Taking a dive
Miroslaw Gucfa is a welder. But not in a factory.
Miroslaw Gucfa never sees the iridescent turquoise underwater world, full of colorful fish. As a matter of fact, the visibility at his frequently changing place of work is often no more than 20 centimeters. On the other hand, almost daily he sees something that amateur divers probably never catch sight of: pearls of sparkling light that flash for only fractions of a second in an environment where they do not actually belong — under water. Miroslaw Gucfa, 49 years old and of Polish origin, is an underwater welder.
This is a tough job requiring perfect mastery of two skills at the same time. He is an experienced machinist and completed his training as a professional diver in the Polish military. Although he has been diving ever since 1979, he had to undergo an additional two-year training period involving 200 hours of diving. “You can’t just jump in the water without being aware of the consequences. You always have to know what you’re doing,” explains Gucfa. Thus, the focus of his training was on special submarine welding techniques, working procedures and equipment, as well as the medical aspects of diving.
Safety is of the essence
Only a few specially certified enterprises offer training as an underwater welder — and it demands a lot from the prospective specialists. Mental resilience, great stress resistance and a hardy physique are prerequisites for the job. “The helmet alone weighs 12 kilograms. And freedom of movement is severely restricted in the special diving suit,” says Miroslaw Gucfa.
His skills are needed for repair work on quay facilities, locks, bridges and sheet piling. “The process we use is wet welding, which is similar to arc welding,” he says. “The power is switched on and then I apply a rod electrode specially designed for this purpose. At temperatures of from 3,000 to 4,000 degrees Celsius in the arc, the material and the electrode melt to form a weld.”
Electricity under water? “The work is not without its risks,” concedes the diver. That is why safety is of the essence. Every operation is carried out in a team. It includes the mission chief, one reserve diver and a lineman who secures the diver with a rope. A diving telephone is used for communication. Gucfa can work three to four hours at a depth of eight meters. And he can do that daily and for several weeks running, if need be.
Wet welding under water is done purely by hand and the demands in regard to weld quality are very high. “While I was welding a cracked sheet piling a specially trained inspector was present on site to film the entire process as part of ‘in-depth’ quality control,” recounts Miroslaw Gucfa. Asked whether he enjoys diving in his spare time, he says with a laugh: “Well, colorful fish would be great, but I’ve never traveled far enough to be able to see any.”
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This article was first published in autumn 2010.