PUA LOKE — Timing is everything for Leila Kamakele, Margie Loo and Norma Imada.
“They time you for everything,” said Loo, one of three women on the county of Kaua‘i Department of Water tapping team. “From the time you get on the floor, the clock starts running. You prep tools, it’s timed. And if you run out of time before you tap water, it’s too bad.”
The three women and their coaches, Gloria Rafael, Peter Sapinosa and Stanley Sarmiento, leave Saturday for Atlanta, Ga., where they will be participating in the national tapping team competition at the American Water Works Association 2008 Annual Conference and Exhibition.
“Teams come from all over,” Rafael, a former cranker, said. “There are teams from Germany, Europe and the United States.”
Faith Shiramizu, the DOW’s community relations officer, said the national competition involves a team of three people tapping into a conduit and running a line to an outlet in the fastest amount of time.
“This is something the crews do out in the field,” Shiramizu said. “It’s a contest that mimics what pipefitters actually do when they tap into a water main to connect a copper service line that feeds into a house or business. The job, normally done underground, often takes several hours, but in competition, mere minutes.”
In the competition, each team taps into a pressurized cement-lined, 6-inch ductile iron main, connects two 6-foot pieces of copper pipe, one to the main and the other to a hose bib. The teams have two runs, with the best time being used with time added for penalties such as leaks and safety violations.
By turning the workday routine into competition, the crews improve on their efficiency. Beyond that, the three ladies, a chemist, senior engineering clerk and data entry person, get a chance to work with tools the field personnel work with.
Shiramizu said the team of Kamakele, Loo and Imada won the 2007 Hawai‘i water convention and qualified to advance to the national competition.
“You win in May, but don’t compete until the following year,” Shiramizu said. “Unfortunately, Kaua‘i did not make the qualification for the national competition coming up in 2009, so the only way Kaua‘i can return is for this team to win at the nationals this year. That gives them an automatic berth.”
The Kaua‘i women’s team, adorned in Ka wai wahine T-shirts, will be joined by a men’s team from the Big Island representing the state.
She said there will be at least 10 women’s teams and more than 20 men’s teams at the national competition.
Shiramizu said they couldn’t get a men’s team together for this year’s convention, but did manage to pull a women’s team together in collaboration with Aqua Engineers.
Sarmiento, using a stop watch to clock the women, said a team needs to clock 2:30 just to qualify.
This year’s Kaua‘i team of women finished out of the running at 2:14, a faster time that the qualifying 2:20 which advanced the team in 2007.
In the team, Kamakele, a chemist from Aqua Engineers, is labeled the cranker — the muscle that winds the manual drilling rig into the cast iron conduit which was specially-built for practice by Sarmiento.
Loo, a senior engineering clerk with the DOW, is the feeder, maintaining the yoke on the conduit while keeping an eye on the progress of the drilling.
Rafael is not allowed to touch any of the equipment or parts, her role is to watch over the entire operation and communicate with the team members on their timing. Rafael has been with the Department for 18 years and is the Supervising Meter Reader and was on the original Kaua‘i Women’s Pipe Tapping Team along with Imada.
As the duo work together, Imada, a data entry clerk, is the flarer who prepares the copper tubing for attaching to the conduit.
Beads of perspiration melded with the spray of water that gushed from the conduit as Kamakele’s bit broke through the pipe.
Replacing the bit with a valve, Kamakele completed the tap and moved to help Imada finalize the connections to the spigot.
Huffing from the chore of cranking through the cast iron pipe, Kamakele waited with a pair of pipe wrenches as Rafael asked, “Are you OK?”
The connections done, water gushed from the spigot to signal the end of the task.
“You gotta wait a while to see if there’re leaks,” Rafael said. “You get penalized for leaks and other things like dropping the drill. You’re supposed to lay it down, gently.”
With three more days before the team hits the airport, Tuesday afternoon was its final practice at the DOW baseyard in Pua Loke.
“We’ve run out of copper,” Sarmiento said, noting that the girls’ weakest area was the final connection. “But at $800 a roll, it’s expensive, and we’ve already gone through the pipes several times. They’ve already been stretched out.”
Sarmiento feels the women have a good chance, although the two runs at practice came in slightly slower than their state run.
“One thing for sure, they don’t have anything to worry about if anything happens to their jobs,” Rafael said. “They’re in the office and sit at computers, but this gives them a chance to work with tools people in the field use.”
The team competes on Monday and will return next Thursday.
“We’ll have fun trying,” Loo said.