Wednesday, 24 December 2008


The view from my logging cabin isn’t so benign this Christmas Eve. An angry swell is rolling away from this side of the rig and although there are patches of blue sky, to the east the horizon is smeared with rain and there is a faint rainbow that disappears into battleship-grey clouds.

From the security of an oil rig, one gets to know the sea without the trauma of sailing upon her. A fact I am eternally grateful for because I get sea sick amazingly quickly. The last time I suffered from it was three years ago in Israel. If one is feeling queasy, it is by far better to get into the open air. My mistake was to come across a toilet en-route to the deck. A crewman found me, three hours later, hugging the bowl. At best I was semi-conscious. That didn’t stop them bundling me onto the personnel basket and being lifted skywards onto the rig’s desk, where I promptly collapsed onto all fours in a vain attempt to vomit up my own sphincter. Below are a series of photographs as to what is entailed in a basket transfer. Thankfully the past few trips have been less dramatic.

The seas last night were fairly dramatic. Wind speeds hit forty-three knots, quite a storm for the Mediterranean and since this rig isn’t really built to North Sea specifications, operations have been suspended. Currently we are Waiting On Weather. Despite the huddled looks of the Philippine crewmen, it isn’t cold. Air temperatures are still in the mid-teens Celsius. It is rough certainly, but that would be par for the course at this time of year in the North Sea. In fact, it would be pretty normal for most of the year. At the moment the rig is being hit with a Westerly wind and I would estimate it to be a Force Six or Seven on the Beaufort scale. Wave height is averaging two-three metres, with a maximum of about four.

For those of you landlubbers (Aharrrgh!) not familiar with the Beaufort Scale for estimating wind speed, I’ll leave you this link to explains it:

Basically it runs from Zero – flat calm, sea state mirror-like – through to Force Twelve – Hurricane – I told you it was a bad idea leaving the basement and now we are all going to die.

I can’t say that from a rig one gets to know the sea as well a skipper of a yacht or even a supply ship. One certainly isn’t so aware of the currents around the rig for instance. But over the years I’ve seen a few sights. My first summer offshore the sun shone for six weeks solid and the seas around Norway could have been made of glass. Coleridge got it spot-on with his “as still as a painted ship / upon a painted ocean.” It was also off the Norwegian coast however, where I came across the opposite of calmness. North of Bergen there is an area of the Atlantic where the ocean floor rises steeply from very deep water, enhancing the wave height above. For over a week, the average wave height was eighteen metres (sixty feet). Fortunately the wave-length was long, enabling the rig to sit within the peaks and troughs. What that looked like was one would see a hillside of water approaching the rig; the rig would rise upon it and from the peak one could see miles. Then down again, with a hill of water moving away, the next one coming on towards you. Maximum wave height hit twenty-eight metres (over ninety feet).

I am sometimes asked if I’m ever scared by storms. If I was going to be, it would have been on such an occasion as those mountainous seas off Norway. But although there were a lot of nervous people on board, myself included, to say that we were scared would be an over-statement. Nobody panicked, nobody showed real fear and I think that is what kept everybody calm. The rig was moving a lot – pitching over ten degrees and people were getting sea-sick. But afraid? No.

Now, pop me into a thirty-foot fishing boat and a Force Nine gale and it might be a different story.


Basket Transfer

(from boat to rig)

Approach the basket, luggage in the middle and don the floation vests

People on the outside, luggage on the inside. Hold on tight. Going up!

Still going up!

And safely round and over onto the rig.

Great fun!

Merry Christmas Everybody!

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