Thursday, 21 June 2007

Peace On The Boat

With everything packed away and a successful job behind me, I can sit back and enjoy a quiet evening on this lightly rocking drillship. A lot of the service personnel left today so the ship has a calmness to it, and my four man room has only me. My arms are sore from so much lifting of heavy boxes, and my legs are sore from the innumerate treks up and down metal steps, and my right hand is sore from the frenetic playing of a 2D motorbike computer game that has consumed myself and my colleague, but with a job done I can relax.

Most jobs I've done with my company have been 5% labour, 95% waiting, drinking coffee, watching football, marching round on the helideck, thinking about my next meal, reading superior literature or modern Chinese history, and taking afternoon naps. But this job has been of a much larger scale, involving a lot of physical exertion, constant monitoring of data, and a minimum of 12 hour shifts daily. The rigging up is intense, and the rigging down can be so too (though time has been on our side this time), and even the week sandwiched between spent data monitoring wasn't a total cruise as the client requested updated data emailed half hourly. But despite, or perhaps because, of this much larger effort, this job has been immensely satisfactory. I've enjoyed it tremendously.

The oil company in charge are American, not a big name, and the most reckless set of cowboy operators I've ever witnessed. Health and safety - so often taken to extremes in this business - has been absent, and I've seen guys walk about the deck in shorts and T-shirts, and even one of the head guys on the drillfloor without a hardhat. The ship is a rusting hulk, with junk metal scattered everywhere, and greasy walkways. Crane operators throw caution to the wind as twenty-ton containers are swung around, smashing into walls and posts. The craziest moment was when the well was to be perforated (this is the moment that giant guns fire 4km underground, to allow the gas or oil into the tubing and thus to flow to the surface). Nobody could agree on what was happening, or going to happen, as everyone's calculations had gone to hell. The test supervisor - the guy supposed to be running the whole job - was so scared there was going to be a blowout (kind of like a colossal, devastating, rig-destroying explosion) he hid in our unit during the perforations.

But in the end, despite the cowboys, it went really well. We are sitting on a vast gas well, many times larger than anybody had expected. Our company, who monitor conditions down the bottom of the well, became the darlings of the rig as we saved the day; without us, the job would have had to have been cancelled. This is great for us as we've had glowing commendations, though really we've just done our job as usual and have simply been in the right place at the right time.

In the midst of this heavy work and moments of triumph, there have been plenty of opportunities for coffee and idolence, don't worry. One of my colleagues, who I will simply call "The Rabbit", brought a kettle with him, which was a great boon. My other colleage, "Mr Calm", and I have been in fierce competition at the aforementioned 2D motorbiking game. Many, many hours have been spent (at the expense of data monitoring) trying to outdo each other on the time for level 3. There's been some wild moments of drama, and currently I am leading with a simply astonishing time of 21.69 seconds, which some think will never be beaten.

We also, during our week or two here, acquired an entourage. A mini-fanclub, if you will. Unlike most of the foul, dour, grim, bitter, uneducated, plebian gruntpigs that make up the staff of a rig, the operators in my company are actually rather pleasant and charming, so we attract the rig strays. And on this occasion we gathered three: Snake-gaiter man, "The Kid", and "The Bird".

Snaker-gaiter man was mentioned in the last entry, and my God he had to be kept off that subject at all cost. Or any subject he had any knowledge about. He wasn't a bad guy, in the sense of being corrupted by evil, but he was inclined to venture off into appallingly dull and long monologues, which inevitably led onto the subject of business and enterprise. However, he was very important to us, as he was the reservoir engineer who was hanging on our data, and in regular contact with Houston, where the heas honchos were. And fortunately Mr Calm was far more patient than I, and got on quite well with him. (I just flat ignored him by the end.)

"The Kid" had a name, but we chose to forget it. He was young engineering student from a good family and good upbringing, and obviously still a little sheltered - he complained that there was "a lot of cursing" on the drillfloor. He was a weedy little runt, who looked closer to 14 than the claimed 21, and most of my humour went way above his head. I almost had him convinced that AIDS could only be transmitted by handshakes. But, I'll say fair play to him, for being a young little runt on a rig but always seeming sure of himself, and I'm sure he'll go far. But damn, he was an annoying little runt.

And "The Bird" was a real, actual girl - and a pretty one too. Her job was to watch out for sand getting in the drill tubing, which didn't occur (as one would hope). Initially, I took a dislike to her because I've decided I disapprove of girls on rigs, as they distract me, and so I refused to speak to her; but it turned out she was quite friendly and interesting, and she certainly made a refreshing change from Snake-gaiter man or The Kid.

But all that's over now, and tomorrow I'll be choppering back to Malabo. I'll stay there for a few days, alone probably, to get our equipment ready for the next job (a few months away) then fly home, hopefully First Class again. I've been promised at least a week at home, and possibly more depending on when my next job is. Which may be back in Nigeria again, on my most dangerous mission yet - a jack-up rig in the troubled region, only slightly offshore, and without security. But hell, as long as it doesn't involve hearing about more damn snake gaiters, I'll do anything.

Monday, 18 June 2007


Either my gonads have grown larger, or my coveralls have shrunk in the wash.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Not Required

After four days of 16-hour shifts, in hot and wet weather; surrounded by loud, fat, brash, aging, incompetent “Gawd-damn” Americans; enduring tough, physical, monotonous work over-and-over again as a result of others’ incompetence; on a cramped, beaten-up, filthy, hazardous drill-ship packed with lizards and mosquitos; the second last thing you want is an email bonanza, one saying your mortgage for your recently-purchased flat has fallen through, and the other informing you that essential repairs to your bathroom will cost £8000.

The last thing you want, of course, is a 45-minute monologue, without pause, from a wobbling imbecile about the snake-gators he invented and the Herculean trials and tribulations of setting up business selling said items in China, at a loss, in great and intricate technical detail. Followed by a lecture on the possibilities of converting this “hunting accessory” into the lucrative gardening market as strimmer legshields, for Hispanics.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Watching The Island

Hello. I’ve decided to end all sentences in my next paragraph with exclamation marks.

It’s been a busy old few days! Since arriving back in the Faroes on Friday morning, hurling my thrusting body around like a dervish getting stuff ready for mortgages and Equatorial Guinea preparation, and then flying to the said country and going offshore, where unusually there’s been tons of work! I find myself now, after ten hours of work, with a few hours rest before another ten or twelve hour shift! Who says this job is all about sitting round, drinking coffee???!!?!!!!?!?

Right now, then, I’m somewhere to the east of the small island that houses Equatorial Guinea’s capital, Malabo. Equatorial Guinea takes place on three separate chunks of land, all small. One is a fat (but still tiny) strip on mainland Africa, squished in by Cameroon and... Gabon, I think; one is some tiny little blob of an island near the mainland; and the one I can see now is, for some reason, off the coast of Cameroon. If I was Equatorial Guinea, or in charge of it at least, I would seriously consider getting rid of the mainland bit, which is just a stupid rectangular chunk, and the crappy blob island, and just being the island with the capital. It would make far more sense, and be far more compact, than being a country in pieces, scattered about the place.

But I’m not in charge, unfortunately for the 500,000 people of “Equatorial G”; instead some evil military dictator calls the shots. He has been since the late 70s, when he killed the previous evil military dictator – his uncle - in a coup and ate his heart and penis. It didn’t make much difference to the people – they continue to die at an average age of 45, live in poverty, and know by now not to dare to dissent. Equatorial Guinea happens to be the third richest nation on earth, per head of population, yet the population suffer en masse from malnutrition, have no infrastructure, and live on less than a dollar a day. I wonder who’s got all the money? The vast oil bonanza that could transform this small nation instead just bolsters the bank account of a cannibal. And so it is for the bolstering of this man’s account that I find myself here, staring at his lush jungle island of hell, as part of a giant machine that grinds on relentlessly and unstoppably, so that we can drive to the shops and take holidays to nice beaches.

I was barely in Malabo. It was dark when I arrived on Saturday evening, the first proper darkness I’d seen in over a week (none in the Faroes, and I slept through Aberdeen’s few hours of darkness). By a happy stroke of luck, I’d been upgraded to first class on Air France, and was delighted to find the red wine unchilled and the legspace more than my legs could stretch. Thus I arrived in a relaxed manner, and glided through passport control (reported to be tough) without trouble. The security guy from the oil company we’re working for met me, and basically told me the place was safe. That’s the thing about military dictatorships – they’re usually pretty safe for foreigners.

The next morning I found myself on this rig, or drillship rather, which I expect to be my home for the next two weeks. It’s an absolute tip. The beds are alright fortunately, and miraculously there is a wireless internet connection, and the food “is much better”, but the working space outside is atrocious. It’s extremely cramped, rusted piece of junk metal litter the area and there’s a general air of chaos. It’s an American oil company, not a big name one though, and a total cowboy operation. All the senior guys were still senior thirty years ago, and don’t seem to have adapted to the times yet. Luckily for me, and my two colleagues, this means we can baffle them with our technology, which is extremely niche and specialised.

It’s a different type of jobs from my usual, and is far more involved and labour intensive, and far more is at stake for us, so it’s not my usual month of acquiring a tan and drinking coffee. But hopefully, after the next 24 hours, it’ll calm a bit and there’ll be a pleasant week of “monitoring data” and watching sunsets.

And sunsets are very nice here.

Monday, 11 June 2007


I worked out, last night, that this year so far I have slept in about twenty-six different beds, not including overnight flights (of which there have been about five).

That works out as roughly a new bed every six days.

What's your bed-to-day ratio?

Friday, 8 June 2007

Car Trouble and The Equator (Almost)

Back in Scotland, early at 9am, and it's been a busy old day. Whereas Green and Varwell had the luxury of a mid-morning nap and a day of delightful idling, and I believe are now tipping some beer down their gullets with Kitchen Mark and French Claire, I instead have had to rush around getting mortgages, flats and foreign jobs sorted out.

Much of this rushing around has involved my car. "Car" might be too flattering a term for it: "moving grey tin" might be more accurate. My car has been behaving very oddly all day. It now refuses to go above 45mph, and has been making some very disturbing smells. Only after some analysis did I get to the bottom of these worrying smells - the front left wheel. When I parked the car after a concerning series of small trips, I noticed smoke pouring out of the front tire. It was very, very hot, and was making some disconcerting "clacking" noises. I think something might be wrong.

The reason I am rushing though, immediately after hitting these shores after a lovely week in the fairytale Faroes, is because my holiday has been cut short by almost a week due to work. Personnel problems, yet again, have meant I am required at very short notice, and so I'm going to Equatorial Guinea tomorrow, at 6.15am.

The Faroe Islands and Equatorial Guinea, I am guessing, are a little different; but that is only a guess as information on Equatorial Guinea is pretty limited, and what I can find doesn't paint a very attractive picture. No infrastructure, widespread poverty despite vast ruling class wealth, malaria problems, horrendous humidity, an average life expectancy of less than 50. Fortunately, however, I don't think anyone will be trying to kidnap me.

Worse still, I've got to travel there on Air France. Via CDG. What a damn piece of crap. The French - sort this out. Air France - stop cooling your red wine!

Thursday, 7 June 2007


I have been in the Faroe Islands for seven days now - that's more than some people have been alive for. Hence I confidently believe that I am in a good position to assess this country accurately. A chronological account of my visit is, alas, not possible, but instead I shall describe my week in evocative detail using subject headers and my new mastery of "bold".


While on a very misty boat-trip, we saw real, living puffins, bobbing about on the sea. No doubt, had the mist not enveloped us and obscured all vision, we may have seen some enjoying their day on cliffs and rocks. Puffins, for those not well versed in this popular bird, are smaller than you might imagine. They are about the size of a bottle of wine.

Far more than living puffins, we have seen many stuffed puffins. A number of shops sell stuffed puffins, for around about £50. Green bought one today in fact, and hopes to successfully smuggle it into Scotland. Apparently you're not meant to have stuffed puffins in the UK because they're endangered or something stupid like that.


Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, has free buses. This was brought in to combat the growing number of cars clogging up the city centre (apparently up to seven cars can be seen at one time during rush hour). I am very impressed by this move by the Faroese powermongers, and it makes life for the tourist very easy. Even though it's only a fifteen minute walk into town, on the way home from town this walk is uphill and therefore inappropriate for a tourist trying to relax on holiday.

The skateboarding community also appear to approve of the free bus service, as we observed one boy hopping onto the no.3, waiting as the bus went uphill past a few stops, then hopped off again to enjoy skateboarding back down the hill the bus had just taken him up.


There are lots of sheep in the Faroes. They seem to roam free on hills and have a wilder, craggier look than the soft-edged Scottish sheep.

The Weather

There is an image of the Faroe Islands being this bleak, windswept, rainy outpost on the edge of civilisation: this image is correct. However, during the week we have been here, the weather has been mostly lovely. Green's face has turned bright red from the sunshine, and Varwell has been caught muttering about the stifling heat being almost unbearable. Let's not get carried away, there hasn't been any moments when I've suddenly mistaken my location for the Mediterranean, but from Monday to Wednesday the sun was out, people were eating and drinking outside cafes, not wearing a thick coat wasn't seen as an act of lunacy, and the conditions were as I'd describe a lovely, bright Scottish spring day.

This is coupled with the fact that it is almost midsummer, and the day never really gets dark. At about 1am it certainly much duller, but to describe it as a traditional night-time would be an exaggeration. Of course, in winter the reverse is true: months of darkness with only a little light hinted at around noon each day. But I don't think many tourists visit in winter.

The Scots And Italians

We've seen two football games here, and thus two sets of fans. On Saturday we witnessed the Italian fans... or did we? Where were they? We saw a handful of swarthy men wander the eerily quiet streets, and the game itself there were a couple of Italian flags and one brief Italian football chant during the 90 minutes, but that was it. The World Champions of football, and a nation of 60 million, made next to no impression on these tiny islands.

The Scots on the other hand, well. There was no mistaking the Scots were in town. On the day of the game, in the town centre, a large number of burly men gathered, almost all in kilts, and almost all drunk, singing, dancing and causing bemusement to the local population. Scots were everywhere - but mostly in the pubs. As this is the fourth time Scotland has been drawn in a qualifying group with the Faroes, the Faroese by now know what to expect, and so took this invasion of ridiculous but hilarious madmen in very good humour. They were perfect hosts in fact. In the town centre, in front of the parliament buildings, the Faroese flag had been lowered and replaced with the Scottish, and speakers had been set up blasting out (inevitably rubbish) Scots tunes.

Later too, the pubs were mobbed, not just by the Scots' Tartan Army, but by local Faroese, who clearly treated this like a festival day. Everybody was very drunk. The Scots have a very good travelling support. Apart from the outlanding and overdone national costume, the behaviour, though drunken, is very friendly, and involving of the locals. The Faroese we spoke to seemed to love when the Scots came visiting. I've complained about the dour misery of the Scots when working offshore, but when en masse, on holiday, they are anything but.


It's £5 a pint here. Even with the beer being a strong 5.6/5.8%, this is expensive.


Well, I'll be damned if the girls aren't very pretty young things. I'd kind of expected a bunch of inbred troll-like lumps, but instead I find a lot of very perky, sweet-faced elfin lovelies. Most of whom seem to be about 15.

The Faroese

We'd been led to believe that the Faroese people might be quiet, reserved and taking a little warming up, but have found them to be outgoing and friendly. We've definitely caught them at a good time - during good weather and during the football, when the town has been relaxed and often drunk. I think the Scottish are popular here too. But I've been impressed.


Buffets are very popular here at lunchtime. We sampled a pub-style buffet, a Chinese buffet, and a pizza buffet, all at a very reasonable £8 each. Alas, puffin or whale buffets don't appear to be in abundance.


We saw to games while here: Faroes 1 - 2 Italy, and Faroes 0 - 2 Scotland. The Italy game was played in the national stadium, and was in freezing wind and rain, and the Faroes really took the game to them. The Scotland game was played at the amazingly picturesque Toftir stadium, which involved a ferry trip and climb up a steep hill. The weather was lovely and sunny for this, and the Faroes were unlucky not to have got a goal, though Scotland deserved to win overall.

My Travelling Companions

It goes without saying that both Green and Varwell have been simply outstanding travelling companions.


I'll put up some photos when I can be arsed.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007


The Faroes are very expensive.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Island Life

I believe Varwell has written an extensive account of Faroese life, therefore I can rest easy knowing an account has been recorded for posterity, and can sit back and continue drinking my expensive but decidedly strong beer.