command said last week.
Crews also attached 16 specially-designed lifting lugs to the exposed starboard side. Chains from the VB 10,000 will attach to specified lugs, hoisting each section as it is separated from the ship.
Once it arrives at Fernadina, the VB 10,000 will experience some prepping and drilling.
“One of the significant things that has to be done is to shift the rigging beams from a transit configuration to a lifting configuration,” Morris said. “They’re also going to do some function testing. They’re also adding fenders to prevent chafing of the boom and other minor tweaks.”
Then it will continue its journey up the coast. The VB 10,000 will enter the St. Simons Sound through the open ocean, Morris said. It will enter the barrier through a gate, which will be closed off by a large panel of mesh netting afterward.
But that is all weeks away still. For now, the VB 10,000 is far out in the Gulf of Mexico, somewhere off the coast of Mississippi. And it is coming this way.