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Former Lobsterman Thrives With Own Biz, G & C Marine Services

Thu June 27, 2024 - Northeast Edition #14
CEG


(L-R) are Carl Roderick, sales representative of W.I. Clark; and Charlie Wetmore and Gary Wetmore, both of G & C Marine Services.
CEG photo
(L-R) are Carl Roderick, sales representative of W.I. Clark; and Charlie Wetmore and Gary Wetmore, both of G & C Marine Services.
(L-R) are Carl Roderick, sales representative of W.I. Clark; and Charlie Wetmore and Gary Wetmore, both of G & C Marine Services.   (CEG photo) G & C Marine sets a mooring anchor.   (W.I. Clark photo) A John Deere 245 excavator and attachment being used to place 10 by 10 wooden beams in place during the construction of a new sea wall in Norwalk, Conn.   (CEG photo) G & C Marine Services’ barge equipped with excavator and materials.   (CEG photo) The John Deere excavator drives the steel “H” piles with the assistance of a Hercules model SP50 side grip pile driver, one of two Hercules pile drivers owned by G & C Marine.   (W.I. Clark photo) All of the wood used on their projects is a very specific Brazilian hardwood.  According to Gary Wetmore, “We’ve been putting down docks for over twenty years and I have not once had to replace any of the wood we’ve used.”   (W.I. Clark photo) G & C Marine is working on the construction of a 37-ft.-long supported pier with a 35-ft.-long gangway that leads to an 8-ft. by 20-ft. floating dock.   (W.I. Clark photo)

G & C Marine Services Inc., a full-service marine construction company located in Norwalk, Conn., is run by company founder Gary Wetmore and his son, Charlie, who have been in the business for approximately 20 years.

In addition to the marine construction side of the business, which includes pile driving, masonry, maintenance and repair, dock building/carpentry and marine salvage, the company also owns a few small commercial fishing vessels targeting shellfish and local fish, such as black sea bass.

"Our marine service company has been very successful and that's quite fortunate for me because it supports my fishing habit," Gary said with a smile.

Years ago, Gary was a lobsterman, however as water temperatures increased, the lobster population migrated north, leaving Gary looking for alternatives to support himself. He took a job working for a marine contractor in the Norwalk area. When that contractor decided to retire, it left Gary with a great opportunity to purchase his barge and other implements of the trade and start G & C Marine Services.

Construction repair and maintenance of water structures is not the only type of work that G & C Marine Services is called upon to complete; it also is in the boat salvage business, essentially using its barge and excavator to retrieve boats that have sunk. When asked how often that type of work comes up, Gary said, "More often than you might think. We just got a call this morning. Apparently, someone forgot to put the plug back in their boat."

Roll With the Tides

Construction Equipment Guide (CEG) visited the Wetmores while they were working on two projects.

"In our business, having two or more projects simultaneously is critical to maintaining any level of efficiency," Gary said. "When we work on our projects, how many hours a day that we can commit to a project is dictated by the tides. In most cases we are working along the shoreline, and we can only access the project at high tide.

W.I. Clark photo

"The tide must be high enough for our barge to be able to access the area without any possibility of the barge touching or resting on the sea bottom," he added. "Barges and sea bottoms are very closely regulated. Tides change not only by the time of day, but also by location. The tide level at one project will vary from the tide level on a project just a couple of miles down the shoreline.

"A daylight high tide period is only going to last about four hours a day. So having multiple sites operating simultaneously is critical to making any amount of ideal use of our equipment and our employees. When the tide gets low enough to stop work on one project, we finish out the day by working on a second project."

Currently, G & C Marine Services is working on one project that is located adjacent to its business at 108 Water Street in Norwalk, Conn., and a second project that is located just down the shoreline.

The project on Water Street is replacing a seawall that totals approximately 340 ft. in length in 10-ft. sections and includes a travel lift basin for hauling boats in the 30-40-ft. range along with a forklift pad to support the hauling and loading of smaller vessels for the rack storage system. For this project, G & C Marine Services used a John Deere 245 50,000-lb. excavator that was recently purchased from W.I. Clark to drive 30-ft.-long piles into the seawall approximately 19 ft.

Between each pile is a wall of 10 by 10 wooden beams. A whaler beam is attached to the back of all of the "H" piles, which is tied back to 2-in. rods that are fastened to a dead-man (a concrete pad that runs a depth of 20 ft. from the shoreline). This section of seawall is roughly a $1 million project and will take the entire season to complete. The new wall will have a life expectancy of 50-plus years.

The John Deere excavator drives the steel "H" piles with the assistance of a Hercules model SP50 side grip pile driver, one of two Hercules pile drivers owned by G & C Marine. One is configured for driving steel and the other is configured for driving timber piles. For this particular project, it hasn't been necessary or practical to use the barge to position the John Deere 245 excavator to drive the piles. The pile driving has been easily accomplished with the excavator placed on the shoreline.

The Hercules HMC side grip pile driver is an excavator-mounted hydraulic attachment that speeds up the pile driving process. This attachment uses hydraulics to safely pick up, unload, place, drive and extract pilings. The unique design helps the operator overcome obstacles such as low overhead clearance and narrow passageways.

CEG photo

The second project being constructed just down the shoreline from the first project is the construction of a 37-ft.-long supported pier with a 35-ft.-long gangway that leads to an 8-ft. by 20-ft. floating dock. The total structure is approximately 90 ft. long.

This project requires the use of G & C Marine's barge, which has a Hitachi excavator that also was purchased from W.I. Clark, on board for the driving of the piles.

Gary Wetmore has spent his lifetime making his living from the sea, either harvesting from it or completing construction projects on it. When asked for his observation on how the ocean waters in the Norwalk area have changed over the course of his lifetime he responded, "The sea level has not changed at all in my lifetime, but two things have dramatically changed. The water temperature has increased just enough to change the fish and sea life that inhabit the area. As mentioned earlier, some species have traveled out of the area because the water is too warm. The primary example being the lobsters. However, other species have moved in. The black sea bass, which is a highly sought after seafood, used to only be harvestable in the mid-Atlantic coastal regions. Today, it is one of the species of fish that we have built our commercial fishery around.

"The other change is the severity and frequency of the storms that hit the area. Twenty years ago, a storm with enough impact to create shoreline flooding would have only occurred once or twice a year. Today, it is something that we deal with on nearly a monthly basis."

When asked about the safety challenges of marine construction, Gary said, "I don't believe our work is any more dangerous than other types of construction with the exception of marine contracting having the added risk of drowning."

Family Ties

The "C" in G & C Marine Services is Gary's son, Charlie. When talking about his son, Gary chuckled and said "It might be his business now. He pretty much runs everything. I think he might have fired me."

Besides managing the projects and working with the crew, one of Charlie's primary responsibilities is the operation of the excavators, both from the shore and aboard the barge.

When the company was founded, excavators were not a part of the picture. The company used a drop hammer with a fixed set of weights aboard the barge to drive the piles. Over the years, the drop hammers have been replaced with hydraulic excavators.

"The excavators were a big step forward for us compared to the old system," Charlie said. "The excavators take less room on the barge, they are more stable, they are faster and safer, thus lowering our insurance costs."

The company does keep a 75-ton telecrawler crane in its fleet for the occasional project that requires driving piles that are too long to be handled by the excavators but primarily uses it for the loading and unloading of the barges.

Brand, Dealer Loyalty

As the primary operator of the company's excavator fleet, Charlie has become quite attached to John Deere and W.I. Clark.

"Every experience that we've had with John Deere and W.I. Clark has been positive," he said. "Even some of our boats operate on John Deere engines and they have proven to be very reliable. We've never really had any complaints with the John Deere product and our dealer, W.I. Clark, has been a significant part of our satisfaction with John Deere excavators.

W.I. Clark photo

"Carl Roderick [W.I. Clark sales representative] has been essential in the sales process by putting deals together and matching our application needs with the right John Deere machine. He has taken a strong interest in our business and understands our needs. Our most recent purchase of the John Deere 245 is a great example. The 245 is a reduced tail swing machine and it fits perfectly into our needs on the barge. Because of the nature of the machine's design, it takes up less space and is much more stable. This design gives us more options as far as what we load on the barge and how we load it.

"The John Deere 245's hydraulic system has really been a big step forward for us. We run a pretty wide assortment of attachments depending on the project. Some of these attachments have different hydraulic flow specifications than others.

"John Deere's new hydraulic system and monitoring system have been a big plus for us. It used to be a major challenge to change the hydraulic flows for the use of one attachment versus another one with different specs. The time involved in making the change made it almost impractical to change attachments from one excavator to another. With John Deere's new in-cab hydraulic monitoring system I can change the direction of hydraulic flow and hydraulic pressures. The monitor allows us to set up specific flows and pressures for various attachments and identify those attachments by name in the monitor. In other words, if we have seven different attachments with seven different hydraulic specifications, they can be tagged and identified in the hydraulic monitor, and I can change flows to go from one attachment to another without ever getting out of the cab.

"The John Deere 245 also has three hydraulic pumps instead of two. It really makes a difference in the hydraulic flow and power, particularly when swinging the boom. The configuration of the John Deere 245 has an added bonus of adding four feet of boom height. It's not that the boom is actually any longer, but with a reduced tail swing machine the boom is mounted higher on the machine and lifts more vertically than comparable size machines versus raising at a 45-degree angle. The end result is a higher boom reach, which makes it much easier to drive our longer piles. These are the types of features that Carl Roderick has been an important part of identifying for us."

Another important part of G & C Marine Services' satisfaction with W.I. Clark is its product support.

"As an example, W.I. Clark gave us a product support specialist named Chuck Bakutis. Chuck is responsible for training us on how to operate the machine and answering any questions that we have about some of the special features. He has been here a couple of times to keep us up to speed, but he is also easily accessible by phone any time I need him. He was particularly helpful when we loaned out our mini-excavator and it ended up getting tipped over. He was critical in making sure the machine was quickly operational again."

For more information, visit www.wiclark.com and www.gandcmarineservices.com. CEG




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