Sunday, June 17, 2012

SHipyard workers are an odd lot

One of the things the public is likely unaware of is shipyard workers, the welders, fabricators and laborers of the shipbuilding and ship maintenance industry.

They are an odd and interesting, and very rough looking lot of people. Scruffy and rough looking almost to the man they are likely to be looked down on my a lot of people. This is an interesting industry, and it is not uncommon to see the rough looking man running a million dollar project hasn't shaved in days, weeks or even months and looks like he just got out of the joint a while back.

When you enter a shipyard and look around you would swear that you are looking at a bunch of thugs and convicts because they look that rough. It can be intimidating at first until you look beneath the surface and start looking at the talent that this business requires.

These are an odd lot of men that have to work out in the sun or in sun heated tanks and create things of utile beauty. These rough looking people are quite a paradox. Shipwright work is not a science, it is an art and the artists are a joy to watch if you have an eye for such a fine art. It is a strange art.

There is not a straight piece of steel on a boat, a level or a straight edge is about as useful to a shipwright as a bicycle is to a fish.

Every piece on a boat is unique yet a good shipwright has an eye that can look at a piece and fabricate it. Watching such a talented person and trying to figure out what his thought process is as he makes another piece will drive you nuttier than a cuckoo clock factory at midnight.

This is a business where formal education really isn't a requirement but talent surely is. An awful lot of these people are truly talented.

I got to watch such a guy today for a few minutes and as usual this drove me nuts trying to figure his mind out as he whipped up a piece of a nearby vessel being worked on. At first he looked through the scrap pile for a piece of 3/4 inch thick steel and than tool it to a shear and lopped off a chunk and trimmed it down to a useful size and then took the piece to a humongous press and bent it to an odd angle. He checked it carefully with a square, but not to see how square it was, but to see how far OUT of square it was.
He then picked up an oxy-acetelene torch and shaved it here and there until it was to his satisfaction.

He hauled the heavy piece to the vessel in question and horsed it into place. Three of the six sides fit perfectly and looked perfect.

He tack-welded it into place and inspected his work. Satisfied, he then welded it until he was happy it would take a beating and then heated the bend with a torch until it was cherry red and then took a big hammer and beat the end until it hed worked itself into place.

When he was finished pounding he grinned, knowing he'd done it again and picked up the 'stinger' and started welding.

I had to get back to what I was doing so I left but a couple of hours later I went back and looked at his handiwork. In addition to his welding, he had taken a grinder and ground his weld flat. A thin coat of spray paint and the weld would disappear. Then my curiosity overwhelmed me and I ran my fingernail over the fresh joint and it didn't snag at all. It was that smooth. I was impressed.

The man had just done a piece of piano quality craftsmanship with the equivilent of a chain saw.

Shipyard workers are a paradox. They look like barbarians, yet the good ones are true artists that will never have a showing in a New York gallery. Then again, their artwork is too precious for that. Their fine unsung artwork will take merchant seamen all over the planet in safety.

They never cease to amaze me.
If your daughter brings home a rough looking character that is a shipyard worker, do not dispair. Sometimes a knight will hide his shining armor under greasy coveralls. He will likely make a pretty good paycheck and will likely impart a pretty good working ethic on their children.

my other blog is:

No comments:

Post a Comment