Shipwreck Men: An Insider's Take on Salvaging
Tune in on Mondays at 9/8c as four of south Florida’s fiercest salvage companies go head-to-head saving sinking ships, rescuing boats caught in deadly hurricanes and raising boats from the ocean floor.
The competition is fierce and failure is not an option. The first crew to arrive on the scene is the one that gets the job – and makes a profit – while the other crews get nothing.
We sat down with Chris Hartmanis, Captain of Fast Response, to get the inside scoop on life as a salvager. Here’s what Chris had to say:
What’s life like working for Fast Response, the underdog salvage company on Shipwreck Men?
It’s really really tough running a 24/7 business with just two people. Especially against our bigger competitors. For example, this past week they had two of their captains following me around trying to starve us out. It’s tough, but anything worth having, you’ve gotta fight for.
If I were to have stayed with the company I was with, which is much bigger and more stable, I wouldn’t have been happy. Life is about risk. I’m just trying to give it 110% and do whatever I can. But it is really tough being the little guy, going up against our larger competitors.
You know, the economy is still horrible, especially the gas prices, which takes such a toll on us, but I believe Chuck and I, we can do it – we can really make something out of this company.
What does it take to make it in the business?
What it takes to make it in this business, especially in our position, is to give it all you have. Work really hard. Also, we have to outsmart our competitors. Chuck and I are both really good at thinking outside the box.
Our bread and butters are tows and maydays of opportunity. Our name is Fast Response and it is absolutely essential that we are the fastest on the water – which we are.
Is there ever a typical day out on the water?
You never know what’s going to happen out there. When I’m driving to work I always have a little bit of anxiety because it could be a really slow day, or a yacht could wind up sinking, or someone could get chopped up by a prop, or maybe one of our boats will take a crap and we’ll have to spend the whole day at our warehouse working on the boat until five o’clock in the morning, pulling a 22 hour day.
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What’s one of the most intense experiences you’ve ever had while on the job?
There was a water airplane that used to leave from Miami and go to the Bahamas and back. Because of improper maintenance, the port engine went out and the plane wound up crashing into the jetties – into the rocks. I believe there were twelve people on there. The divers were pulling out arms and legs and all types of body parts.
That was the first time I ever responded to a mayday call and my first time ever seeing something like that. That’s still probably the craziest mayday call I’ve ever been on.
Did the intensity of your first mayday call have any effect on your decision to persevere as a salvager?
You know, this line of work is really tough, but there’s something about the excitement. You never know what’s going to happen out there. I see a lot of really crazy scenes, a lot of crazy hours, and it is really really tough being the little guy, but I absolutely love it. I don’t see myself doing anything else.
Does anything scare you when you’re out patrolling the waters?
I can deal with waves. If my boat sinks, it sinks. That’s not really what scares me.
My biggest fear on the water is lightning. You could be towing a boat or in the water doing diving operations. There’s no warning with lightning.
They say your chances of getting struck by lightning are something like one in a couple million. Well, I already know three people that I’ve worked with get struck. I consider myself a tough guy, but when I get caught in a crazy lightning storm – which South Florida is the lightening capital of the world – I turn into a little pansy and start saying prayers. That is my biggest fear.
As far as in the water – a lot of places we have to raise sunken boats get very very murky, and there are sharks everywhere. That’s another thing where you don’t have a heads up if it’s going to happen or not because it’s so murky. All of a sudden you could have an eight foot bull shark gnawing on your leg.
What’s Miami like, from your point of view as a salvager?
Miami is the freakin’ wild west on the water. Especially during the summertime, it kind of resembles an aquatic jail ride. It’s just pure madness.
Even on the boat ramps where people launch, people run into each other. You see all this madness and people running into each others’ boats and the docks and everything. Then some guy looking at all these crazy situations might decide to jump into the water in the middle of it.
If you come to the waters of Miami, especially during the summer, it’s a beautiful place, but you need to respect that it is extremely dangerous out here.
If you’re ready to head to the waters of south Florida and get a new perspective on the cutthroat world of marine salvage, be sure to tune in to Shipwreck Men on Mondays at 9/8c, beginning Monday, January 14th!