One Million Pounds of Rock!
One Million Pounds of Rock! – Richard Londeree
Well, a lot of years had passed since we started our endeavors of being live rock farmers, and we had finally reached the point of having a permit to place our seed rock in The Gulf of Mexico! We had located a source of good quality reef rock from a company called Dravo right here in our hometown of Tampa. I had originally spoken with the foreman, a nice guy named Reease, who told me of their operation in the Bahamas digging and widening the canals in Freeport. The byproduct was beautiful coral rock that they were going to bring into Tampa on a 600-foot container ship.
This rock was loaded on the ship in Freeport, steamed around southern Florida up to Tampa Bay where it was unloaded by a giant conveyer belt apparatus into huge mountains of rock. They would then take a front-end loader and scoop up a bucket full and dump it onto a grader which would separate the different sizes of rock; cool! it gave us just the right size of rock for aquaculture. I had originally spoken with them on purchasing rock years before, but the permitting process took so long they had almost sold all of it before we were ready with “The Permit.”
When I showed up with all the right permits, they only had about 10 million pounds left. I committed to one million pounds, gave them some money, and said I “would be back”. At this point Reese had been transferred and a guy named Danny was the Manager. Turned out Danny was a Cajun loved crawfish and we hit it off well. He was interested in our project and helped us out immeasurably.
Now we needed a way to get the rock offshore, which proved to be another big hurdle. I called all over the state looking for an ocean-going barge and was having a real hard time until I happened across Gateway Marine just 2 miles down the Hillsborough River from where I lived in Tampa! The owner was a crusty old sea Captain but with a twinkle in his eye. He listened to my story about my situation, and he said he would “think about it.” Well, this was the only lead I had to have a way to get the rock out in the Gulf, so I began camping on his doorstep, showing up every day asking “can you do it Captain? Can you do it Captain?” After about a month he called and said he had time to “mess with us” and I bolted down the river to his place. He had a 200 foot by 100-foot barge he used for bridge construction tied up behind his place. He said “See that, boy? That’s where were going to put your rock!” Boy, was I elated!!
The next day I was there at 8 a.m. as planned and we began the process of “getting it together.” First the million dollar crane he had had to get from land onto the barge. This proved to be a great undertaking of which I have killer video of. The giant crane inched along a roadbed we had to make out of dirt and timbers leading to the barge floating in the river. It took all day to move the cane 50 feet onto the barge. One of the timbers collapsed under all the weight and the crane about fell over but caught a tread on a solid timber which prevented it from going into the drink. This stopped everybody’s heart but turned out all right.
Now we had the crane on the barge, and it was about 6 miles down the river out into Tampa Bay and around to where Dravo was located on the river. But fate was to strike again as when the Capt. was reviewing my paperwork. In one of the zillions of permits I had to have to do the project he found my permit from the Corp of Engineers said, “permitted to place 50 tons of material” instead of “500 tons of material.” Oh man what a bummer. Here we were with the crane on the barge, the rock yard was on alert for us, and we had a bogus permit. He would not proceed without the right number on the permit, he already had my money, and the clock was ticking. I fired off a call to the local Corps agent, but he was on vacation. I got his secretary who was sympathetic, but said they had some other fires to put out first, I would have to wait. Well not being a waiting kind of guy anymore, I called the main office in Jacksonville and got the head honcho and explained the situation to him.
He turned out to be a Godsend as he immediately faxed us a copy of a corrected permit, and we were in business!! We were to load the barge the next day. I was jumping around like a hot potato all night, heavy with expectations. Morning found me at the rock yard, video camera in hand awaiting the arrival of the barge. I can’t tell you how happy and relieved I was when I saw that barge come around the cape and into view. I was pins and needles, felt like a kid at an ice cream party. The barge mover ever so slowly inching along up to the pilings under the giant conveyer belt. The belt was about 75 feet off the ground extending about 50 feet over the water. The barge was pushed into place by the tug “Big Roy.” Now we were ready to start loading the rock.
Danny drove one front end loader and his man another. Each loader held 5,000 pounds per load, which they dumped into a hopper kind of container that had a rotor in it that fed the rocks onto the belt which fed onto the barge. Of course, I was the one that had to hold the deflector plate on the very end of the belt that the rocks would roll out onto, hit and fall onto the barge. Big mistake, as it sounded like atom bombs going off. I have never heard something so loud! Bang, Bang, Bang as the rock hit the plate and fell onto the barge. But you know it did not bother me as I was in adrenaline overdrive. It took about six hours to load the barge with one million pounds of rock. We worked into the night and when done I pulled out a stash of boiled crawfish and we all ate, told stories, and laughed, as it was all over, or so I thought. The hard part was yet to come.
The Capt. of Big Roy was going to push that giant barge of rock out through Tampa Bay, under the Skyway Bridge, through Egmont channel, then into the inter coastal waterway, up through St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Dunedin, then back out into the Gulf at Johns Pass for the rest of the trip another 25 miles up the coast to just off Anclote Key where our site is. I slept well that night; don’t ask me why.
The next morning found us on my boat with the Capt. from Gateway Marine, leaving Dukes Marina on the Anclote River heading out into the Gulf to meet with the barge. As we exited the channel we could see the barge offshore, but to our dismay, it was half sunk! It seems that when they were docking under the belt the rock was loaded with, they had punched a hole in one of the compartments. The barge was listing at about 15%, the crane tilted, not a pretty site. We zoomed back to shore and Tampa and retrieved a giant pump the Capt. had, broke all the speed limits going back to Tarpon Springs, onto the boat and back out to the Gulf. Thank goodness it was a calm day as the Gulf was like a lake, very unusual for the Gulf of Mexico. We got the pump onto the barge, started it up and soon we were no longer in danger. I had flashes of a big giant barge on the bottom of the Gulf with our rock and a million-dollar crane.
Out of danger, we began the process of unloading the barge. A million pounds is a heck of a lot of rock, and it took all day to unload, one clamshell load at a time. We had placed plywood under the rock to protect his barge and as the rock came off we used the sheets to “push” the rock off like shovels. We even resorted to throwing it rock by rock. It was a trip!
Of course, the Florida Marine Patrol was present for a while, with Jenny Wheaton to make sure we were in the right spot, and soon the Coast Guard showed up and wondered what the heck we were doing. After some persuasion, permits, and dancing we were allowed to continue the deployment. It was quite the day — a culmination of six years of work to obtain a “six-month permit” for aquaculture of live rock.
When I look back now, over five years later, it just seems like it never happened, as our efforts have now produced the largest artificial reef on the West coast of Florida. We now have over 5 million pounds of rock out on our five-acre lease, and millions of fish and inverts where there was nothing before. Amazing!
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