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April 22, 2013

Fishtown Local: A sure harbor sign of Spring

The weather is turning gorgeous, warm and blue skies overhead. And that can only mean that it’s pile driving season in Gloucester Harbor.

Every year about this time, the barges’ arrival mark the real beginning of Spring. Mammoth flat barges carry tall cranes around the harbor, making the rounds pier by pier for those that need to drive pilings to replace the old ones. Gloucester has literally thousands of pilings of all ages and conditions.

Every property has different needs and a rotating schedule of wood decomposition in its pilings. So some years are worse than others for each site.

If it’s a simple shot on a free-standing piling, it’s a snap: pull it out like an old tooth and start to whack in the new one.

But if it’s “encumbered,” then it’s a whole different story.

The first solution in those cases is to pull up the boards on the docks above and simply drive it through the dock.

The second more complicated variation comes when a building is involved. In that case, they cut a hole through the roof, then lower and drive the piling right down through the top. It’s an incredible sight while they’re doing it. Then they seal it right up.

Last is the “shake it” method. If the footing is in mud, not gravel, they can drive the piling in at an angle under the dock and then use a float and a Come-Along and pull the piling into place, upright.

Pilings are around 40 feet tall, and they run around $400 apiece — plus the barge and labor is around $3,000-$4,000 a day. They can drive 5 or 6 piles in that day, if not too complicated.

Great Eastern and Boston Tug and Tow were always the most recognizable barges out there, but Rhinauer and Flynn are out there this year after an industry retrenchment. Tiger Marston’s distinctive smaller orange craft is also out there pounding away.

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