Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Weather Window

Christmas dinner was two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

In the past week on the boat, I’ve had just two hot meals, not counting a bowl of microwaved oatmeal. Mostly it’s been pretzels and crackers.

Weather, you know.

The Gulf of Mexico in winter, as I’ve written before, is a study in contrasts. There are, in any winter month, days of astounding tranquility and beauty. They usually come on the heels of a raging, blundering cold front that heaps the seas and generally makes us miserable for 24 or 36 hours.

In the day or two leading up to a cold front, typically we have a strong onshore flow that brings with it 20-25 kts of wind from the Southeast and moderate, but still less-than-comfortable seas of six feet or better.

Even in the wake of a cold front, it doesn’t get truly cold out here in the middle. This great basin is also a terrific heat sink (surface water temps in our area of the Gulf right now are averaging about 72 degrees); last winter we had snow flurries in Fourchon, while 100 miles offshore air temps dipped to maybe the low 50s.

We are still, for a few more days at least, working with the seismic fleet. Mind-numbing, 12-hour wheel watches. Headings and speeds dictated by survey lines, not the weather, which means wretched, broken sleep for the off-watch folks when the weather is crappy.

On the upside, it’s a job. And it’s good for the boat to have a job, in winter, when the price of oil is less than $60/bbl.

I’m also getting to see some of the vaunted deepwater projects out here: drillships and MODUs and LLOG's nifty Delta House Floating Production System, finished-out at the facility where my sister-in-law works back in Texas.

The long wheel watches cry out for some sort of stimulation; reading and television are out, which leaves strictly auditory entertainment (below the volume of the VHF radios, of course): Flogging Molly to Jon DeeGraham to The Trishas to sea shanties to J.J. Grey to Townes van Zandt to … Audible!

I downloaded the app, and a couple of books, before leaving the house.

Redeployment, by former Marine Phil Klay, is a thought-provoking punch in the gut.

Some of it resonates with my own (Army) near-war experience. All of it makes me feel more certain than ever that our political leaders must employ and deploy our military might only for damned good reason. Because that shit breaks people. Breaks them beyond repair, sometimes. And I’m just talking about our people, the ones who come home.

Something else I do to amuse myself out here is take pictures. Capt. Dean Thomas, the world’s best (and, quite possibly, most laid-back) kayak fishing guide recently turned me on to Snapseed, a Google app that easily turns ho-hum snapshots into dramatic images.

So, you know, I’ve been overdoing that.

There are a lot of things I see out here that I’ll probably never be able to capture photographically: the spray of stars overhead, the comb jellies and dinoflagellates scintillating in our bow wave, the lights of a drillship reflected from a low ceiling of cloud; a pumpkin-colored moon on the horizon.

Archimedes asked for a lever and a place to stand; I would need a fast, long lens and, also, a steady place to stand. Not terribly likely to happen out here.

I am reminded just now of another fun aspect of the job we are currently working … as I think I’ve mentioned before, the majority of the crews on the seismic vessels are European.

Most – at least the ones we deal with over the radio – have a fair command of English. Some speak an elegant and formal brand of the international maritime language, and all seem to be highly professional mariners.

This appears to have had, over the past couple of months, a salutary effect on both radio procedure and clarity of communication among the crews of the support vessels. Everyone’s just a bit more courteous, too.

And that ain’t a bad thing.

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