Thursday, June 28, 2007

Yellow Submarine!

Watching the arrangements put in place for the first attempt to refloat the 40,000 tonne coal-carrier, the Pasha Bulker stranded at Nobby’s Beach, Newcastle on the television news last night reminded me of an incident on Hinchinbrook Island.

The dam on the island needed to be widened and deepened. An area of land around the staff quarters also needed to be cleared and leveled to enable extensions to be built.

“Q” who owned the resort was in the heavy-equipment construction business. Conducting the arrival of a large Caterpillar drot, (bulldozer) as shown above in the smaller picture, was done via telephone conversations between him in his office in Brisbane and me on the island. Needless to say, it was a job that needed detailed plans to be put into place to safely transport the drot from the mainland to the island. I hired a heavy-duty, weight-bearing barge to carry the drot across the sea. Timing was of the utmost importance, because everything depended on tides. On the mainland it had to be loaded at high tide and likewise when it arrived at the island. By the time it reached the island, the tide was too low to enable unloading, meaning the drot had to be left on the barge, moored a few metres out to sea in front of the resort overnight.

When I advised “Q” by telephone the situation, he “blew a fuse”, which in turn caused me to blow one, too…or perhaps more than one! Direct and to the point, I told him that he was the one in the construction industry, not me and if he knew a better way to get the drot onto the island, he should be on the island, not giving pointless orders hidden away behind the walls of his Toowong office. I was furious. Slamming the phone down on his ear, I stormed out of my office and went for a walk along the beach in the moonlight to cool off. I’d been stressing enough for the weeks leading up to the delivery of the drot, how to get it safely onto the island, but I knew everything depended on time and tide. One can’t fight nature, but should stop being so arrogant and learn to work with it as we humans are putty in its hands.

Anyway, Ted, Bernie, “Slip” and my brother Graham, who were my “maintenance” crew and I were up before dawn the next morning to attempt to manouevre the drot onto land. This is another whole episode, which I may have written about previously, but if not, I will leave it for the moment, to write about what happened to the drot a few days later, once it was on the island and why I was reminded of an event by the current situation with the “Pasha Bulker”.

“Slip”, who was “Q’s” head foreman on the construction side of the business, had arrived on the island to oversee the workings of the drot. He, his family and I had become good friends during the short time we had known each other and we’re all still friends today. Ted at times had also worked for “Q” in different jobs on the mainland, constructing roads, airstrips etc., so he and “Slip” had worked together previously many times on projects. They were both experts in their fields and both very proud of their abilities.

When it came time to move the drot around the resort area, they had in mind one way of doing it, and I had another. But, of course, being a woman, nobody was interested in listening to me.

My idea was that they “walk” the drot up along the inland side of the staff quarters to get it into the position they wanted to enable them to start the clearing and leveling. There was room, sparse though it was, to sneak the drot up past the quarters, if they took it carefully and slowly.

“No! No! No!” They echoed in unison. “That won’t work!”

“It will,” I insisted, “if you just take your time and “walk” it through. There is enough room there.”

“No…we’ll “walk” it across the front of the quarters, down along the rocks when the tide is out,” said a determined Ted, with “Slip” nodding his agreement beside him.

“You’ll lose it that way. The sand is too soft and the rocks too slippery,” continued an equally determined me. “Take it up behind the quarter…it is a safer, more sensible option.”

“We know what we’re doing. We’ve worked this equipment for years. When the tide is low, we’ll take it along the foreshore,” both men told me, and that was the end of that.

It was late afternoon. I’d gone back to my house to shower and dress for hosting the evening in the restaurant. Putting on the final touches, I heard footsteps coming past my cottage and a voice quietly calling out to me.


Up the spiral staircase came “Slip”, whose real name is “John”.

“Yes, John,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Come with me….just follow me,” he said, saying nothing further.

“Okay…” I answered following him downstairs and through the bush to the top of the headland looking down towards the jetty and the little beach area beyond that lay in front of the staff quarters. Nothing had been said on our journey across the way.

Looking down, I saw the “drot”. It was lying on its side, bogged in the soft, muddy sand.

“Jesus Christ!” I exclaimed. “How did you manage that?”

I refrained from saying “I told you so!” The looks on both faces of “Slip” and Ted told a million stories. I’ve never seen two more contrite, crestfallen men before or since.

Immediately, I headed to my office to make some phone calls, but I realized I was racing against time and tide. Both would beat me. The sun was on its way behind the mountains over on the mainland. Daylight was quickly disappearing. There was nothing I could organize or do that afternoon. The drot was going to go under water…twice a day until I could arrange for it to be hauled back onto dry land.

Poor “Slip” spent a miserable evening drowning his sorrows out on the deck around the restaurant. Ted, licked his wounds privately and headed back to his quarters very early in the night. I tried to console John, telling him accidents do happen. I could see the humorous side of it, as I can in most situations. There was no point crying over spilled “drots”. A workable plan had to be put into place to lead to our final step in getting it out of the ocean. Failing that, I told, “Q” when I finally plucked up the courage to ring to inform him of the misfortune that had befallen the drot, was to turn it into a “yellow submarine”, thereby turning it into an artificial reef! The drot would just have to remain where it was until a solution could be found and twice a day it would be covered by the salty sea.

Hiring a crane, getting it across to the island was price prohibitive. Finally, the crew from Dunk Island came to the party and said I could hire their barge. Ted got onto a guy he knew who had a D-9. A D9, made by Caterpillar, is a large bulldozer (ours was minus the "bucket")…that’s is the best description I can give. Ted assured me that the guy was an expert operator. That’s what he and “Slip” said about themselves!

Seven days later, Saturday of the “removal” arrived. The Dunk Island barge pulled into the island with the D9 on board on the Friday. Much had to be put into place to ready the salvage attempt. Strong, heavy cables were attached to the drot and to the D9.

Of course, all the guests came down to watch the exercise. And of course, they were all “experts”. The spectators and their “knowledgeable” comments began to aggravate me. I also could see an accident waiting to happen.

If one of the hefty steel cables snapped someone could get hurt or worse, lose their life. So, moving everyone one back up to the restaurant, I concentrated on what was happening without their interruptive comments. They were hesitant to leave, also having volunteered not to go on the offered boat trip for the day. More interesting events were unfolding at the resort.

Ted was correct in his assessment of the D9 operator. That man was amazing. He could turn the dozer on a sixpence. He was wonderful to watch in action. On the first attempt, not like the “Pasha Bulker”, he hauled the drot ashore.

Two guys from Caterpillar were in attendance and with the assistance of my “men”, they drained the diesel from the once week-long submerged drot. Once refueled, the engine was started and the “baby” ticked over at first try. Shouts of joy echoed across the ocean, the one time home of the now landed drot. We had achieved so much that morning and were, rightfully, feeling very proud of ourselves.

The next task we faced was getting the drot up from the level jetty area, but we left that for another day, as I shall with the continuation of this story.


  1. Good story, Lee. I've been around such "experts" myself, and nothing is more aggravating, or dangerous.

    Not having been in your position, I was able to tell them to move, or I'd see that they got moved. I've never been much of one for indirect suggestions.

  2. Thanks, Don...yep...don't you just love those "experts"?

    I told them to move, in as many words. They were annoying the hell out of me! ;)

  3. My dad was a crane operator his whole life, so he also got a lot of opinions on how he should do his lifts and stuff. The experts don't always know. Sometimes it takes someone with a little common sense.

  4. So true, Dave...but the "experts" I was referring to are the "drips under pressure"....those who had absolutely nothing to do with what we were trying to achieve and had never, ever been part of such a job before...they were my guests...spectators, rubber-necking, full of advice! ;)

  5. Did I ever tell you that on my resume I know how to drive a dozer. I joked with my dad at the time if I could put that experience on my resume. ;) Seriously a few years back, at the property that has been in my family for over 150 years, the cedar trees had overtaken this 20 acre field and my dad and I bulldozed the trees down. Your story reminded me of those days.

  6. Can you tell my dad had three girls and made me into that son he never had. Let's see I hunt,fish,work on cars,sometimes,and a whole lot of other things a guy would probably do but not a woman. :)

  7. Nothing wrong in that, Sandra. There's nothing wrong with being "handy"...doesn't matter whether you're a woman or a's better to be useful and be able to do different things, than not to be able to do anything. :)

  8. And I guess they eventually followed your plan on how to get the Drot into position?

  9. Anonymous8:03 PM

    If people stoped and listened to each other once in a while... they might realise that other's can give wisdom to a situation too. Some people need taking down a peg or too to learn though. Sounds like there was a very good lesson to be leart all round. Great story Lee. xox

  10. I'm not blowing my own trumpet, is how it happened. The guys, typically, wouldn't listen to my suggestions and the drot ended up in the ocean because of that. They insisted on walking out along the front at low tide..."Slip" was driving and Ted was leading it from the front...the drot hit a rock that happened to be sitting on soft sand and mud...and the rest was history! I reckoned that would happen and that they wouldn't even consider the alternative, much simpler method. They thought they knew better. I'm not saying I did, but my way seemed more feasible...and as it turned out, it was. The resort and all that in it was my responsibility. I was the manager and was put there to manage. I'm sorry to say, but there are men who think women don't know what they are saying at times, and this was one of the times. It certainly would have saved a lot of money, time and effort if they had listened.

    See...Nicole understands. ;)

    I do not want to come across as some kind of "know-it-all" because I'm not and don't.

  11. Interesting story as usual Lee. You seem to be full of them. You've led a very interesting life.

  12. G'day jmb...I have done a few interesting things...some that were out of the "norm"...that that's what makes life interesting. :)

  13. Lee, Don,

    Just after I went into the US Air Force in 1968, I was sent to Lowery AFB, Denver CO for training. I tested out of all the basic Electronics classes, since I was already an Electronics Tech.

    I wound up tutoring a bunch of Iranian pilots in basic Electronics, since they didn't know what to do with me. That was a total waste of time.

    I was an E-2, They were O-somethings, so I was Crap. I was 24 at the time and had been in both electronics and construction for a while.

    Most of the Iranians flunked the courses, and raised a big stink. I got to explain to the base commander exactly what went on.

    The Iranian's Comander gave Me an appology in writing.

    Next job, Holding Pattern untill I was to go to Eglin AFB, FLA.

    That job was to report to a work detail every morning, With starched uniform, (and starched Undies if they could have gotten away with it).

    We had a CMS that was a desk jock, and was responsible for us Prima Donnas as he called us.

    They had just put in a new building, Mill spec, shiney new concrete, slicker than glass floors, and the CMS, in his infinite wisdom told us to go to the wharehouse and pick up 3 55 gal drums of paint stripper.

    Paint stripper???? Yup, we swabbed all 4000 Sq Ft with paint stripper. Three guys went to the infirmery with breathing problems.

    The next day, the OIC showed up and asked why we did it. Dum a$$ me held up my hand and proceeded to tell the OIC what transpired. Well, I got put in charge of the work crews on that job, until I transferred out. We managed to scrape up the mess, and used about 200 gal of diluted HCL to break the glaze. I got a nice commendation for that. The MSGT???? Never saw him again.

  14. I bet no one saw the MSGT again! lol

    Good story, Marc. :)

  15. Somebody tried to walk a D7+ across a tidal flat? Geez, even a chic would know better. If only she had a tomahawk.

    Lee, any luck with the Hazelewood/Ann CD?

  16. That's what I thought, too, gto! Pity they didn't listen to me! ;) luck with the Lee Hazelwood CD yet, gto. Apparently, "The Cowboy & the Lady" was first released in the late sixties/early seventies and then re-issued in June, 2002 or 2000....Amazon haven't got it...I've got it on pre-order in case they come across a copy. If any out there has a copy they could burn for me, I would be grateful and will pay for it. Keep your ears and eyes open for me, gto...there must be a copy somewhere. :)

  17. Yep, sometimes someone with a little commonsense, even a woman, God forbid, knows what they're talking about.

    Too much male pride involved I think. Good story, though, Lee.

    I gather you're looking for a Lee Hazelwood CD...I used to love that guy...hope you find what you're looking for.

  18. Hi Lee ~~Another good story begun.
    If only they had listened to you!!

    Thanks for your comments and yes I had a great time with my visitors. Even posted some photos today!!
    Take care, my friend, Love, Merle.

  19. Anonymous8:06 AM

    Well I may never get everyone's "handle" straight. (always puzzles me wonderin why folks have a different name for every differeny blog?)

    Nevertheless Lee what in interesting tale about the pitfalls of operating heavy machinery! I had the pleasure of 'playing' on the big yellow 'tonkas' for 2 decades and still miss running equipment - sculpting mama earth. I don't miss the punishing jolts etc on my body but I will never lose the urge to scrape, doze, load, or dig. I participated on several earthen dam's, interstate highway's, and airport runway's construction from the mid 1970's thru the mid 1990's.
    I cannot count how many instances I can recall someone ostensibly "in the know" causing a huge piece of equipment to be mired as a result of their lack of expertise or refusal to employ a wee bit of common sense!

  20. Male ego got in the way, I think, Robyn, only to quickly disintegrate by their own hands! ;)

    Hi Merle...I'll pop on over to your blog shortly...I was tied up most of yesterday and last night (I managed to cut through the ropes), so I look forward to seeing your pics.

    Hey Katfish...I'm not sure why I have three nicks, either...well, two actually...Lee really is my correct first name. I even had "GeorgiGrl" once....that would have confused you even more! ;) Thanks for popping in and commenting. I appreciate it. Sometimes common sense goes right out the window for whatever reasons. "Slip" should have known better as he was a good plant operater. He was very embarrassed (brought it upon himself lol)...and still hates talking about that episode. Of course, I love teasing him about it! ;)

  21. Lee,
    If you get on the internet and type in and type in Lee Hazelwood some web sites will come up. Go to the web site labeled Lee Hazelwood. A bunch of his recordings will come up, but at the end will be a search engine. Type in The Cowboy & The Lady. I think you can purchase music from this site. Good luck, hope this works for you.

  22. Thanks, Nancy...but I've done all "The Dude" did a search over there at his's just not available at the moment. I do have it on pre-order with Amazon in case a copy comes in over the next three months. A copy of it is nowhere to be found at the moment...but I never say "die"...I'm sure eventually I'll come across a copy.

  23. Yes, they just won't listen to a woman, will they? Why are some men so devoid of common sense? I was so relieved at the end to learn that it started again first go!

  24. Because it ran on diesel that was to be expected so I was informed by the guys, Welsh. I wasn't expecting it to tick over so easily.

  25. Gidday Lee,

    I'm a doing mah weekly reading pardner, a day earlier than usual. Loved the drot story. It's like being there. Yep us guys know what's the correct way to get things done, after all what would youse sheilas know about dem things. Must admit things are slowly changing (much for the better)and more women are successfully and rightly doing a lot of jobs that only a while ago men thought that only they could and should do.

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