It is not an understatement to say that most drillers do not fancy drilling over water. After all, drilling on dry ground rarely throws the curves that must be dealt with when drilling over water. Save for an occasional earthquake or boring on the side of a shifting mountain slope, the ground generally remains stable. But setting up a drill over water will often involve dealing with conditions such as wave action, river currents, extreme tidal changes, soft soupy water bottoms and, yes, the occasional weather patterns that can really upset the apple cart.

In mid-2016, Madrid Engineering Group in Florida was tasked with the geotechnical acquisition needed for the replacement of an outdated bridge over Pensacola Bay. Well experienced in over-the-water geotechnical projects, Madrid realized that the intense tidal action and significant water depths of Pensacola Bay presented far too many challenges to attempt the project with traditional barges. These challenges were coupled with a strict deadline. Madrid Engineering knew in order to be successful, they had to get it right on the first attempt.

The company called on Shallow Draft Elevating Boats Inc., known for their expertise and success in providing over-the-water drilling platforms. They explained the project and logistics, and asked one key question: Are you sure your vessels will provide the needed stable and safe platforms to carry the drilling rigs and meet the deadlines? Shallow Draft’s answer was without hesitation. “Absolutely,” said President Ernie Geraci, “and I will guarantee your elevation to remain steady 24/7.” Based on Shallow Draft’s record of success on geotechnical jobs since 1997, Geraci added, “Our record of 100-percent success rates speaks for itself.” With that, Madrid Engineering hired Shallow Draft for the project.

Working closely with the Madrid Engineering team, Shallow Draft selected four elevating boats from its fleet and dispatched them to Pensacola Bay. Madrid then set up four drilling rigs and crews, and worked nonstop seven days a week and, for a certain period, even brought in additional crews to work around the clock 24 hours a day. Madrid Engineering met the seemingly impossible critical deadlines and was praised for pulling off one of the most challenging geotechnical projects in record time. As for Shallow Draft, this was just a typical and routine charter where, once again, its fleet of elevating boats proved to be the most reliable method for challenging over-the-water geotechnical investigations.

On to Tampa Bay

News of that success circulated and, shortly thereafter, Shallow Draft was once again called on to supply over-the-water drilling platforms for the geotechnical acquisitions needed on the Howard Franklin Bridge replacement project in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Terracon Consulting Engineers tried their best to avoid scheduling this geotechnical project during hurricane season, knowing full well that a demobilization could jeopardize the budget and the entire project schedule. However, like many projects, permitting became a predominant factor and it ended up falling right into the height of the hurricane season. Terracon, bound to a critical schedule, carefully dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s, and asked Shallow Draft if a hurricane were to strike at ground zero in Tampa Bay, would the elevating boats have to be demobilized? Geraci, again without hesitation, said, “No, just moved to a safe location.” This was not guess work, given the frequency of hurricanes hitting southeast Louisiana and Shallow Draft’s record of keeping its entire fleet intact. Geraci prides himself on the design of these stable work platforms and their ability to easily withstand the fury of hurricanes — as proven time and time again using Shallow Draft’s hurricane safety plan.

Shallow Draft took on the daunting task and mobilized its lift boats from its home base in Braithwaite, La., to Tampa Bay on July 18, 2017. The geotechnical project started on schedule. Tampa Bay had dodged the direct strike of a major hurricane for more than 92 years but, as luck would have it, Hurricane Irma — one of the most powerful hurricanes to strike the U.S. in years — decided to pay Tampa Bay an unwelcomed visit. Shallow Draft boat captains piloted the vessels just a couple of miles away into a cove as Irma passed through. Although a small surge of water entered the bay, the big story was how the water was sucked out of it, losing 10-15 feet of water. This would normally wreak havoc on traditional tug boats and barges, potentially causing damage — however, the elevating boats stood with no change and the crew and vessels were safe and sound as Geraci had confidently predicted. Shortly after Irma passed, Terracon and Shallow Draft resumed geotechnical sampling and finished yet another seemingly challenging project with complete success and minimal downtime.

Closer to Home

In early 2018, Shallow Draft was the trusted source for providing the over-the-water drilling platform in Lake Pontchartrain, just north of New Orleans. Eustis Engineering LLC, a well-known and longtime player in major over-the-water geotechnical projects along the Gulf Coast, provided the geotechnical data acquisition along the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge — a stretch of more than 24 miles. Sampling along both sides of the bridge (spanning nearly 50 miles) on an extremely time-sensitive project, their crews worked double shifts 24/7 and completed the project on time and on budget, despite whipped-up sea conditions brought by several brutal cold fronts.

Post Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) erected its all-time largest construction project. It is referred to and known locally as “The Great Wall,” and it protects New Orleans from hurricane storm surges. Shallow Draft was called on to provide over-the-water geotechnical drilling platforms for that project by Eustis Engineering LLC. Later, the USACE project — slated as the largest pumping station in the U.S. and located on the Intracoastal Waterway near New Orleans — was designed and, again, Shallow Draft provided the geotechnical stable drilling platform. Success on these major projects brought even more business to Shallow Draft. Their geotechnical drilling platforms were brought in for all of the flood-protection storm sector gates along south Louisiana’s levee protection system.

“Tug and barge and sectional barge systems seem convenient, but they are slow, costly and, depending on approaching weather, must be demobilized,” Geraci says. “When that happens, budgets and deadlines become busted and, many times, that is when clients have called us.”

From the Salton Sea in California to New York Harbor, from Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico, and waters of every kind in between, clients who have reached the end of the road have let Shallow Draft become their highway above the water in 27 states in the Continental U.S. and counting.