While undertaking the Herculean task of removing a 656-foot shipwreck from the St. Simons Sound during the past eight months, Unified Command has come to expect the unexpected.
Still, even Unified Command was agog over a sudden contingency that emerged earlier this month. A deer. A doe. A female deer.
The deer was discovered May 19 swimming inside the environmental protection barrier that is steadily taking shape around the behemoth shipwreck. Not to mention other myriad obstacles the deer navigated to get there, such as the large barge beside the shipwrecked Golden Ray that serves as a floating workers’ barracks, as well as several towering cranes, barges and tugboats.
A crew in a small work boat encountered the creature doing a dog paddle far from the more deer-friendly habitat known as land.
“It was smack dab in the middle of the sound, right where the wreck is,” said U.S. Coast Guardsman John Miller, spokesman for Unified Command.
Among other things thus far, the crew has devised a first-of-its-kind 33-acre environmental protection barrier, stabilized the Golden Ray’s submerged port with shipping containers and thousands of tons of aggregate rock, and made plans to slice the 25,000-ton shipwreck into eight pieces with a chainsaw.
Rescuing the daring doe from the swift-flowing currents of the sound was just one more thing. The pilot eased the boat alongside the deer and crew members hoisted her inside, Miller said. They then ferried her to a beach landing on the Jekyll Island side of the sound, where they were met by Georgia State Patrol troopers. Troopers handle public safety and law enforcement on Jekyll, a state park.
The deer was unharmed by her waterborne adventure and trotted off unaided to safety.
“They saw this deer out there, inside the EPD (environmental protection barrier),” Miller said. “So they got it inside the boat and took it over to the Jekyll Island side and turned it over to law enforcement there. They saw it didn’t need any medical help, so they let it go.”
It is not the only good deed crew members taking part in the Golden Ray operation have performed during their stay. Also this month, a group of workers took it upon themselves to conduct a cleanup patrol of the the area around the Little River Bridge on the F.J. Torras Causeway. Such work comes natural to employees of Texas-based Shelton Services Inc., a subcontractor tasked with environmental cleanup operations surrounding the Golden Ray salvage project.
On their rare time off, some of the employees enjoy wetting a line from the area of the bridge designated for fishing. They could not help noticing the litter that had accumulated there.
“So they rogered up and went out and cleaned it up themselves,” Miller said.
Unified Command will also hold its second blood drive from 2 to 7 p.m. Thursday in the Magnolia Ballroom at the Embassy Suites hotel, 500 Mall Blvd. All are invited to join Unified Command members in donating blood. COVID-19 precautions will be observed. Appointments to donate can be made at: https://www.redcrossblood.org/.
“We’re grateful for how the community is supporting our efforts here, so we’re always looking for opportunities to give back,” said Chris Graff of Unified Command’s Gallagher Marine Systems. “Partnering with the Red Cross will help hospitals take care of patients, especially at this crucial time.”
Meanwhile, crews are working to secure the 15th of 16 lifting lugs to the starboard hull of the Golden Ray. Each lug weighs several dozen tons and is made specifically to distribute the weight of its section. The ship will be cut into eight slices by a huge chainsaw and hoisted from the sound by chains attached to the lifting lugs. Both the cutting and lifting will be performed by the 248-foot-high VB 10,000 barge crane.
On Friday, crews were installing the fourth panel of mesh netting on the environmental protection barrier. A total of 28 mesh panels will encircle the the Golden Ray, each panel specially designed for its position in the barrier. The barrier is supported by 80, 140-foot-long piles driven half their length into the sound, set in pairs and connected by sturdy floating pipes.
Unified Command hopes to have the bulk of the ship removed by peak hurricane season, which typically runs from August through October. The Golden Ray overturned in the sound Sept. 8 while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles.