I arrived back yesterday from my stint in the North Sea. The job went well, and the timing was good as it seems as though I'll get Christmas at home for once. On the rig, however, there was no internet access, due to the secretive nature of it being a "tight hole" (trust me, I've heard all the jokes). So, I kept by day account of my time offshore in one of the bleakest places ever devised.
Warning: The following is a gritty and powerful account of the toils of an offshore worker that may shock or offend some.
Day 1: The North Sea is every bit as miserable as anticipated.
Day 2: Pelted by a furious assault of horizontal hailstones that emerged suddenly from the freezing blackness of beyond. A poor sleep meant that by the last few hours of my 6pm-6am shift I was simply unable to stay awake when seated. But the shock of going outside sure woke me.
Day 3: A rig's no place for ambiguity.
Day 4: I’ve eaten over eight cream buns in the last 36 hours.
Day 5: Outside the wind is over 60mph, which is pretty extreme on an exposed rig, so all crane operations are suspended, which effectively means the rig has stopped everything. The main deck is quiet, save for the flapping of some loose tied-off tape. I clutch my hardhat whenever making the dash from unit to accommodation – it blew off a couple of days earlier, bouncing along a walkway and almost over the side: this sort of thing is frowned upon. In the galley, the kitchen radio continues to play endless anonymous MOR rock from an anonymous bland radio station. I’m still waiting to hear Toploader’s classic. The food is piled on my plate as though my last meal. There’s only a few others in the galley with me, also wrapped in layers of clothing; we eat alone, it’s quiet, all of us lost in some blank reflection. The time is some forgotten hour stranded in the night and I have a sudden sense of being a trucker in an American diner, driving a neverending long haul. With nothing else to do, I brave the weather and return to my unit, to pass the time playing Football Manager, until the day beckons and my shift ends, and I can sleep.
Day 6: Progress. Wind calmed and operations can proceed. Samplers and lower gauge carrier run-in-hole, the other tools to follow. Phoned home. My first flat is now rented to a Polish bus driver.
Day 7: This rig is very mean-spirited. GlobalSantaFe, recently taken over by Transocean, it’s a global company, yet for a can of coke you have to put 50p into a machine. Worse still, to phone home you have to use a payphone! I’m surprised we don’t have to pay a daily rate for our bed and food.
Day 8: 6am. Cold, dark, raining. Fitting clamp to tubing on drill floor. Stressed. Well hole is open – anything dropped here would be absolute catastophe. Pipe is jerking about violently as rig heaves back and fore. Glance up and get showered in brine. Fun in the North Sea.
Day 9: Killing time offshore.
Day 10: I’m drinking far too much coffee.
Day 12: Four men down to two, thus I am the lead (and only) nightshift engineer. Fortunately, all this means is that I get to watch a flat line of pressure data come in alone.
Day 13: I’ve been monitoring data for days and days. Monitoring three flat lines, 12 hours a day, in a unit all alone. It’s alright (music, games, books, coffee, muttering) except for the phone. My unit has the same number as another’s, and the phone keeps ringing for the other. I’ve stopped answering it, but it really disturbs my peace.
Day 14: Yesterday: boring.
Day 15: My colleague, KD, kicked off his dayshift at 6am with a giant bag of Opal Fruits.
Day 16: I now haven’t seen daylight – at all – for over two weeks.
Day 17: Slade's "Merry Christmas" is playing, loudly, on the rig floor.
Days 18 and 19: Mud, grease, sweat, pain, graft, heave, ache, strain. All done.
Day 20: Fly home!