Ever see plasma cut through steel? It’s pretty sweet.
“It’s kind of like magic when it works,” said Kevin Marchetti, as he fired up the machine.
In a spray of blinding sparks, the work begins. Within a few minutes, a stainless steel flounder is born in Renaissance Man’s Pace Boulevard workshop.
“The teeth kind of make it, huh?” Marchetti admired the fish. “It is kind of funny to think I’m building all this stuff to be sunk.”
In a nearby pile of scrap steel, other shapes emerge. Cutouts left in the wake of sea turtles and fish. Those are already over at Frank Patti’s boat yard.
“I betcha somebody’s gonna gig that thing,” Patti laughed about the realistic quality of Marchetti’s work, as he talked about his big plans. “I’m gonna have these things colored-out. When you go down there, it’s gonna pop!”
Other stainless steel replications reside on the far end of Patti’s boat yard. There’s the Pensacola Beach beach-ball water tower, and the Joe-Patti fish and shrimp that famously swim above Main Street downtown.
“The Blue Angles are still in formation,” Patti said, pointing to a squadron of stainless steel F/A-18s.
All of these works of industrial art will soon be mounted onto an old barge and sunk four and a half miles out in the Gulf of Mexico as part of Escambia County’s artificial reef program. They will rest in 60 feet of water, attracting fish, fishermen and scuba divers.
“There’ll be there for hundreds of years,” Patti ventured.
This aquatic-museum concept began as a tribute to Patti’s family, a local seafood institution. When he started talking to his friend Sava Varazo, who serves as the Emerald Coastkeeper, the plan began to take shape.
“I said, ‘what if we opened it up?’” Varazo recalled.
The Patti-family tribute quickly evolved into a community-inspired underwater gallery. In addition to the pieces Patti has commissioned from Renaissance Man, individuals and businesses are being given the opportunity to have their stainless-steel art pieces placed on the barge-reef.
Initially, standard plaques are being offered for $600, with more custom jobs available for $1,000; works commissioned after the sinking will be affixed periodically thereafter by divers. Proceeds will go to benefit Emerald Coastkeepers and be used for environmental education and restoration.
“How many plates can you put on a barge? A lot,” Varazo said. “You can keep this thing going forever and ever until the barge is full.”
In addition to netting funds for the non-profit environmental organization, Patti and Varazo are hoping the new reef becomes a destination for divers. They envision it as an underwater tribute to Pensacola—right down to the barge, which was used during repairs to the Pensacola Bay Bridge after another barge struck the span in 1989.
“So, this thing is like an ongoing memorial,” Varazo said.
The thought of his work being appreciated at depth makes Marchetti smile. He’s envisioning the project as an “underwater sculpture garden.”
“I can’t wait to dive it,” the metal worker said. “To see a fish going in between that shrimp—that’ll be pretty neat.”
Marchetti may not have to wait too long to enjoy his handiwork on the gulf floor. While a scuttle date has yet to be set, Varazo and Patti are aiming to send the barge to the bottom in time for the summer season.
“In a month or so, conceivably, people could be out there fishing and diving on it,” Varazo said.
Anyone interested in participating in the barge-reef project should direct inquiries to the Emerald Coastkeepers at 712-9566.