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Italian Job Part 1.

Updated on October 29, 2012

Best Job ever


I think the best job I had in my freelancing career as an underwater systems engineer, was a job I did for the Italian Government. I was with a Dutch agency at the time and they rang me to say they had this job on the Italian coast of the Adriatic Sea. It was March and the promise of a bit of sun was fine by me. I flew to Milan, then onward to Ancona and was met by the agent. I was put up in a hotel for the night. The following day I was taken to the ship that they'd chartered for the job. She was a small vessel which looked a bit like a deep sea tug. The rest of the survey team were already there, all Dutchmen. The ship's crew were Italian. The equipment we were to install on the ship was on its way by road from Holland, so we had some time to plan things out. At the meeting with University Professors who were to study our findings on the seabed, we were told that the Government wanted to map the extent of the weeds that grew on the coastline, and which supported the coast. They were called Posidonia and because inshore fishing was destroying the Posidonia, the Government wanted to see what the damage was.

The ship seemed OK, they had built a small cabin with four bunks in it and a shower at the end. It was cramped and there was nowhere to put your clothes, but I'd lived out of a holdall before, so I was not worried. The Dutchmen were a bit critical of our accommodation, but they had to accept it.

The Italians on board were very friendly and it looked like it would be a nice little job. The rest of that day we spent planning where the winch would fit, where we could mount the recorders and navigation systems, and the Remote Operated Vehicle. It was a tiny glass bubble with a movie camera and a still camera in it, and the Dutchman who operated it was a very funny guy called Jos. Once we all had plans of where our particular equipment was to fit, we relaxed. A truck turned up on the quayside with stores for the ship so I went out to give them a hand unloading it. We formed a chain and soon had the dozens of boxes of food cleared away. Then the wine came aboard. I was stunned! Alcohol is not allowed on any survey vessel for obvious reasons. It was not a small quantity of wine either. There were hundreds of cases of wine in 1 litre cartons, twelve to a carton.

Wow! I raised an eyebrow to our party chief, a Dutchman, who shrugged his shoulders and said it was the Italian way. OK.

At lunch there was spaghetti with a sauce, and a large block of Parmesan to shred over it, followed by meat and potatoes, and of course, wine. The afternoon was free time to go sightseeing. I went ashore with Jos to explore the delights of Ancona, which were not many.

When we got back to the ship, our party chief told us that the Italians were taking us out to dinner, and that he'd been on to his boss and got permission for us all to stay in a hotel as the accommodation on board was not good enough. Magic! This would be a great job!

Next day, a huge truck arrived with our equipment,but there was no winch to lower and raise the fish in the water. No problem, the Italian rep told us. The crew would do it by hand. Scary but we could do nothing else.

Klein's 4000 towfish

Sidescan fish
Sidescan fish

Fitting Out

It took 2 days to fit the ship, and Henk our party chief told us to take our time, knocking us off at 6pm so we could go to the hotel, get showered and get some dinner. This was so unlike the majority of survey jobs I'd done, where it was all done at the gallop, working 14 hours a day, or more, until it was finished.

The ship was finally ready for sea about 4pm on the last day and I was making ready to leave harbour, lashing things down in case of bad weather, when Henk came up to me and said, 'Come on, we're going to the hotel.' I looked blank. 'Aren't we going to sea?'

He grinned. 'Tomorrow.'

The following day, once the three University Professors turned up, we sailed. Testing the equipment took an hour or so, with the ship's crew lined up lowering or hauling the fish in as I directed. It was hilarious! I shouted out the porthole, '5metres up, or 5metres down,' the Italian rep bellowed it in Italian and the fish came up or went down with three men hauling, and one coiling the cable down.

We made a start on mapping the Posidonia which was in vast quantities near the coast, slowly proceeding at about four knots. The weather was good and people on deck were in shorts, and bare chests. About four in the afternoon the rep had a word with Henk and he told us to recover the gear. 'What's up?' I queried. 'Nothing,' he said, 'we're going into port and we'll start again tomorrow.'

I couldn't believe it. There was at least another four hours of daylight to work in. But, the Italian's word was law so I went along with it. We were back in the hotel that evening.

Fish on deck

Courtesy of Klein Associates
Courtesy of Klein Associates

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