For Stanley Zabek, a San Diego native, life as a welder was beginning to lose its spark. After spending six years welding, Stan started looking for something more.
“I wanted to do something more exciting, more challenging, more dangerous, and with more travel,” he says.
So after hearing about commercial diving, Stan started exploring the possibilities.
“I went online, called schools, and did my research.” After determining that commercial diving was the future career he wanted, he landed on Divers Institute of Technology (DIT) as his school of choice to begin training.
“DIT seemed like the most reputable of all the other schools,” he explains.
Cruising with Subsea Global
After graduating, Stan got a job with Miami Diver, now called Subsea Global Solutions, and moved east. As a ship husbandry company, Subsea is often contracted out by other companies for ship repairs and underwater marine construction. So Stan did a lot of work on ships.
His jobs varied, but he recalls his favorite things about working with Subsea: traveling and underwater welding.
One of Subsea’s contracts was employing divers on cruise ships. Cruise ships require divers who can maintain and fix the ship while en route, so they often hire out divers who ride on the ship during the length of the cruise.
Stan had the privilege of riding at least 10 cruises as a diver. He got to see exotic places, enjoy delicious food, and relax on board the ship, all of this as a part of his job.
“We would board a cruise ship, then when we went to port, we would work,” he explains.
The cruise ship would stop at different locations along their route. While the passengers were on land exploring, Stan and his team would jump in the water to inspect, maintain, and repair the ship when necessary.
Stan recalls the reactions he received as they geared up to get in the water. “People thought something was wrong,” he says. “They always asked, ‘Oh my gosh, is everything ok!?’” And Stan and his team would always reassure them that what they were doing was routine work.
Despite the excitement and thrill of traveling, the work was stressful. Since the divers had to complete their jobs within the allotted port time, they were under pressure to work quickly.
“There’s always a time crunch when working on ships,” he says. “It was an experience.” And it certainly gave him the challenge and excitement he had been craving.
Underwater Welding: A Dream Come True
Another desire Stan had was to pursue underwater welding. An experience he also acquired working at Subsea.
“I got to play with a PVL torch.” Which he explains is basically an underwater torch.
For Stan, underwater welding was all about taking new risks and solving difficult problems. “I’m all about new challenges and trying new things. One of the challenges when underwater is avoiding hydrogen pockets,” he says. These pockets are dangerous, but not deadly.
“When you’re cutting into the ship, there’s no upper ventilation. The torch creates pockets of hydrogen gas. When those pockets ignite, there’s a big explosion. It’s as loud as a shotgun, and sends a big blast to your chest.”
Stan recalls this happening to him. “It’s a little bit scary.”
Plunging into Reality
While Stanley accomplished many of his dreams early on in his career, he was also hit with some surprises.
“I didn’t expect to work 18 hours shifts. I left work and had to be back two hours later.”
How did he do it?
“A lot of Red Bull.”
“After a while, you get used to working like an animal, sometimes 80-hour weeks.”
On top of the crazy schedule, the jobs weren’t always enjoyable.
“Some of the jobs were cleaning.” He describes the task of polishing ship propellers and hull cleaning. “We had to polish the propeller until it was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. If not, the ship doesn’t get as good of gas mileage.”
This hull cleaning process, he explains, was like riding a lawnmower. Divers use an automated tool to remove barnacles and growth from the hull. It was peaceful, he explains, “but for me, it was long and boring.”
A Job to Be Proud Of
Despite the grueling hours and often tedious work, Stan is very passionate and proud of his career.
“People respect you as a diver,” he explains. “It’s a very proud profession. It makes me proud of myself and it makes my family proud of me.”
There’s no going back for Stan. He quotes a fellow diver, “Once the sea has touched you, life on land will never be the same.”
Anchored to the Field: Following His Dreams Forward
Stan is currently working for Underwater Construction Corporation out of Michigan, continuing to do what he loves: working in the water.
His advice for new divers is nothing new.
“It’s something all supervisors say: work hard and keep your mouth shut. And ask questions when you don’t know.”
“When you’re new,” he explains, “there’s so much you don’t know. When you get on the job, that’s when you learn.”
With Stan’s experience, he has room to talk. His future is bright and full of possibilities, and he is ambitious for the next wave of adventure, whatever that might be.
Written by Beth Smith, staff writer at Water Welders
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