30 April 2008

DB16, day 20: going, and gone.

2 things of note in the past few days: my supervisor almost lost the ROV yesterday, and we're heading back to the beach tonight, late.

We moved to a new rig the other day, due to weather and also, I think, because we weren't really getting anywhere with that particular portion of this job, and the higher-ups were getting antsy. We arrived at the new site early yesterday morning, and were awakened at 5:30am to attend a briefing with the dive crew and company reps. We got in the water shortly thereafter, with less-than-optimal, though still within acceptable, limits. The long and short of it is that the tether may or may not have gotten snatched up into the barge's thrusters, and soon I was pulling up a tether without an ROV attached to the opposite end. I ran to the port side, as high up as I could get, to stare off into the distance, in hopes of seeing the ROV pop to the surface down current. After 10 minutes I walked back to the ROV shack, knowing that if the current had taken the wee-bot, it would surface far and away, long outside the reach of my gaze.

Happily, back at the shack, members of the dive crew were gathering in the other end of the tether. Fortunately the ROV had gotten fouled inside the structure, and didn't float off. We were left with enough tether for the divers to follow inside and around the platform jacket, allowing for a timely retrieval.

And even though I had wanted to stay out here forever and ever, tonight I'm on my way home (which is really such a relative concept at this point in my life...). We had been expecting to leave sometime tomorrow, but apparently the weather is about to turn to 9' seas (big, bad waves), so they scooted up the time by about 12 hours. The crew boat is expected in about 30 minutes, and after the new crew arrives, and their orientation is completed, and the arriving and departing gear is swapped out, and the several grocery crates are unloaded, then we'll transfer over and begin the journey back to civilization.

26 April 2008

DB16, day 16: roll call.

For some reason of cosmic non-understanding, we've been roused from our beds the past few mornings to get the ROV in the water. Yesterday, the time was 7:30, but this morning it was 4:30. Too early, I say.

My new supervisor is a good guy. He's a bit more abrasive and cavalier than the last one, but overall, the conservative-politics, slightly-cynical kind of guy I've become accustomed to having in my life, in one form or another. Another reminder to roll with the punches.

I'm starting to have minor cravings for certain foods, which is funny, because there's a ton more variety here in the galley than I ever have at home. The biggest craving right now is for Indian food, a good curry, a little naan. Mmmm. Delish.

DB16, as seen from the heli-deck.

dirty diver boys.

650-ton ST160E platform being lowered onto materials barge.

24 April 2008

DB16, day 14: sh*t falls apart.

Crew change today. The supervisor I've been working with for the past 2 weeks headed back to the beach, and a new guy came out. My buddy, Rob, also went back to the beach, leaving me without the safety blanket I've had in place since we came out. It's actually not so bothersome, I've gotten to know a few of the guys out here pretty well, so I'll be far from alone. It does leave me without any *girls to talk to about anything personal, so if I hit you up with a long, emotionally-charged email, oblige me, ok? I have no intent to send any such email, but you know, just in case ;)

It's been a funny day, and the energy on the boat is a bit different. Certain things aren't going as planned, and the dive crew just lost 2 of their number: 2 tenders (i.e. low man on the totem pole) came out to replace a couple of guys who were leaving, but because there's a no-contacts-lenses-on-deck policy, they got sent right back. Other stuff is going on, too, communication breakdown, slight confusion, just little things here and there.

My friend Carlo told me once that right around the 12th day offshore, you start to feel like you've been out there forever. I guess I sort of feel that, although we don't work every day, so I don't think it translates exactly the same. It does feel like I've been out here a long time, and maybe some of the charm is wearing off, since we're looking at several days without any work to do. But kind of like the tide, things can change pretty quickly out here, and tomorrow's always a new day.

23 April 2008

DB16, day 13: human sacrifice.

I've now experienced the first relational victim to life offshore: the boy broke up with me via email tonight. Doubtful it will be the last time. It's almost like a badge one wears out here, as most have experienced it at one time or another.

I'm upset, of course, but not exactly surprised. We've broken up before, after all. Though this time is undoubtedly the last.

22 April 2008

DB16, day 12: taco night.

I would never have guessed it, but taco night makes the divers drool.

The food here is basically cafeteria style, and considering the limitations of an offshore kitchen, it's pretty tasty, with some pretty good options, and even some grilled meats from time to time. There are always desserts and sweets available, all hours of the day, which both pleases and frustrates the crew, who can be heard alternatively praising the day's goodies, and complaining about gaining weight offshore. Tonight was taco night, Saturdays and Tuesdays are Steak Nights, with lots of fish (for the Catholics, on Fridays) and chicken thrown in.

We've been making progress on the project we're working on here, and after a week of the ROV being out of the water, we've been asked to dive the past 2 days. This morning we were even roused from our bunks to get in the water. The rig we're decommissioning has pipes driven into the sea floor (called conductors), which measure about 120 feet from top to bottom. Two of these have been pulled in the past 2 days, and we were there to take video of the cuts as the pipes were lifted (to ensure the pipe had been fully cut).

Tonight we pulled the top deck of the rig. Words can't really convey how crazy it is to see a crane, on a barge, pull the top deck of a rig, weighing in at about 600 tons (approx. 1.2 million pounds.), keeping it lifted for more than an hour, and then dropping it onto a materials barge (about the size of a football field).

16 April 2008

DB16, day 6: walking in circles.

The ROV’s been out of the water since yesterday afternoon, due to thruster failure on the barge.

Here’s some (very simplistic) info on the vessel I’m currently calling home. The DB in the name DB16 stands for derrick barge. A derrick barge is quite large, and pretty useful for lots of different operations. This particular barge is navigated by use of Dynamic Positioning (DP) meaning that equipment on board receives a GPS signal telling us where we should be, and the thrusters, which are connected to that system, keep us correctly positioned, and can be accurate within a foot. Considering this barge is about 400' long by 100' wide and located somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, that kind of accuracy is pretty amazing.

The aim of this particular job is to decommission a rig for British Petroleum (BP), a feat accomplished by way of disconnecting the top deck of the rig and sending it to salvage back in Morgan City, and then lifting the underwater portion (the jacket) via a HUGE crane (imagine it- attached to a barge, capable of a 750-ton lift! It's gi-normous!) and towing it elsewhere to become an artificial reef. There's a chance I might be able to stay out here for a few months, and able to witness all of this happening with my own 2 eyes, which is sort of necessary, because I really can't fathom how any of it is going to work, or even what they're doing for that matter. It's been explained to me a million times, but I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it all.

In the interim, there's not a lot for the ROV staff to do, except stand by, and be ready when we're needed. Sometimes I'm in the shack on the internet, or trying to study a bit. I also like to spend time walking around the barge, getting a better idea of who everyone is, and the what/why/when/where of their jobs. I like spending time with the divers, not only because my roommate is over there most of the time, but also because I've gotten to know the guys a little bit, and have a good rapport with them. I actually miss it a bit, watching them do their job. I chose to work with ROVs partially because I was intimidated by the idea of working for a diving company, of working with all those guys, of starting out as a tender, of everything I've heard about working for a diving company. I guess I wonder a bit if I might be happier actually working in diving, rather than what I'm doing. But I also think there's plenty of time to explore the industry, and that I'm learning a ton just being here.

13 April 2008

DB16, day 3: productivity.

I'm not sure if it's being on the open water like we are, or the too-much crappy coffee I drank this morning, but I've been feeling only so-so all day today. It could also be the heat + air con, and the constantly going back and forth between the two. Most likely it's just a mild case of sea-sickness, nothing to worry about (but let's never mention it again, shall we? But speaking of which, we're now taking on rougher seas, so says roommate Rob).

We've been slowly working toward a 6am-6pm workday, moving our start time up one hour each day, so today we assembled in the control shack around 7am to begin work. We'll arrive at the site tonight, but we're not sure how much or how little the ROV will be needed for this job, or what hours we'll be needed. Since all other operations on board are 24 hour, we might be needed to fly the ROV anytime, day or night. They want us available, and they want us rested. Most likely though, we won't be needed during the first day, so tomorrow we'll test the equipment and test drive the ROV.

Once again, I'd love to write more, but I'm exhausted, and must sleep.

I'll end with this: walking toward the galley today, I spied something yellow. When I lost sight of it, I assumed it was a piece of warning tape gone astray, and went on my way. Later in the day, however, I spied that same shade of bright yellow in the form of a wee chubby bird, flitting about the deck (perhaps chasing the abundant dragonflies?):

yellow warbler.

12 April 2008

DB16, day 2: dragonflies.

Last night, at the dock, I braved the twilight mosquitoes to talk on the phone for the last time until we return in a few weeks. Today I discovered a million lovely dragonflies on deck.

We shoved off today at noon and, despite having been out to sea for a scant 10 hours, somehow I’ve already lost track of time.

We had a busy day, organizing the shack, and arranging our equipment on deck. We learned a bit more about the scope of the project we’re out here to do, and got a sampling of what our daily meetings will consist of. My supervisor, Alex, and I talked about SeaTrepid’s procedures while going over the daily logs we’ll fill out, and met with the superintendents who will guide our steps once we’re on the job site. I’d like to elaborate, but we are 4 now in my room, all on different schedules, and I worry the tippity-tap of my keyboard distracting to those who are trying to sleep.

11 April 2008

DB16, day 1: Miss Yvonne

After a few days of chaos and uncertainty at the shop, we finally left today for the DB 16 job (DB stands for Derrick Barge, the type of vessel we're on). It’s pretty commonplace for details to shift, and dates to migrate in this business, so the state of craziness in the shop this week was simply another part of the learning curve. Because this job is longer term (60-90 days), and because the tasks we’ll perform could potentially require specialized tools, ours was a heavy load-out (meaning more equipment, more inventory, and more work). In addition to our heavy load-out, another heavy load-out left this morning, with far more specialized tools and equipment (including an 8’ x 6’ ROV sled designed and built specifically for that job, to track pipeline beneath the sea floor). It was a relief to get on the road.

Normally our driver, Kip, delivers us to our jobs. But today, James, our boss and SeaTrepid’s Project/Personnel Manager, drove us to the site. I love Kip, but it was way more fun to have James drive us out. Kip simply gets us from point A to point B, arriving at the appointed hour; when driving with the boss-man, there’s a little wiggle room, time to stop off and run errands, time to have a little Wendy’s salad and a vanilla frosty, time to stop off and buy some FRCs (fire-resistant [retardant?] clothing) that fit a girl.

We arrived in Morgan City (one of LA’s bigger offshore port cities), and came to the J. Ray McDermott… facility? complex? I’m not sure what to call it, because it’s huge. Boats live here, on a river I don’t know the name of, but McDermott also designs and builds very, very large structures, like oil platforms that will eventually be set out somewhere in the Gulf. And you can’t possibly imagine how massive they are.

We came aboard and directed the welders where to cut and what to burn off. On vessels like this one, we have our own little shack on the deck, and our own small crane, or LARS (Launch And Recovery System). The LARS sometimes needs to stick out over the edge of the vessel, which requires the removal, by oxy-acetylene burning, of 6” diameter round steel railing. The shack and the LARS are lifted onto the deck by the on-deck crane, and then welded into place.

I am bunking with 3 other ladies, which makes our number 4, out of approximately 150 people. We have our own little area, with a private bathroom. One of my roommates is Miss Yvonne, who gave me her own little orientation to [a woman’s] life offshore. For as much as I’ve already learned about my job, of diving and platforms, and of offshore existence, I’m glad for the wisdom Miss Yvonne had to share.

08 April 2008


Sometimes I marvel how different one existence can be from another, like how opposite my life here is from my life in California.

I'm waiting to go out on my first longer-term job, which should last 3 weeks. Originally, we were slated to go out early this morning, then it was moved back to Friday. Today we learned that we'll be leaving Saturday, at the earliest. Since I don't quite have my own vehicle just yet (one is arranged, just waiting on documentation [not as questionable as it sounds]), and because my workplace is just over an hour from where I'm staying, I caught a ride with one of the guys when he came up on Monday. Robert is a pretty small town, with one major intersection. Not much here besides a grocery store, a few eateries and a post office. So, at the moment, not much is happening. It's good to be near the shop, so I can be there during the day, getting to know more about the equipment, and talking with other operator/techs, and earn a little moolah. Eventually we'll get called out on the job, but in the meantime, it's pretty low key here at the bunkhouse.

Fun-ness about the job I'm going out on: the diving company we're working with is the one my roommate, Rob, works for, and by some bizarro twist of fate, he's going out on the same job with us.

06 April 2008

the ABCs of cajun living.

I may have to start sending out care packages for all those who've visited NO, and miss this or that about the place. Ya'll love this place. When I have my own apartment, please come visit. We'll find some crawdaddy chips, or a crawfish boil, or a wall to paint a mural, or au laits and beignets in the qua'ta.

Almost a month now since I've been here. This past week felt a bit dramatic, inwardly, but I attribute that to my own (very special) chemical makeup, and nothing more. At the end of the day, nothing really dramatic has happened, and here I sit, on a quiet Saturday night, enjoying my drive-thru daiquiris (btw, have you ever tried to spell that word, daiquiri? strange.).

I drove to Louis Armstrong Int'l airport tonight to pick up Josh, the roommate whose car I've been driving since I arrived (bless his heart, that Josh). While driving back home, we talked about things uniquely New Orleanian, like mid-block u-turns, meandering crescent-shaped roads, and the fore-mentioned drive-thru daiquiri. Half of our education in Dive Camp was about diving; the other half pertained to life in this back-assward state of Looziana. Geoff, instructor and bevy of information both great and small, told us of many things: of ports and rigs, of saturation and inspection, of coon-asses and rednecks, all of which we readily accepted and believed. But the idea of drive-thru alcohol was too much for us. But it's true. Here in the great crescent city you can find drive-thru or take-out alcohol several times in any given block.

redneck, or coon-ass? you decide.

I came across this video by chance, but it describes pretty well the flavor of Louisiana. What I particularly like about this video is that these ladies are kind of scrutinizing the drive-thru place, while seated in the back of a pickup truck, with a 12-year-old, and then later driving past the double wides representative of where they're probably staying for vacay.

Hit that last 2 minutes of the video, and you'll get a pretty good idea of life in LA.