Monday, November 17, 2014

And now for something completely different

Well, we’re back on the job and I can’t decide if it’s the best job ever, or the worst job ever. My opinion changes with the weather, mostly because our heading and speed over ground do not.

We are one of a fistful of support vessels for a five-ship seismic fleet searching for buried treasure about a hundred miles offshore from south of Pensacola, Fla., to off of the South Pass of the Mississippi River.

Sometimes we act as a guard vessel, ahead and outside of one of the big boats, warning approaching and crossing traffic that we require a 7nm CPA astern and 3nm abeam and ahead. Other times we are chasing the tail buoys at the end of five miles of steerable streamers.

On yet other occasions, we act as the safety standby vessel when one of the survey ships launches a workboat to service their cables underway, or crew changes via helicopter. Sometimes they send us out ahead of the fleet to scout for reported obstructions or to provide current readings at a given location.

The planning that goes into something like this – both ahead of the project, and during operations -- is mind-boggling. The two seismic survey ships have dedicated navigation departments. I imagine them to look something like an Aegis missile cruiser’s combat information center.

Anyway, it’s good to be working after too many weeks pushed-up on the mud. An idle boat + oilfield slowdown = one nervous crew.

It’s hardly worth mentioning – but I’m going to anyhow (send the cheese care of my wife) – that with the new job came the promise of my third-in-a-row late crew change.

My first hitch I voluntarily worked-over for another captain and the customer then held us over in the field. I can live with that … weather, customer whims, emergencies – these things make our crew change dates and times a rough guide rather than an actual schedule.

At the end of my second hitch, we were off-charter and at the dock two hours ahead of the relief crew’s arrival. About 30 minutes before they were due to show up we got a call from the office informing us that one guy wasn’t going to make it, but a fill-in was on a plane, and we could expect them in “a couple of hours.”

Mmmmm … not so much. Twelve hours later I was actually, finally, on my way home, by that time going on 24 hours since I last slept.

This time we knew a good 30 hours in advance of our departure from the dock that we would not be back in time for our scheduled crew change. That, in fact, we would miss it by at least several days.

“If you need to get someone down here early, you’d better call your office now,” the company man said. I concurred, and listed the reasons, including the fact that the deckhand who has been on the boat 70-something days at this point had a ticketed international flight the day after we were scheduled to be home.

Anyway, I went to bed thinking it would be resolved through the chain-of-command. Didn’t happen.

I spent, literally, many hours scheduling everything I needed to do in my “off” time so that it did not interfere with the boat’s schedule. 

Two surgeries, two endorsements for my license upgrade and a week-long vacation with the family.

The procedures have been rescheduled, the vacay reservations amended.

And now I’ll have to take extra time off of work to make all this happen, and the company will have to find someone to fill-in for me. I am assured by my crew coordinator it won’t be a problem, but it’s still less than ideal for everyone.

There is no guarantee our crew coordinator could have found fill-ins on 24-hour notice, but he sure would have tried. 

The bottom line is that this little delay is costing the family thousands of dollars. Possibly as much as $6,504, depending on when I get back to the boat. (The $4 was the change fee for my plane ticket home.)

Waaaa, right?

But hey, we’re working. And that’s a good thing. It’s about to be an uncomfortable good thing – a norther blew through at 0552 with 40+ kts of wind. Seas are forecast to build to 10-12 with the occasional 16-footer thrown in for good measure. 

The entire fleet is running before the weather now.

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