Sunday, 29 July 2007

On The Rig With Nothing To Do

It’s been a strange fact so far, that my two weeks onshore in Brazil have been among the hardest two weeks I’ve had with work since I’ve started, yet finally when I go offshore I suddenly – and to my relief – find there’s nothing to do whatsoever.

Within my company, Brazil occupies a somewhat special place in the heart. It was there for the hard times – the national petroleum company, Petrobras, continuing to contract us when we were deemed too “luxury” for other oil companies. We have our own small base here, nestled covertly within the much-larger base of a much-larger oil service company. Brazil is legend for engineers going wild, with tales of bad behaviour too numerous (and inappropriate for my genteel audience) to describe. But is also legend for the terrible onshore bonus, only rectified this year, and for the hard hours done in Macae, preparing kits, dealing with the language barrier and the stifling summer heat, making slow progress in thankless tasks. This holiday and party destination also happens to be the nation that means the hardest work for our engineers involved.

Until we get offshore. You see, also legend within Brazil is the terrible inefficiency of its offshore operations. Petrobras is the national oil company, therefore run by the government, and as government operations inevitably are, it does a smooth, well-oiled operation. Tales abound of the epic stints our engineers have spent on Petrobras rigs – 54 days is the record, to my knowledge, but I’ve heard of a number into their 40s. One of my colleagues spent an entire month without ever putting on his coveralls. Another, to his delight, watched every game of the World Cup. Engineers get lot and forgotten about in Brazil. It is an irony that all our hard preparatory work onshore is for nothing, offshore.

Thus, suddenly, after two weeks of a helpless routine of work and dinner (I’ve not once set foot on a beach yet) I’ve suddenly time to kill. The rig I’m on is weathered and battered, and has never been loved, and performs a function rather than playing generous host, yet it has just enough space to avoid feeling trapped. The four man rooms have no bathroom, so showers have to be taken in the communal changing rooms. There are only three showers, but fortunately Brazilians don’t appear to wash. What Brazilians do is watch TV, continuously. The bane of my life right now is the TV in my four man room. Except at night, when I switch it off and turn off the lights, it is an ever-flickering presence. I’ll walk into the room to find it blaring, but without anyone there to watch it. During the day it blares, with a Brazilian sleeping soundly, and probably very happily, in his bunk. One time, when alone in the room, one of my room-mates walked into the room, turned the TV on, noticed that I was there, then smiled and turned the volume down a little before walking out of the room. I am told by my colleague on this rig – “Len” – that there is a rig somewhere in Brazil with a porn channel, and that he would wake daily to the sound and sight of yet another blowjob. Mercifully, this channel is not here, though I did yesterday walk into my room to find three Brazilians gathered round a computer, appreciating a cultured collection. The Shrek characters engaged in vivid acts most entranced them.

Currently I am clinging on to a small unit Len and I have commandeered. It has that precious of things, an internet connection, and I’m treading a fine line between making our presence felt here, but remaining discreet enough so the OIM (the rig manager) doesn’t think we’re hogging the connection from others. If I go too far either way, then all could be lost, but as long as we stand firm in that we need this unit to programme our gauges we should be ok. It is a constant saviour that nobody else seems to really understand what we do, so we can bamboozle them with talk of our needs for specific conditions to set up our very specific, yet mysterious, tools.

I’m trying to start a gym routine now I’ve got time, and a semi-decent gym is stuck in a shack just out from the main building. It hasn’t a rowing machine, but in tribute to the drug-addled Tour de France (“French Tour” for my American readers) I’m having a go on the cycling machine. I managed 4.3km in 25 minutes along a pre-set bumpy route. Is that good? The food here is unpretentious canteen fare, but is varied and tasty. The creme caramel I can particularly recommend.

As for the other key staple of rig life, the helideck, my experience is as yet limited, due to the windy, wet conditions since yesterday. However, it is not set to be a classic helideck. Inset into the rig, it has a rope mesh across its face, thus hindering easy walking. But it has a non-slippy surface, and there doesn’t appear to be much competition for space.

There won’t be any great deal of work to do till Monday at the earliest, and possibly much later. As I have holidays in three weeks, I don’t really mind what happens, and would be quite happy to stay here rather than go back to the slog of Macae. It’s a strange feeling when you prefer being on a rig than next to the beach in a relaxed little town in Brazil. Maybe this is institutionalisation. Here I am isolated and safe from the concerns of the real world, of which there are many currently. A nice little routine of meals, gym, internet and strolling on the helideck. But the big, bad world is still waiting out there, just beyond the horizon.

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