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.


Jenny said...

I really have nothing to comment, other than I really like reading what you have to say.

Nev 360 said...

Why, thank-you.