By Dennis Burton - Clarenville, Newfoundland - Canada

Perry Burton received an e-mail from his brother the other day. He reports that it contained - "The normal “how’s things” and “are you busy at work” sort of small talk." Then Dennis went on "In true Burton fashion" to relate the following story:

I’m finishing up my report from the Argentia wharf inspection yesterday. Man what a day. Really nice day to drive there but oh man you know me, if its gonna happen its gonna happen to me.

Dennis Burton in a NON-inflatible boat

The scene is a 210 meter (aprox. 350ft) wharf built on 88 rows of 12 wooden piles (columns). I have to go under this wharf and do an inspection using an 8ft (INFLATEABLE) zodiac boat.

The story begins with me and a local government wharf employee inflating this boat. He tells me it leaks a little but should be ok and “here use one of our floater jackets”. (Hears little voice inside but too faint to pay attention) Boat now inflated and I can hear a little leak in one of the side chambers (the boat has one on each side) but nothing serious. This boat has panels you snap together to form the floor of the boat. Under this floor is the INFLATEABLE bottom which gushed out air as fast as I can pump it in, the guy says its always been that way and they still use it but I should use rubber boots because a little water does leak in (that little voice is a bit louder now).

We put the boat in the water and I put in my gear, flashlight, writing tablet, and digital camera.

“Forgot the boots” I said. Oh well it can’t be that bad..... I do about 1/8 of the wharf and I’m up to my ankles in water. I told the guy on shore (because the boat isn't big enough for two) to get me his rubber boots he had in his truck (new government issue) I went to shore dumped out the water and changed my boots. Leave wet tablet on shore and take field book to put in pocket. Top up the two chambers with air (I heard little voice this time "TAKE AIR PUMP") and I'm off again.

I started where I left off. Its  Hard to get between piles because of x-bracing and some are close together. So its like a maze without walls just columns. I get about halfway and there is a big barge tied up. (Little voice quite loud now "IF YOU GO IN THERE AND THE WIND BLOWS THE BARGE AGAINST THE WHARF YOU MAY HAVE TROUBLE GETTING BACK OUT") Thanks little voice I will keep an eye on that in case the wind changes. There is just enough room to get the boat between the barge and wharf, and then I go inside between the columns. (remember I'm half way so I'm 105 meters from either end) While in there moving between the columns I noticed some of the x-bracing is missing leaving the spikes sticking out (can you see it) ( BIG voice inside "MAYBE THIS IS FAR ENOUGH") I hear you voice but I'll be careful. The thought still fading and the wind pushes me toward a column, no big deal, then time stands still I see it a sharp spike just under the water line. I could have sworn I yelled "torpedo in the water" but it was too late, the hiss of rapidly escaping air was followed by "oh shit".

The mind is an amazing thing to make rapid analysis and decisions. Ok evasive maneuvers get away from the spike to prevent further damage, and its not so bad. I have the air pump and one more chamber, time to go home yeah. All this was thought out in 1/100 of a second while the boat maneuvered away from that lance of Neptune not noticing the spike on the opposite side of the boat that would have held the other $^$#%$#  X-brace. *HISSSSS* chamber # 2 losing pressure (can clearly hear inner voice now and its not pretty).

You haven't forgotten that I'm still under the wharf in a stick maze with a narrow channel outside between the barge and wharf have you? Boat slowly bending in half, I hook up pump and pump like there is no tomorrow. I had to worm my way out from under the wharf and I cant stand up because the boat is now unstable and the pump is a foot bellows pump. so here I am using my hands like CPR on the pump for about 20 pumps then paddle for 3-5 strokes then repeat, pump, pump, pump...... paddle paddle paddle. All I could think about is the camera gear in my jacket pockets.

Meanwhile I'm screaming to the guy who is supposed to be watching me but he can’t hear me over the sound of the heavy equipment. After a while he sticks his head over the side and asks if I was done... duhhhh. Here I am flailing with these short little paddles and performing CPR on a very limp boat up to my thighs in water and he doesn't notice. I yell I'm &%$^&@! sinking!!! He calmly says “I'll meet ya at the end of the wharf”. I'm thinking I won't get that far. I beat him there and when he showed up I was dumping water out of his new boots looking at a flat boat full of water but the camera gear was dry.

So how was your day?


To comment on Duckworks articles, please visit our forum