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Welding shop builds specialized diving barge

By Fran Gonzalez | Sep 23, 2020
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Kyle Cox stands next to the 14- by 30-foot metal barge he is constructing for Calligan Dive Service Sept.16, at his shop in Searsmont.

Searsmont —

Kyle Cox, co-owner of Cox Machine, is building a “huge floating toolbox” at his shop on Route 3.

At 14 feet wide by 30 feet long, the metal seafaring vessel is larger than most of the jobs he typically works on, he said. It also happens to be larger than the garage doors at his shop. “We’ll have to take the building apart,” he said, to get the barge out.

“We’ve been dreaming of putting in bigger doors,” Cox said. Once the barge is complete, he plans to remove the old garage doors and widen the entrance so the barge can be taken out and new, larger doors installed.

Cox said he works on a lot of snowplows with “wings” or side extensions, which sometimes do not fit through the shop’s 12-foot-wide garage door, and this job “gives me an excuse to put in a bigger door.”

The barge was commissioned by Searsmont’s Richard Calligan of Calligan Dive Service on Muzzy Ridge Road, who will use the vessel for underwater welding and dive work.

Calligan told The Republican Journal Sept. 17 that the vessel’s name is Meara Ann and he plans to use her to service moorings, floats and ramps from Thomaston to Belfast.

The dive service offers everything from dam repair to underwater welding, including sluice gate replacement, underwater concrete repair and ship husbandry. Meara Ann will also be equipped with lift bags and hydraulic tools from underwater chainsaws and grinders to hammer drills.

With a complete commercial dive station, including live feed video and communication, and with a 9-ton crane paired with a 30,000-pound winch, the multi-faceted vessel will no doubt be in high demand.

“Cox Machine shop has done a great job,” Calligan said. “We have included them in past projects, such as Seabright Dam in Camden, St. George’s Lake dam, Stevens Pond dam and now Chase's Pond dam in York. We look forward to launching Meara Ann and look forward to future business with Cox Machine Shop.” 

The vessel is what Cox calls a basic “working man’s” barge, built with 24-gauge steel plate, and complete with a crane, a tapered nose, diving platform on the rear and a steering station booth on deck. The roughly 20,000-pound ship will be powered by two 300-horsepower outboard engines, he said, and the weight could change according to “what he (Calligan) puts in for tooling.”

Below deck, the ship has four individual compartments, each one with a manhole and a bilge pump, in case the metal were ever punctured by a rock, Cox said, explaining that only one compartment would fill up with water at a time. The barge will also have handrails all around.

“The project has morphed into this really nice utilitarian piece of equipment,” he said.

If the barge were commissioned with all the equipment it has on it now, Cox said, it could easily be worth $100,000 to $150,000, but since Calligan provided many of the pieces, “it is nowhere near that.” Cox said the basic barge is worth approximately $20,000.

Cox and Calligan both went to Belfast High School, though they were several years apart, and have worked together in the past, developing a good relationship.

“He’s got all kinds of work lined up for the barge,” which will probably not be ready to launch until next spring, Cox said. Over the winter, Calligan will “tinker away,” adding finishing touches.

Cox remembers starting the project in late spring and receiving 12,000 pounds of steel plates off a truck, and how quickly the stack disappeared.

“It’s been a matter of cutting the pieces and welding them together,” he said, describing the project as like opening a book: “You don’t see what’s involved until you get into it.”

While Cox has worked on a number of ships, even installing a pile driver on one vessel, this is his first time constructing a barge from scratch.

While working at Lyman Morse Boat Builders in Thomaston, Cox manufactured what he calls “boat jewelry,” such as hinges and latches. He also worked at Steel Pro in Rockland and began working for Cianbro after completing his welding education.

Cox first learned about welding at Waldo County Technical Center “over 20 years ago,” earning his American Welder Society structural welding certificate after his first year.

Currently he fabricates specialty pieces for mounting tool boxes on tractors or under trucks, or building joists for construction, or mounting light brackets for trucks. He also repairs snowplows, backhoes, dump trucks and bulldozers.

“You just never know what you’ll find at Cox Machine,” he said. “Could be a helicopter chassis or a piece of haying equipment.

“A lot of people struggle with how do I do it? That’s where we shine,” he said. “Whatever you can imagine, we can fabricate."

Kyle Cox of Searsmont, on a ladder beside the 30-foot barge he is building for Calligan Dive Service. (Courtesy of: Mickey Sirota)
The metal 30-foot barge fills one end of the workshop at Cox Machine Sept. 16. The ship was commissioned by Calligan Dive Service, which will use the vessel for underwater welding and dive work. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
A manhole cover on the deck of the 30-foot barge at Cox Machine Sept. 16. The metal barge is expected to be launched next spring, according to co-owner Kyle Cox. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
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