the sun dawns faintly the next morning. The Coast Guard sends a lieutenant to the Makushin Bay to find out what happened and assess the state of the team. On the surface, Trepte and Bergman seem fine. Trepte has already moved into Johnson's bunk — "he won't be needin' it," Trepte says. But a numbness seems to have gripped Habib. Maybe he should send his team home before any more lives are lost.
Maybe it’s time to abandon the Cougar Ace.
The lieutenant listens as Habib recounts the facts leading up to the accident: Johnson was standing on the high-side winch. Somehow he slipped and hadn't been clipped in to a rope. When Habib starts to talk about trying to save his teammate, about staring into his blank eyes, he feels a swelling in his throat. He can sense tears coming. Johnson was one of Habib's guys and was among the nation's best naval architects. Habib looks away.

What he sees isn't comforting. The Cougar Ace looms over the Makushin Bay like a rogue wave on pause. It can't be ignored — it's now 140 miles from shore, and the weather is expected to deteriorate. Winds of 26 miles per hour are expected by the next sunrise, and the weather service predicts 16-foot waves within a few days. The team has to get back on board and connect a towline to the Cougar Ace, or it will either sink or be driven ashore. The Coast Guard, the area fishermen, the ship owners, Mazda — everyone is depending on them, but they're battered, undermanned, and flying blind without Johnson. Habib makes a decision: He'll stay. But to see this job through, he needs more help. He makes a call to headquarters in Florida.

A Coast Guard ship takes Johnson's body back to Adak, a rugged Aleutian island with an airstrip. Soon, a twin-propeller plane floats down out of the sky and stops at the end of the runway. The plane's ramp flips open, and guys lugging cold-weather gear hustle down to the tarmac. They glance at the body bag and keep moving. The reinforcements have arrived.

Phil Reed — Titan's chief naval architect — got the go-ahead from his wife and leads the men. In the early '90s, Reed was one of the first to repurpose naval-architecture software for use on salvage jobs. Now 48, he's Titan's most senior 3-D modeler — a sort of geek in residence. But Reed is not a typical nerd. Sure, on almost every job he's the only guy scampering across the decks with a laptop, and he absentmindedly taps the tip of his fluorescent highlighter on his head, leaving yellow streaks across his Titan baseball cap. But he's also the guy who went into Banda Aceh after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and persuaded the Indonesian military to protect the Titan team while it hauled away an upside-down 684-foot cement ship. He can take the heat as well as any guy on the team.
Two deep-sea divers — Yuri Mayani and Billy Stender — follow Reed. They look like a rough-and-tumble version of Laurel and Hardy. Mayani is a foulmouthed, hot-tempered 5'2" Panamanian with rippling muscles. Stender is a laconic 6'2" Michigan native who spends as much time as he can living in a trailer in the woods near the Canadian border. Somehow, these two have become good friends. If they're not on a job, Mayani hangs out in Michigan, cursing wildly about the cold until Stender gets enough Pabst Blue Ribbon in him. With Mayani around, Stender can sink into his natural state of bemused reticence. Anything he's thinking — whether it's about lining up the next drink or the knockers on that blonde at the end of the bar — Mayani tends to say first and five times louder. "We understand each others" is how Mayani puts it. Stender refers to his friend as "the Panamaniac."
The Sycamore, the Coast Guard ship that brought Johnson's body ashore, takes the new guys on board, and they push off for a rendezvous with the Cougar Ace. Someone from Titan headquarters in Florida calls Habib to say that Mayani, Stender, and Reed are under way. Habib hopes they'll arrive before the weather hits. The seas are already getting rougher, and that can only mean more trouble.

At 12:45 am, a fierce rain and heavy rolling ocean wakes Habib aboard the Makushin Bay. He asks the captain of the Emma Foss to use its searchlight to survey the Cougar Ace's low port-side cargo vents. Normally, these vents release car exhaust from the deep holds as vehicles are driven on and off the vessel. When the ship is upright, the vents sit about 70 feet above water and have flaps to prevent rain from entering. They were never meant to be submerged, but now the Emma Foss radios back that the high seas are churning to within 3 feet of the vents. If they go under, seawater will likely push open the flaps and surge into the ship's holds, sinking the Cougar Ace.

By noon, Habib fears he's about to lose the ship. The rapidly building swell is breaking on the port side, driving waves up to the vents. At the same time, the swell has increased the ship's roll, dipping the vents toward the waves. Habib's only hope is to tow the ship into the Bering Sea on the lee side of the Aleutians — something the Coast Guard wants him to avoid because of the potential risk to the environment. The Sea Victory — a 150-foot tug — has arrived and managed to lasso a cleat on the back of the Cougar Ace. The tug's 7,200-horsepower engine has the strength to pull the ship through the fast currents of the Samalga Pass and get to the lee side of the islands. If Habib can do that, the land will act as a shield against the wind and waves. He's got no choice. It's time to run the gauntlet.

"Trick-Fuck," Mayani spits. He has a lot of respect for Habib but refers to him as "Trick-Fuck" because Habib is always tricking him into doing crazy things. And, from where Mayani is standing, this is going to be the biggest trick-fuck yet.

It's certainly one of the craziest things Reed has ever seen on the sea. He boards the Makushin Bay, and Habib grimly hands him Johnson's computer. Reed agrees with Johnson's assessment — the ship could easily flop. To decrease that risk, the team needs to make sure that the largest low-side ballast tank is filled, so it counterbalances any rapid roll. The crew had reported that they left it half full. This will be the team's first important task: a journey to the deepest part of the ship to drill a hole in the tank and fill it all the way.

To get there, they will have to descend like spelunkers. So Habib orders his men onto the Redeemer, a 132-foot tug that has joined the operation. He greets them gruffly and takes hold of a rope hanging from a railing on the Redeemer's upper deck and begins to climb using a device called an ascender. They're at the mouth of the Samalga Pass — there's no time for small talk.

Mayani looks at Stender out of the corner of his eye and asks him what's wrong with Habib: "He a fucking monkey now?"

"Shut up!" Habib shouts. He explains that the Cougar Ace has become a labyrinth. Since it's heeled onto one side, they'll have to learn how to walk on walls and scale the sloping, perilous decks. Unfortunately, they'll have to learn to do it in the middle of the ocean. This will be their only chance to practice before they board the ship. Hopefully, no one else will die.

While the team trains on the ropes, the tugs haul the Cougar Ace safely through the pass and into the calm waters of the Bering Sea. The vents ride higher above the surface — that's one less danger, for the time being. Now they need to get back aboard. The Emma Foss deposits the newly expanded team on the low side of the Cougar Ace's back deck, just a few feet from where Johnson died.

Reed serves as the navigator through the intricacies of the vessel's holds — he has spent the past 24 hours memorizing the Cougar Ace's complex design. But it's one thing to picture the orderly lines of a blueprint, quite another to traverse the dark confines of a capsized ship. As a result, Reed is not always sure where they are, and the darkness fills with a steady stream of Mayani's elaborate Spanish curses. Nobody wants to get lost inside this thing.

It takes them almost three hours of rappelling and climbing to descend to the 13th deck, and when they get there, no one is that excited to have arrived. This far down, they are well below the waterline. The Bering Sea presses in on the steel hull. They feel like they're inside an abandoned submarine.

Reed and Habib crawl along the tilted deck, periodically consulting a drawing of the ship's internal compartments. They rap their knuckles on a piece of steel — this is the top of the low-side ballast tank. Trepte pulls out a drill and bores down. Suddenly, water erupts. The tank is already full and pressurized — water must be flowing in through a broken vent on the underwater side of the ship. It sprays furiously. They have unwittingly caused the worst thing possible: The deepest cargo hold is flooding.

In an instant, Trepte covers the hole with the tip of a finger and presses hard. The sound of gushing water abruptly stops, and the shouts and curses of the moment before echo through the hold. Salt water drips off Mazdas, and the panic the men all felt transforms into a contagious laugh.

Trepte is keeping the ship afloat with one finger.

"Well, I guess the tank is already full," Reed chuckles.

"Very funny," Trepte says. "Now whyn't some of you smart chaps go figure out how to fix this bloody mess."

While Habib races to the Makushin Bay to find a solution, Mayani plugs the hole with his finger to give Trepte a break. They go back and forth for an hour and a half before Habib returns with a tapered metal bolt to jam into the hole. Their fingers took a beating, but now they know that the tank is full. Reed enters the data into his computer model, runs the numbers, and tells Habib how much water he needs to pump into the high-side tanks. It's time to roll the ship.

The plan is to position large pumps throughout the ship and begin moving liquid in a sort of orchestrated water ballet. Reed has already choreographed the dance in his GHS model but still hasn't been able to find a solution that guarantees the ship won't flip. When he runs the simulation, GHS sometimes shows the ship righting itself, but sometimes it just keeps rolling until it's belly-up. Then it sinks.
The Titan crew built a digital model of the Cougar Ace so they could develop the following plan for shifting water between ballast tanks (teal) before attempting to right the ship.
1. Position self-contained, diesel-powered pumps on flooded ninth deck. Suction dry, dumping water overboard. 
2. Check water level in fifth port ballast tank (red) to ensure adequate counterbalance. Begin filling starboard ballast tank (yellow). 
3. Fill the fifth starboard tank with 160.9 tons of seawater to bring the ship fully upright.
Habib decides not to worry about that right now and tells Mayani and Stender to position pumps near the water that has flooded into deck nine. Though they are both highly trained deep-sea divers, they play many roles on a salvage job. They can operate cranes, drive bulldozers, and slice through metal with plasma torches; Stender can even fly a helicopter. Right now, their role is to lug the 100-pound pumps into place. Since there are no functioning winches on board, the two men haul the pumps by hand, using, as Mayani likes to say, a combination of "man-draulics and the man-crane."

Mayani is assigned to play pump monkey. Stender ties one rope around his buddy, a second rope around a pump, and then, using a rock-climbing belay device, lowers both down the face of deck nine. Mayani hugs the pump so that it doesn't get banged up on the way down. What happens to Mayani is another matter.

"I'm no fucking pinball, motherfucker!" Mayani shouts as he slams against walls and cars. Stender likes the pinball reference and starts calling himself the pinball wizard.

The shouting brings Habib rappelling down. He shines his headlamp on Mayani, who — still hugging the pump — is swinging back and forth in an attempt to build up enough momentum to hop over a column of cars.

"What are you two doing?" he asks.

"What the fuck it look like we're doing?" Mayani shouts. "Stealing cars?"

"Listen, I don't want any damage," Habib says. "Not even a fingerprint."

Mayani swings away from the cars with the pump and then back, picking up more speed than he expected. He smashes into the windshield of a CX-7 and clobbers the sideview mirror of another.

"You're coming with me, bitch!" Mayani screams at the mirror and rips it clean off.

Habib shakes his head.

"Sorry!" Mayani shouts. "It was either me or the fucking mirror."

Once the pumps are set up, Stender and Mayani explore the ship. Mayani is on the hunt for some binoculars — he likes to collect mementos from jobs. He took a bright-yellow plastic radio beacon from the last ship he helped save and displays it proudly next to the flat-screen TV in his Florida condo. Sometimes the ship's crew objects, calling the guys pirates.

"What the fuck you think we are?" Mayani likes to say. "We look like yuppies?"
Billy Stender 
& Yuri Mayani in Alaska

Luckily, the Cougar Ace is a ghost ship — there's no one to get in their way. Stender and Mayani make their way to the bridge. There are no ropes up here, so they're not clipped in to anything. They find a door on the high side of the bridge, but when Mayani jostles it, it flies open, throwing him off balance. Stender lunges for him, but Mayani falls inside and slides down the steeply inclined bridge. As he accelerates, he grasps for anything and manages to wrap an arm around the captain's chair 40 feet down, arresting his fall. Amazingly, he sees a pair of binoculars dangling from the chair.

"Are you OK?" Stender shouts, on the verge of panic.

"I found the motherfucking binoculars," Mayani responds, momentarily forgetting that he's hanging off the chair as though it were a tree sprouting off a cliff.

"Good job," Stender shouts back. "You did that real nice. Now how the hell you plan to get out of there?"

Mayani doesn't have a good answer. Stender looks around and sees a fire hose. He grabs the nozzle, lowers it down, and Mayani climbs up the hose. He took the type of fall that killed Johnson, but Mayani doesn't seem too bothered. Instead, he scrutinizes the binocs. One of the lenses is cracked.

"Shit," he says and throws them back down into the bridge.

"OK everyone," Habib says into his mic. Radios crackle across the Cougar Ace. Bergman, Trepte, Mayani, and Stender are ready to drop down into the holds and fire up the pumps. An additional four Titan guys have arrived to assist. "Let's get this ship straightened up," Habib says.

The pumps roar to life. Reed's model doesn't indicate how fast the ship will roll upright. If it's anything like the time the ship first rolled, it will be fast. It could be a dangerous roller-coaster ride.

Since the radios aren't powerful enough to reach the lower holds, Habib acts as both salvage master and radio relay, climbing halfway down into the ship so that his radio is close enough to pick up the signal of the guys up top and lower down. He follows Reed's plan and shouts orders: "Pump the wedge of water on deck nine overboard. Begin filling the fifth starboard ballast tank now." He's like the conductor of an unusual, waterlogged symphony.

Reed's calculations show that the fifth starboard ballast tank has to be about 20 percent full to bring the Cougar Ace all the way up, and as water begins to pour into the tank the ship starts to come off its 60-degree list.

"We're rolling her," Habib radios calmly.

Everyone aboard waits anxiously for the ship to flip in an instant, but the vessel rises slowly, like a stunned boxer after a heavy blow. Water cascades down its sides. It makes no sudden movements — it's as if the ship itself has been trying to figure out whether it can do this, whether it can really return to the land of the living.

As the Titan team coaxes the Cougar Ace upright, Habib ties a water bottle to one end of a rope and affixes the other end to a pipe, forming an improvised plumb line. Using some basic trig, he calculates their progress: 56.5 degrees ... 51 degrees ... 40 degrees. The Cougar Ace is coming up. Every hour it looks more and more like a normal ship.
Stender and Mayani stay on board, sleeping on cars, smoking cigarettes, and tending the pumps. For lunch, they toss one end of a line out a door that's halfway down the starboard hull. It reaches theMakushin Bay 50 feet below, and the boat's crew ties some food on the line. But when Stender and Mayani haul it up to discover a meal of boiled cabbage and popcorn, they snap. "We don't eat cabbage, you fucking fucks!" Mayani screams, hurling the cabbage at the crew. The crew dodges the fusillade of wet, steaming cabbage, and it splatters onto the decks and wheelhouse of the Makushin Bay.

As cabbage explodes out of the Cougar Ace, Habib checks his pendulum again and sees that it's still moving: 34 degrees, then 28 degrees and counting.

By the end of the second day of pumping, the Cougar Aceis upright. A few days later, the owners come aboard to reclaim the ship. What initially seemed like a lost cause is now floating freely. It did not sink. Ninety-nine percent of its cargo is intact. There was no environmental disaster.

Soon, a payment of more than $10 million is wired to Titan's account.

For more than a year, the 4,703 Cougar Ace Mazdas sit in a huge parking lot in Portland, Oregon. Then, in February 2008, the cars are loaded one by one onto an 8-foot-wide conveyor belt. It lifts them 40 feet and drops them inside a Texas Shredder, a 50-foot-tall, hulking blue-and-yellow machine that sits on a 2.5-acre concrete pad. Inside the machine, 26 hammers — weighing 1,000 pounds each — smash each car into fist-sized pieces in two seconds. The chunks are then spit out the back side. Though most of the cars appeared to be unharmed, they had spent two weeks at a 60-degree angle. Mazda can't be sure that something isn't wrong with them. Will the air bags function properly? Will the engines work flawlessly throughout the warranty period? Rather than risk lawsuits down the line, Mazda has decided to scrap the entire shipment.

Habib and the guys don't really give a damn. In the 16 months since they saved the Cougar Ace, the team has done laps around the globe. They pulled a stranded oil derrick off the world's most remote island, 1,700 miles west of South Africa. Then they wrangled a 1,000-foot container ship off a sandbar in Mexico and rescued a loaded propane tanker in the middle of a Caribbean storm.

But none of the men will forget the Cougar Ace. When Mayani does shots of Bacardi at clubs in Miami Beach, he sometimes thinks back to the first time he saw the car carrier floating sideways on the sea. It gives him a chill until the rum takes hold. For Stender, it's the same. Trepte is the only one who doesn't seem affected.

"Listen, mate, all I do is crazy shit," he says, on a cell phone from his bungalow on Trinidad. "You get used to it."

But Habib doesn't get used to it — Johnson's death still weighs on him. When Titan asks him to attend a CPR refresher course, he arrives solemnly in the hotel conference room near the Fort Lauderdale airport. The instructor lays out a few plastic dolls on the carpeted floor and asks Habib to demonstrate his technique. A couple of other Titan employees in attendance joke that the emaciated mannequins resemble some prostitutes they met on a recent job in Russia. Habib doesn't smile. He doesn't join their laughter. He kneels down beside one of the pale forms, breathes into its mouth, and tries to bring it back to life.

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