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Robert Barley, a supervisor for Advanced Coating & Caulking, rappelled off the building at 107 E. Bay St. to repair the seals on the windows. The company re-caulks windows on about a dozen Downtown buildings each year.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Dec. 9, 201512:00 PM EST

Workspace: Enjoying the adrenaline rush from hanging off buildings

by: Carole Hawkins

The first time Robert Barley stepped off the roof of a building, he wanted to do it again.

“A lot of people think ‘You must make all kinds of money doing this,’ but you don’t really,” he said. “I just like it. I like the adrenaline rush.”

Barley works for Advanced Coating & Caulking, a San Marco waterproofing company that repairs window caulk on buildings.

To caulk Jacksonville’s office buildings, men work on lifts, if they reach high enough. If not, they use a stage — a platform supported by ropes at either end.

Barley rappels for a living. He dangles off the sides of buildings sitting on a boatswain’s chair — basically a harness made from a board and seatbelt webbing. He fixes spot leaks.

Barley regularly rappels the 43-story Bank of America Tower, the tallest building in Jacksonville.

In early November he was doing an easier job, the two-story Holmes Building on Bay Street. The only reason to rappel that one, he said, is because there are awnings below, which would be in the way of a lift.

Barley and his assistant, Ion Zide, climbed to the roof on a fire escape ladder. They stocked caulking tools and supplies in a bucket and laid out a heap of double-braided nylon rope.

Barley looped two lines around air-conditioning units, one line for the boatswain’s chair and a second for a safety harness. He tied each one off, pulling with his whole weight against it to make sure it would hold.

Barley’s never rappelled off the side of a mountain, but he said he loves the outdoors, surfing and skiing.

Out of high school he worked with the Merchant Marines, blasting and painting ship hulls.

Years later, he hired on at a waterproofing company. One day he saw someone rappelling. He said ‘”I want to do that.” So, the company trained him on a wall inside its warehouse.

“They showed me how to do it one time and then said, ‘OK now you’re ready.’”

At the Holmes building, Barley leaned against the rooftop parapet and threw ropes over the side of the building. He buckled into his safety harness and clipped it onto one of the ropes.

Then he climbed on the ledge and started threading the other rope through a rappel rack — a ladder-shaped piece of hardware connected to the boatswain’s chair that would apply friction and slow his decent.

“The hardest part for most people is getting over the edge,” Barley said. “Once you’re in the chair, it’s comfortable.”

Until then, his only support if he slipped would be his safety harness.

If you’re scared of heights, you just can’t do it, Zide said. If you’re scared on a ladder, you can’t caulk a building.

“I’ve been on stages with guys that, when we got two stories up, they’d just stiffen up,” Zide said. “And I’d say, ‘I guess we’re not going to get any work done today.’”

Locked into his safety harness, though, Barley declared it completely safe.

Sometimes he’ll look down when he works to see the view. He’s taken pictures of the Jacksonville Landing with his girlfriend’s camera.

Barley’s been rappelling for eight years now. He earns $17 an hour. The company used to pay $2 an hour more for rappelling. But when the economy was doing poorly, they took that away and it never came back.

“I enjoy it. It’s not for the money,” Barley said.

A lot of rappellers, when they get older, don’t want to do it anymore. Barley turned 51 this year.

Not old enough to make him feel that way.

[email protected]

(904) 356-2466

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