Thursday, March 21, 2013

In Which We Clear the Air, Encounter Reduced Visibility and Consider the (W)Retchedness of Passengers

I have a good friend who has just started a new job with a big consulting firm. He has been the number two guy at a smaller consulting company for years now, where he managed projects for one of the energy majors as well as a number of smaller organizations. It was pretty low-stress.

I asked him this week how the new gig is going.

"It's kicking my ass," he said. "The last two days I've worked 7:30 to midnight."

He told me earlier it's a steep learning curve, and moving faster than he's been used to in the past couple of years. It will undoubtedly, he said, get easier.

Not a lot unlike coming to a new company and a new boat in a new field working for a new customer.

The first nine days at my new job were pretty tough. The last five, much better.

A big part of that was a heart-to-heart with the first captain (post-g-d-coffeepot). Turns out he made some assumptions about what I was and wasn't willing to do on the boat and I made some assumptions about the way he wanted things done. We agreed to start over.

There's a lot to appreciate about this guy: he's an excellent boat handler and seems to be a very competent and knowledgeable mariner; he works and gets dirty with the crew; he has high standards and expects everyone else on the boat to meet them.

I'm sure I can learn some valuable things from him.

It probably helps our relationship that over the first hitch I didn't hit anything, didn't hurt anyone, and the job got done correctly and on-time. I stood my last five watches solo and without interference.

Over the weekend lower temps and higher dewpoints led do the development of patchy fog across our field. Fortunately, I didn't encounter any on my watch coming or going from the dock, but we were enveloped in the cold, damp, opaque mess one morning upon arrival to one of our drilling rigs.

At one point I had maybe a boat length of visibility. The answer: slow down, pay close attention to the radar, and use the radio a little more.

Monday, headed out on an evening run with six lifts and four passengers, I turned the helm over to my deckhand once we cleared the channel and ducked down to the galley for a cup of coffee.

On my way down, I noticed one of our passengers stand up unsteadily, sweat beading on his face. By the time I came back up the stairs he was loudly puking in the topside head.

I prefer passengers vomit outside, but this poor guy was non-stop and wouldn't have made it out the door to the back deck.

Through a process of elimination (he couldn't actually speak, just nod or shake his head between upchucks), I determined that he was going to a production platform and what his name was.

Unfortunately for him, drilling pays our bills and production is always the last stop. As the sounds of violent vomiting continued, I made some calls on the radio and altered course. We got him off first.

The deckhand and I did have some evil fun predicting which waves would set-off a new round: "Oh man, this one's going to get him ...." immediately followed by loud retching and the sound of the toilet flushing.

I've sometimes heard young guys boast they "never get seasick," as if it's some sort of test of manhood. And while I've never been more than a bit queasy myself, I'm pretty sure it has a lot to do with an individual's own physiology (the inner ear and all that) and not much to do with experience, courage or fortitude.

In fact, I know a couple of men who are career mariners and boat owners who have, all their lives, become ill in a light chop. They deal with it pharmaceutically and carry on.

The new boat is busy, busy. We run as much as 20 hours some days, and in the two weeks I was aboard we never ran less than 10 hours in a day.

That's a change from my last job working production for Apache, where we rarely ran more than 10 hours a day and often less, except of course for the long trip out to the field and grocery deliveries at the beginning of the week.

Apache production typically works only during daylight hours, too, while drilling is around-the-clock and some rig crew changes occur at midnight.

Busy is good; it makes the hitch pass quickly.

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