The Castle Group Joins Facebook

•November 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Castle Group is now on Facebook. “Like” our Page to stay up to date with our latest photos, projects, and company news.


Where Are We Going?

•September 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

For most of the 19th century, the concept of human flight was mainly an academic discussion; and automobiles were yet to become common place. If you wanted to go anywhere, you typically walked, saddled up your horse, or hopped on a train. Or, as for most of the 30-million (give or take) European immigrants that came to the United States during the 1800’s, you took a boat.


[cue theme music from “An American Tail”]


That’s what my great grandfather did. He boarded the S.S. Scandinavian on 09 June 1893 and landed in Boston on 19 June 1893. How do I know this?…I found it on the internet.

We are fortunate to be living in the information age (I’ll refrain from listing my caveats on that statement). There is a plethora of information at our fingertips…on all sorts of subjects, from family history to construction history. And sometimes it can be of immense help.

When working on rehabilitation projects, it can be extremely interesting to look at construction site photographs that were taken one-hundred years ago.

Old photos, drawings, and design specifications can give you an insight into the (now) invisible portions of a structure, tell you what a structure’s original intended use was, let you know what kind of work has been done on a structure over the years, and sometimes they’re just really cool to look at.The City of Philadelphia has done a real good job preserving some of the area historical photographs from all around the city.

And there are a number of technical-minded folk out there who are preserving out-of-print and out-of-copyright publications that they’ve come across over the years.

So my recommendation to everyone is to periodically stop worrying about what’s ahead of you and wander around a library, grab a cup of coffee and chat with one of your elders, or just stumble around the internet…all the kids are doing it now.

And where are we going?…to answer that question, I will take a line from Roddy Doyle:

“That’s a tricky question, Terry. But as I always say: We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels across the floor. I was feeling kind of seasick, but the crowd called out for more.”

“That’s very profound, Jimmy. What does it mean?”

“Terry, I haven’t a clue.”
The Slide Rule Era
Google Books Library Project

Staring Into the Abyss

•July 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It probably takes a good half-hour to go from the slip out to the inlet and then the open sea; and then another good hour out to the wreck site. So I was sitting on the dive boat, staring out into the ocean and back towards the waning land, debating whether I wanted to try to catch a few extra minutes of shut-eye or to shake the early morning bleariness from my eyes. Then I was startled by the sound of a lawyer saying, “This is pretty eerie, huh.”

“Yeah…Ironically, isn’t this how the City of Athens went down?”

Only a few miles from the Jersey shore, we had suddenly found ourselves in a patch of dense fog. Sitting on the deck, you could only see about 30-feet in any direction. And I started to think about how we were motoring full speed through fog with near-zero visibility, for the sole purpose of scuba diving on a ship that was struck by another vessel and sunk under what I can only imagine were similar conditions.

Much to the chagrin of wreck divers everywhere, leaps and bounds have been made in early detection and observation systems in the past hundred years…It was in the early 1900’s that Nikola Tesla (give or take a few years and scientific cohorts) began working with primitive radar systems. And it was at the footsteps of World War II that the true predecessors of modern radar came online.

Standing on the deck of a small boat in good visibility, the distance to the visible horizon is only about five miles due to the curvature of the earth. In this day and age, it is commonplace for large ships and planes to be equipped with powerful radar systems that alert them to far-off objects and conditions that couldn’t possibly be seen by the naked eye – even on the clearest of days. It is now even possible for planes to land in heavy fog. If an airport is equipped with radar-assisted ground-controlled approach (GCA) systems, a plane’s flight can be observed on radar screens while operators radio landing directions to the pilot.

And much to the chagrin of hard hat divers everywhere, leaps and bounds are being made in underwater detection and surveying.

Sidescan Sonar

Sidescan Sonar is a system that is used to create an image of large areas of the sea floor. This tool is used for mapping the seabed for a wide variety of purposes, including creation of nautical charts and detection and identification of underwater objects. The Castle Group has owned and operated a JW Fisher Side Scan Sonar system for a few years now; and in my humble opinion, the output images aren’t that impressive…

…until I think about the fact that it can make reasonably accurate images and measurements of a sea floor that is several hundred feet below the water surface. It’s actually quite impressive.

With a sidescan sonar system mounted on a small boat, a large area of a river bottom can be scanned in a short amount of time, the resulting images can be displayed on a monitor in real time, and items such as scour holes, utility cables, and debris can be located quickly and efficiently.

Multibeam Hydrographic Survey

In the 1990s, sonar was being brought to a whole new level. Like the name suggests, Multibeam Sonar sounders emit multiple “beams” of sound waves in a fan-shaped pattern to produce a swath of sounding data in a single pass over an area of the seafloor. With Multibeam Hydrographic Surveys it is possible to clearly depict scour holes, underwater cable runs, and debris with striking results.

The image above shows the results of a Multibeam Survey around a pier just off the Delaware River. It clearly depicts the navigation channel, scour holes in the river, cable runs shooting across the river bottom, and one can even start to see how the flow patterns around the piers are affecting the river bottom.


…Our small craft finally broke out of the fog; and once again I was left staring at nothing or whatever it was that my imagination told me was out there.

A day or two after the dive trip, my electronic travels brought me across another blog that I thought interesting and
worth excerpting…

“…night watches are my favorite part of the twenty-four hour day…I stood on bow watch scanning the horizon enjoying the warm breeze run through my hair. Visibility was perfect. Far off, about one point on the starboard bow, I could see a minuscule white light. I waited a few minutes until I was sure it was a light and not a star, and reported it to my mate, Mr. Dimock. He confirmed the light and we went below into the dog house to look on the radar. I was right, a ship of some sort was out there, and holding a course towards us.”

Sam Brown, Night Watch, 10. 24. 09

Welcome to the 2010 New Jersey Dive Season

•May 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Today, I got back to the office after observing a soil boring for one of our bridge replacement projects; and I received an e-mail from one of the local wreck divers that I know. He was forwarding a recent dive report from one of his friends:

Posted by Ron on 5/11/2010, 7:40 pm

What a great day to skip work and hit the water. it started out with our usual 5:45 am departure for our 8 am trip. We got there early and were greeted by the smiling faces of Sal and Capt. Al of the SEA LION. It was a little choppy on the way out but we all decided on a buoy dive on a rock pile of course. The vis was 25 ft if not more and it was picturesque (like swimming in an aquarium). Some bugs were brought up in the 39 degree water and we were all stoked for the great start of the day.

The next site was the Sendaround and the temp was the same and depth in the 75 foot depth range. This site had vis in the 15 foot range. There were lots of no arm eggers and short bugs, large blackfish, some sea bass and of course none could be taken.

After a strange surface interval in which for some reason a very large tugboat sped up to us and stopped on a dime about 5 feet from the side of the boat just to ask if we were lobstering?

Our last dive was again a buoy dive since the seas had flattened out nicely. This site was very dark with maybe 5 ft vis and temps were still 39 degrees. No bugs came up in about 70ft of water. It seems as though there is now a thermocline of about 48 degrees around 30ft. Maybe things will begin to warm up.

After our drive back home and a quick patch job in dad’s pool, I continued to clean off my gear in the pool. All in all it was great to get out aboard the SEA LION and enjoy a well needed day off from work. Thanks again to Capt al and Sal and my driver, Mr. Jeebs.

And for some strange reason, I am still looking forward to getting back into water next week and partaking in my so-called hobby…

  • Getting up before the crack of dawn on a day off;
  • Loading up a car with an excess of strange equipment;
  • Dressing up in what can only be described as a costume that would confound any of George Lucas’ storm troopers;
  • Jumping off a perfectly good boat in the middle of the ocean (well, it may as well be the middle of the ocean, since you are beyond the site of land);
  • Sinking yourself into a dark abyss, where you can only see 30-feet in front of your face…on the best of days;
  • Swimming around on the sea floor until you:

a.   lose the feeling in your extremities (due to the warm New Jersey waters),
b.   a computer starts beeping to tell you that there is now more Nitrogen dissolved in your body than any person should have, or
c.   run out of air;

  • And finally taking the 60-plus-lbs of gear that you’re wearing (not to mention all the extra water weight that you have picked up) and climbing up a ladder that is bobbing up and down with the seas.

…I’ll admit it’s weird, but it’s fun.

Lord, bless my little, frozen body.


The Sea Lion

The Island

•January 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This past summer, in an effort to escape the trials and tribulations of work and everyday life, I ventured off to the “Big Island” of my forefathers. And so, stepping off the ferry, I shouldered my pack and set out to find a suitable pony trap for the ride up one of the island’s narrow roads to find the next village, the remnants of my family, and my bed for the night. At that point, I was content in the idea that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore; and that I was far, far away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.

And so one night I settled myself in to the crowd and the sweet sounds of banjo, squeeze-box, and taps pouring out pint upon pint of the black stuff at Ti Joe Watty’s. Performing my duties, I proceeded conversation hopping around the pub and soon found myself talking to a hard hat diver working on the island. Before I knew if, I was returned to the real world, discussing equipment problems and contract constraints; and regaling both the hardships and simple joy of being swallowed by the sea.

The scope of this project includes the following:

• Construction of a 550 m breakwater to provide shelter to the harbour from significant swell waves from Galway harbour;
• The extension and upgrading of the existing pier to facilitate larger vessels;
• The creation of a deepwater berth for fishing boats;
• Provision of a cargo quay and slipway to service roll-on roll-off (RO-RO) cargo service;
• Provision of a pedestrian only zone for ferry passengers;
• A berth for the lifeboat.

The Firm’s Website

And all along, I had been thinking I was on vacation for some reason.

That having been said, I did get the chance to spend a few days hill trekking, getting to know the locals, and just smelling the flowers. And I was left to ponder certain facts of life:

  1. There are few pints like the one (or five) had with a life-long fisherman
  2. The more things change, the more they stay the same
  3. You never really leave work behind…

Then, like so many before me, I began the long journey across the ocean to America; hoping that someday I might be able to set foot on the island of patchwork greens once more…

-Andrew Hummers

GAO Reports on TWIC Challenges

•December 28, 2009 • 1 Comment

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its report on challenges relating to the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program. Issuance of TWICs to maritime workers was delayed, but is now largely completed. A significant source of delay was the power failure at the government facility processing TWIC data. Full recovery from that incident pends and the cost is estimated at $26m. Development of the electronic card reader faces challenges due to inadequate planning. GAO-10-43 (12/10/09).

Source: Bryant’s Maritime News

To TWIC or not to TWIC, that is the question? For those of you who are looking at this acronym twice and thinking it’s a chocolate bar, read on.   The Transportation Security Administration defines the TWIC card as “a common identification credential for all personnel requiring unescorted access to secure areas of Maritime Transportation Security Act-regulated facilities and vessels, and all mariners holding Coast Guard-issued credentials.”  In other words, if you’re working on the water, above the water, near the water, you’re going to need one of these prized pieces of plastic.  Sorry Charlie.

In response to reading the article about the Reports on TWIC Challenges, I have to say I am not surprised by the incident.  Engineers and divers at our firm had to comply with this new program and we had a few problems ourselves.  We had to continually check the status and follow up with numerous members of the Help Desk before receiving the card which should not be an issue if we followed their protocol by pre-enrolling, getting fingerprinted, scheduling the interview and filling out all necessary paperwork.

With the TWIC incident and its “inadequate planning” and many other events that have transpired in recent years, it is easy to pin our society as reactive rather than proactive.  This article also comes at a time where our nation is rushing to push through a healthcare reform.  Is it ready?  Who knows? While no one can deny the urgency of the matter, its best to take the time to make sure it is done right the first time.  I agree this should apply to all government programs, TWIC cards, healthcare, you name it.  It is best to be thorough and get it right instead of trying to pick up the pieces after disaster strikes due to being too hasty with important legislation.

However, if you know you must obtain a TWIC card, I highly recommend reading the TWIC information on the Transportation Security Administration website ( thoroughly before you begin the 6-8 week process.  Note to self:  don’t punch a hole in your card thinking you’ll put it on a nifty lanyard so you don’t lose it.  The hole can “disable or obstruct security features on the card, invalidate electronic/technology components within the card that are necessary for electronic verification, and may impair the ability to conduct a full visual inspection of the security features on the card.”  It will cost you $60.00 to replace.  I wish I had better news for you, but I will leave you with well wishes with your reading and application process!

-Melissa Stein

Arctic Diving

•December 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Having just concluded a winter dive trip of the pier at Georges Island in Boston Harbor Islands National Park, I can confirm that it is cold in New England.

While this is not a revelation to many, including myself having grown up on the Massachusetts coast, it nonetheless presented a learning experience and a host of additional factors to consider when planning to dive, or do boating, in cold weather.

The primary factor with the cold is that it affects everything you do. With temps regularly in the 30’s and winds in the 20mps range, simply moving around can be a challenge, and staying warm and dry may be more of an aspiration than an actual goal. While layering clothes is important, it can also make performing tasks more challenging, and layers of wet clothing can make you question career decisions.  The best option is to have the proper cold weather gear to keep you comfortable, which means planning.

Fortunately for me, I made this trip with two excellent team members; one a seasoned diver and experienced engineer with over 1,000 dive hours, and the other a young diver with solid safety training and good boating experience.  As a result, the trip was a success from both a business and personal perspective.

-Bryan Van Lenten