murky water with low visibility


Pam Lazos

Chapter Forty-Three

Hart descended into the murky realms of the Delaware River, enjoying the cocoon-like warmth of his wet suit. He had opted for it over the dry suit even though the water was on its way to below freezing. The dry suit would keep him dry, but not warm enough, not in these arctic-like conditions. Ah, but the wet suit, that was a suit of a different color. It sported an insulated neoprene hose which tied onto the outside of the umbilical, ran down the side of his body and attached at the spider, a three-way valve at the waist of his suit. The hose was fed by a hot water machine that had an oil-fired burner and a digital thermostat to control the temperature. Under usual circumstances, water to feed the hose would be drawn from the water body the diver found himself in, but given the petrol load the Delaware was carrying, Hart directed the hot water machine be fed with water from a local fire hydrant and transported via garden hose. The hose was threaded around the interior of Hart’s wet suit and one hundred degree water escaped through the little holes poked in it, entering in myriad locations and keeping his whole body warm. The hose could even blow warm water through the cuff and into Hart’s smaller gloves making the large, bulky, but warmer three-finger gloves unnecessary. Hart closed his eyes, allowing himself to bask for a few moments in the warmth before proceeding down the ladder into the water.

The Delaware river, a murky water with low visibility on a good day, was even worse today because of the impending storm. Hart reached a level that he assumed would be the bottom of the ship’s hull, but without touching it he couldn’t distinguish metal from water. He dropped another few feet, holding fast to the traveling line, but the scenery didn’t change.

“Great. Now what?”

“What’s up, Boss?” Smith’s voice crackled through Hart’s umbilical flooding the inner chamber of his helmet with sound.

“I can’t see a damn thing. What are they puttin’ in this water anyway?”

“Lots of industry around here. Ships going up and down the channel churnin’ up the bottom. The Army Corps always dredging it to keep the depth right. Then there’s the farming,” Smith mused. “I’d say you got some sediment, some debris…”

“It was a rhetorical question, Smithy.”

“…and, I’d leave it at that. You don’t want to be thinking too hard about what you’re swimming in unless you want to puke in your helmet.” Smith cracked up at that, and Hart joined him, his body quivering with silent laughter.

“Smithy. Help me here. I can’t see the ship. It’s no where in sight, far as I can tell.” Hart flicked his headlamp on and off, looking to bounce the light off of something. He wrapped the tow rope around his leg before reaching his hands out in front of him, groping vainly in the darkness. “I got nothin’.”

“The traveling rope should be about three feet in front of the Ryujin . So if you’re facing in the right direction, you could jump…”

Before Smith could finish his sentence Hart jumped, using the traveling rope for leverage, and after a forward propulsion in slow motion, his helmet came to rest against the hull of the Ryujin with a resounding thump.

“What was that?” Smith asked.

“My brains getting rattled.” Hart moved his hands along, feeling for the bilge keel, the fin-like projections from either side of the hull that helped stabilize a ship in rough seas. He cast his light directly on the hull and found he could see somewhat better. Hart’s thin gloves allowed for greater movement, but also meant he’d be more prone to cuts and scraps against jagged metal. He proceeded with caution moving down and around the bottom of the hull, alert for sharp metallic pieces of the ship’s frame.

After several dim minutes, Hart’s glove snagged on a sharp object. He trained the light in its direction and found a hole, about fifteen inches wide and half as long. He reached his hand in, feeling the emptiness of the space where the oil used to be and shuddered. The boulder, or whatever it was, had ripped a hole right on a seam of the hull, a faulty one at that. Hart’s eye followed the rip in the hull until it dissolved into blackness. He pulled out an underwater tape measure and after ascertaining the width, proceeded down the length of the hull looking for the end of the rainbow. Eight and a half feet later, the gaping stopped. Now it made sense. Hart had been wondering how in the hell so much oil had come out of what he was thinking probably looked like a small gash in the bottom, given both the pilot and captain’s descriptions of impact. With a small hole and entrainment, most of the oil would have stayed put while the ship was moving. But this was no small hole. The impact had given way to a split seam on the hull. With a hole this size, no matter how fast the ship had been going, the oil was coming out. Zenone was right: time to retire the single-hulled vessels. The expense to the company was nothing compared to what it was doing to this river. He’d talk to Bicky about it as soon as he got back. Bicky would have other ideas, but he’d never been on Site for a major oil spill either….

“Hey, Boss.” Smith’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “Time to come home. Coast Guard just issued a squall warning. They want all ships and other non-necessary personnel out of the water, pronto.”

“I can’t see a damn thing anyway, got so much oil on my face-plate,” Hart said. “I’m on my way up.”

to be continued. . .

click here to see what led to this state of affairs

copyright 2012

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