by Scott B, Director
Nine hours, slapping the waves in a crew boat on the way out to the barge. It’s another world out here, a desolate landscape of endless water dotted by weird steel structures. I know that underwater it’s teeming with life, but from here, it doesn’t seem so. It feels more like a vast, featureless desert.
They lift us from the boat in a crew basket and drop us onto the deck of the Southern Hercules barge. The barge’s deck is a maze of equipment and supplies. It takes a while to even get a sense of where everything is on the barge. There’s no place to step back and see it all at once.
What is most striking about being offshore is the sense of isolation. Looking out from the barge, there are no identifiable features but platforms and drilling rigs, icons of technology and steel and oil on the horizon. The barge has an out-of-this-world, practically outer space vibe to it. It’s also gritty and dirty, smelly and full of diesel fumes. But I have this sense of being in a completely different world — disconnected in a really elemental way from my everyday life on land. Maybe you’d get the same sense in a boat offshore, but it’s something that I’ve never experienced before.
The Southern Hercules was originally designed for shallow water work around the docks with a great big crane on it. It’s a flat-bottom vessel with just four to five feet of displacement in the water. But it’s been adapted for use as a dive barge. It still feels like a cramped version of a repair shop yard.
The sleeping quarters are huge steel shipping containers, converted to be three walk-through rooms with two bunk beds in each room. No windows. A tiny bathroom in each room. The crew works in 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. They try to stagger people so that only half the crew is in their bunks at any given time. I sleep by the door to the outside. Every time someone opens it, the roar of the diesel motors blasts in. If you aren’t careful closing the door, it slams, jolting everyone all the way through the container. There’s a sign on the door with a picture of a boot kicking someone and a warning to door slammers. I don’t notice people slamming. I’m that tired. I slam it a couple times myself, though. And receive a warning from one of the divers bunked in the middle room.
Experience the adrenaline of deep-sea commercial diving in a two-part special airing this week and next:
Diver Down airs this Wednesday May 19 at 9P et/pt.