Monday, 27 July 2009

Espionage On Sea

It’s been a curious, and mostly fairly enjoyable, couple of days of pseudo-espionage, and as the boat chugs back into the Ghanaian port city of Takoradi it looks like it’s coming to an end. Which is fine, because a boat trip is always a nice excursion, but when there’s no beer, no internet, and no ladies, a couple of days is quite enough really.

The reason myself and my colleague, Psycho, had to endure the hanging around in Ivory Coast, the leerings of Dark Eels, and the worst ever hassle either of us has ever suffered in an airport was all for this: the boat trip in Ghana. We set sail on Friday, on the somewhat plush Pacific Aurora, the nicest and newest supply vessel I’ve been on before, and with great food.

My job, and often life, is spent on rigs, screwing big bits of metal together and crying quietly in corners, so this job has been a pleasing diversion. Instead of the chunky metal and weeks and weeks cast away from civilisation, this was a short mission involving sonar devices, GPS locators, satellite phone uploads, and a race against the clock. In short, we had to locate two spots in the ocean (the Atlantic, which is large-ish), throw our sonar device overboard, and with inconceivable technology, communicate with another sonar 1.4km away on the seabed, which in turn would wake and communicate with sleeping electronics a further 2.7km underground, entirely by acoustic signals. Pacing up and down the offices and hallways of Aberdeen and Houston were impatient gentlemen waiting on our results, our only means of communication by Iridium satellite phone and a data transfer by laptop, dependent on the whims of passing satellites in slow decay since the 1980s. We had 24 hours. Or the game was up.

Fortunately, we only needed 14 hours, in what turned out to be a fairly smooth operation. Psycho and I hurled sonars into the ocean, and thrashed buttons on our laptops, as we adjusted dials and processed data into graphs that transpired, to my great surprise, not to be a bunch of straight lines. Throwing a magnetic aerial onto the top of the supply vessel and connecting it to the satellite phone, we hunched over a laptop and uploaded data files, and felt a little like spies, albeit ones in slow motion and lacking a mighty-thighed lady to stroke/defeat in combat.

And basically, from an operational perspective, it went pretty well. Data retrieved, client satisfied, boat not delayed, and finished by bedtime. I slept fitfully, and have spent the day meandering about onboard, and hope to be on dry land just after dark. Thus catching a morning plane to Accra and then, if the plan truly comes together, returning to Aberdeen, home, and greeting my waster sister returning back from a year’s travels from around the world.

Of course, if the plan doesn’t come together, then I’ll probably be returning into the clutches of Dark Eels. But that’s no fitting end to any tale of espionage.

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